It was easy to feel sorry for Mitt Romney on Tuesday night. A life’s work over – and it all ended in failure. At 65 years old it must surely be too late now for Mr Romney to fulfil what he always thought was his destiny.
But don’t shed too many tears - after a business career that made him millions (helped by the fact that he paid far less tax than the average American), the former Massachusetts Governor will be able to live out his remaining days in luxurious comfort.
Disaster into Triumph
But what of the others who have put themselves forward to be the most powerful man (neither the Democrats nor the Grand Old Party have ever nominated a woman) in the world, and failed? Whatever happened to the defeated; the losers; the also-rans?
In some cases, defeat has been turned into triumph. So consumed was Richard Nixon with becoming president that after losing to JFK in 1960, he went home to New York, licked his wounds and won the White House in 1968, beating the then Vice-President Herbert Humphrey. Of course, in Nixon’s case, that’s not the end of the story – he resigned in 1974 over the Watergate scandal, the only President ever to do so. Incidentally, Humphrey went on to be chairman of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Others have left their mark, literally. After being roundly crushed by Herbert Hoover in 1928, New Yorker Alfred Smith went on to run Empire State Inc – the company that built the world’s then tallest tower, the Empire State Building
There was also glory in defeat for Al Gore, who but for a few Floridian hanging chads in 2000 would have beaten George W Bush. Gore has since become one of the world’s most formidable climate change campaigners. And in 2016, who knows?
But it’s not all been grabbing-success-from-the-jaws-of-defeat for those that have fallen at the final presidential hurdle.
Gerald Ford’s career was unlike any other American politician – a president who never won an election after taking over from the disgraced Richard Nixon, he then spent the rest of his life defending his decision to grant Nixon a pardon – the only thing he did of note during his 29 months in the White House. The idea of being Ronald Reagan’s running mate in 1980, was briefly floated, until Reagan got cold feet.
At least Ford’s later years were colourful. Who can remember anything of Barry Goldwater, who lost to Lyndon Johnson in 1964? Or Walter Mondale who was crushed by Reagan in ‘84? Goldwater, a libertarian, got increasing grumpy with the religious right and spent many of his final years making enlightened speeches urging the army to repeal the ban homosexuals. Mondale ended up being the US’s ambassador to Japan.
But it takes a special dedication to want to become President, and once that emotional capital has been spent, unsuccessfully, sometimes the wheels come off. Horace Greeley, who lost the 1872 election to Ulysses S. Grant, went mad in the weeks after the ballot and died before the Electoral College met.
John C. Fremont devoted his time to business after losing the 1856 battle against James Buchanan, but sadly he was as good at making money as he was at winning presidential elections. He bought the Southwest Pacific Railroad in February 1866, only to default on the payments. The company was reprocessed by the state of Missouri seven months later.
So life as an election loser is largely what you make of it. The most dignified exit is probably to go home, and if you have as much money as Mr Romney, use the rest of your days spending some of it.