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Life after losing an election

| June 12, 2024 8:00 AM

By Bob Brown

Having lost an election, I know it hurts to lose.  I know, too, that there is a good life beyond losing because I’ve been living it for the past 20 years.

I know that the people’s will in a democracy can only be determined by a process of elections; American democracy has successfully functioned on that model since George Washington.

When the people lose their faith in elections, democracy is finished. There have been as many losers as winners in our legacy of elections extending back over 230 years.  By their respect for the will of the people in elections, those who have lost have served to preserve our government of the people, perhaps more than those who have won.

Richard Nixon is remembered for standing aside in the face of impeachment because of his Watergate crimes.  But Nixon also stood aside after his defeat by only 0.17% of the popular vote to John F. Kennedy in 1960.  In that election Kennedy carried Illinois by less than 9,000 votes. The tiny margin came from the Democrat bastion of Chicago, controlled by party boss Mayor Richard Daley.  While not as close as Illinois, in Texas there was suspicion that Kennedy might not have fairly won there, either.

While knowing these things, Nixon chose not to put the country through the turmoil that litigating the election would inevitably have brought.  Nixon conceded on election night when the trend for Kennedy in the electoral count appeared clear.  In his comments, Nixon said: “One of the great features of America is that we have political contests.  They are very hard fought, as this one was hard fought, and once the decision is made, we unite behind the man who is elected….My congratulations to Senator Kennedy.”

While some may still question Nixon’s motives, his actions demonstrated clearly that he placed the good of the country over his personal ambitions.

That example was demonstrated again in the election of 2004 by then Vice President Al Gore and then Texas Governor George W. Bush.  (I met and visited with both Bush and Gore in the ‘90s before they were presidential contenders.  They couldn’t have been more different.  Bush was easy-going and conversational.  Gore, about as warm and personable as a pet rock.)  But, as former Montana Governor Ted Schwinden was known to say, “You can really tell what a man is made of by how he loses an election.”  By that measure, Gore was as solid as a rock.

Gore actually beat Bush by about 500,000 popular votes in 2004, but as the result of a one-vote Bush majority in the U.S. Supreme Court, Gore lost by an almost as thin three-vote majority in the Electoral College.  Gore’s reaction was swift and sure.  “While I strongly disagree with the [Supreme] Court’s decision, I accept it.  And for the sake of the unity of our people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.  I also accept my responsibility, which I will discharge unconditionally, to honor the new President-elect and do everything possible to help him bring Americans together.”

The 2020 election, which Trump has never conceded, was not close.  Biden won the popular vote by 7,000,000 and carried the electoral college 306-232.  There would have to have been systematic and coordinated fraud in numerous states to reverse that decisive outcome. Yet loser Trump has stridently lied for more than three years that the national election, with hundreds of candidates on hundreds of ballots, was uniquely rigged just against him.

Sadly, and perhaps tragically, this year’s election will be between the dangerous old sleazer and the plodding old geezer. 

Barring miracles at the upcoming party conventions, that’s what our choice will be. 

If Trump ultimately wins, he promises to be a vengeful winner.  It is a certainty that if he loses, he will continue to be the divisive sore-loser he has always been.



Bob Brown is a former Montana Secretary of State and state Senate President. He lives in Whitefish.