America's Political System Not Friendly to Losing Presidential Candidates
Mitt Romney's defeat on Election Day will likely remove him from political life, but if his successful business career and strong faith are any indication, he will have a sunny future. Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters
A friend of mine encountered Mitt Romney about a year and a half ago and asked him what he was doing these days. "I'm looking for a country to be President of!" Romney joked. Not unamusing, but now that Romney has lost, it gives you an idea of the awkward, poignant position in which a defeated Presidential candidate finds himself: how would the man defeated by Barack Obama answer the same question today?
Both George McGovern and Walter Mondale related these sentiments once to me. After Mondale's 49-state defeat, he asked McGovern, "George, when does it stop hurting?" McGovern, who had suffered a similar ordeal in 1972, replied, "When it does, I'll let you know." Our political system is brutal to national losers -- and especially losers without deep roots in government or their party. Before Romney lost last night, it would have been fair for him to imagine himself being feted as he sought a second term at the 2016 Republican convention. Now he will probably not attend, may not even be invited and will almost certainly go unmentioned by the major speakers.
One can imagine that for the eight years after he lost narrowly to John Kennedy in 1960, Richard Nixon woke up every morning at 2 a.m., torturing himself over why he didn't demand an Illinois recount or why he had been so stupid to wage his fall campaign by pledging to visit all 50 states.
The losers who have survived best have often been those with close family and friends, sometimes strong religious faith, and always those willing to start a career after defeat in a field beyond partisan politics that allows them to leverage their lingering fame, resources and acquaintanceship for the larger good. Mitt Romney is long accustomed to giving back to others and has spent most of his career -- and perhaps the happiest part of his career -- outside the political arena. So I would think that the prospects for his future happiness are actually pretty good.
Michael Beschloss is a regular contributor to PBS NewsHour. You can tweet him at @BeschlossDC.