My friend, and former colleague at UC, Riverside, Shaun Bowler has a post over at Vox that discusses the important role of concession speeches by losing politicians that affirm the legitimacy of the process. Adam Przeworski famously put the issue this way. “Democracy makes winners and losers. Why would the losers choose to comply with the results? The key: democratic institutions help give political actors a
long time horizon. . . They allow them to think about the future rather than being concerned exclusively with present outcomes. . . . Political forces comply with present defeats because they believe that the institutional framework that organizes the democratic competition will permit them to advance their interests in the future (19).
I was unable to find a collection of those speeches by the politicians who lost US Presidential elections, so I cobbled one together, below.
For me this issue highlights the challenge of collapsing parties: Donald Trump is not a career, politician, and he trades on that as a major part of his appeal. Bernie Sanders is, but has worked outside the two parties in the US. That Sanders endorsed Clinton after the primary is consistent with his stake in the political system. That Trump likely will not is consistent with his absence of that stake. Partisans routinely boo and shout “No!” when their candidate concedes. Should we expect a non-politician who has won the nomination of a major party to share a career politician’s interests in their political party and act in response to the “long time horizon” (i.e., “behave like a politician”)? What if that candidate called his campaign a “movement,” and was opposed by large parts of the party whose nomination he had won?
Thinking about the incentives of such a candidate in the context of Przeworski’s thinking puts Mr Trump’s comments about “rigged elections” in a different light than people seem to be discussing it. And it suggests to me that the implosion of the Republican party, and erosion of the Democratic party, are not events to celebrate.
2012: Mitt Romney
I have just called President Obama to congratulate him on his victory. His supporters and his campaign also deserve congratulations. His supporters and his campaign also deserve congratulations. I wish all of them well, but particularly the president, the first lady and their daughters. This is a time of great challenges for America, and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation.
2008: John McCain
My friends, we have come to the end of a long journey. The American people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly. A little while ago, I had the honor of calling Sen. Barack Obama to congratulate him on being elected the next president of the country that we both love. In a contest as long and difficult as this campaign has been, his success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance. But that he managed to do so by inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans, who had once wrongly believed that they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president, is something I deeply admire and commend him for achieving. This is an historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African-Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight. Let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on Earth.
2004: John Kerry
Earlier today, I spoke to President Bush and I offered him and Laura our congratulations on their victory. We had a good conversation. And we talked about the danger of division in our country and the need, the desperate need, for unity for finding the common ground, coming together. Today I hope that we can begin the healing. In America it is vital that every vote count and that every vote be counted. But the outcome should be decided by voters, not a protracted legal process. I would not give up this fight if there was a chance that we would prevail. But it is now clear that even when all the provisional ballots are counted, which they will be, there won’t be enough outstanding votes for us to be able to win Ohio. And therefore we cannot win this election.
2000: Al Gore
Just moments ago, I spoke with George W. Bush and congratulated him on becoming the 43rd president of the United States — and I promised him that I wouldn’t call him back this time. I offered to meet with him as soon as possible so that we can start to heal the divisions of the campaign and the contest through which we just passed. Almost a century and a half ago, Senator Stephen Douglas told Abraham Lincoln, who had just defeated him for the presidency, “Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I’m with you, Mr. President, and God bless you.” Well, in that same spirit, I say to President-elect Bush that what remains of partisan rancor must now be put aside, and may God bless his stewardship of this country. Neither he nor I anticipated this long and difficult road. Certainly neither of us wanted it to happen. Yet it came, and now it has ended, resolved, as it must be resolved, through the honored institutions of our democracy. Over the library of one of our great law schools is inscribed the motto, “Not under man but under God and law.” That’s the ruling principle of American freedom, the source of our democratic liberties. I’ve tried to make it my guide throughout this contest as it has guided America’s deliberations of all the complex issues of the past five weeks. Now the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. Let there be no doubt, while I strongly disagree with the court’s decision, I accept it. I accept the finality of this outcome which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College. And tonight, for the sake of our unity of the 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 in fulfillment of the great vision that our Declaration of Independence defines and that our Constitution affirms and defends.
1996: Robert Dole
Let me say that I talked to President Clinton. We had a good visit. I congratulated him. And I said. No, no, no. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I’ve said repeated – I’ve said repeatedly – wait. I’ve said repeatedly – I have said repeatedly in this campaign that the president was my opponent not my enemy. And I wish him well and I pledge my support in whatever advances the cause of a better America, because that’s what the race was about in the first place, a better America as we go into the next century.
1992: George H.W. Bush
Well, here’s the way I see it. Here’s the way we see it and the country should see it — that the people have spoken and we respect the majesty of the democratic system. I just called Governor Clinton over in Little Rock and offered my congratulations. He did run a strong campaign. I wish him well in the White House. And I want the country to know that our entire Administration will work closely with his team to insure the smooth transition of power. There is important work to be done, and America must always come first. So we will get behind this new President and wish him–wish him well. Now I ask that we stand behind our new President and regardless of our differences, all Americans shamed–the–shared the same purpose: To make this, the world’s greatest nation, more safe and more secure and to guarantee every American a shot at the American dream…
I remain absolutely convinced that we are a rising nation. We have been in an extraordinarily difficult period, but do not be deterred, kept away from public service by the smoke and fire of a campaign year or the ugliness of politics. As for me, I plan to get–I’m going to serve and try to find ways to help people.
1988: Michael Dukakis
Just a few minutes ago, I called Vice President Bush and congratulated him on his victory. I want to, and I know I speak for all of you and for all the American people when I say that he will be our President, and we’ll work with him. This nation faces major challenges ahead, and we must work together.
1984: Walter Mondale, Jr.
A few minutes ago I called the President of the United States and congratulated him on his victory for re-election as President of the United States. He has won. We are all Americans. He is our President, and we honor him tonight. Again tonight, the American people, in town halls, in homes, in fire houses, in libraries, chose the occupant of the most powerful office on earth. Their choice was made peacefully, with dignity and with majesty, and although I would have rather won, tonight we rejoice in our democracy, we rejoice in the freedom of a wonderful people, and we accept their verdict. I thank the people of America for hearing my case. I have traveled this nation, I believe, more than any living American, and wherever I’ve gone, the American people have heard me out. They’ve listened to me. They’ve treated me fairly. They’ve lifted my spirits and they’ve added to my strength, and if there is one thing I’m certain of, it is that this is a magnificent nation, with the finest people on earth.
1980: Jimmy Carter
I promised you, I promised you four years ago that I would never lie to you, so I can’t stand here tonight and say it doesn’t hurt. The people of the United States have made their choice, and of course I accept that decision, but I have to admit not with the same enthusiasm that I accepted the decision four years ago. I might say, I have a deep appreciation of the system, however, that lets people make a free choice about who will lead them for the next four years. About an hour ago, I called Governor Reagan in California, and I told him that I congratulated him for a fine victory. I look forward to working closely with him during the next few weeks. We’ll have a very fine transition period, I told him I wanted the best one in history, and I then sent him this telegram, and I’ll read it to you.
“It’s now apparent that the American people have chosen you as the next president. I congratulate you, and pledge to you our fullest support and cooperation in bringing about an orderly transition of government in the weeks ahead. My best wishes are with you and your family as you undertake the responsibilities that lie before you.”
And I signed it, Jimmy Carter.
1976: Gerald Ford (read by his wife, Bette Ford)
The President asked me to tell you that he telephoned President-elect Carter a short time ago and congratulated him on his victory.
1972: George McGovern
We’re here among friends in South ‘Dakota, where this campaign began almost 22 months ago. We now bring it to an end tonight and have just sent the following telegram to President Nixon:
Congratulations on your victory. I hope that in the next four years you will lead us to a time of peace abroad and justice at home. You have my full support in such efforts. With best wishes to you and your gracious wife, Pat. Sincerely, George McGovern.
The first Presidential concession that I remember hearing was that of Adlai Stevenson in 1952. He recalled the old Lincoln story of the boy who had stubbed his toe in the dark and when the lad was asked how it felt he replied, “Well, it hurts too much to laugh, but I’m too old to cry.” We will shed no tears because all of this effort I am positive will bear fruit for years to come… The Presidency belongs to someone else, but the glory of those devoted working friends and their dedication to the noble ideals of this country sustains us now and it will sustain our country… Now, the question is to what standards does the loyal opposition now rally? We do not rally to the support of policies that we deplore… But we do love this country and we will continue to beckon it to a higher standard. So I ask all of you tonight to stand with your convictions. I ask you not to despair of the political, process of this country, because that process has yielded too much valuable improvement in these past two years. The Democratic party will be a better party because of the reforms that we have carried out. The nation will be better because we never once gave up the long battle to renew its oldest ideals and to redirect its current energies along more humane and hopeful paths. So let us play the proper role of the loyal opposition…
1968: Hubert Humphrey
May I take a moment just to thank you, first of all, for your patience tonight. You have waited a long time, and I have waited an equally long time, and I wanted to take just a moment to come here to express my thanks to all of my many friends, particularly here at home and many that have come from other parts of the Nation for your wonderful support, and to tell you that I feel sufficiently at ease so that I want to get a good night’s rest. Some members of my family have already seen fit to retire in confidence and others have decided to stay up, but we have, as you know, several of the very important States nip and tuck, where the decision, I am sure, will not be known until some time at least late tomorrow, and if you want to stay up and wait for all that, I am all for you. But you have been watching the television and you have been listening to the reports, and I believe that it is fair to say that we have done much better than most observers had thought we would, about as good as I thought we would. Now, there are critical States yet to be heard from. They are not finalized as yet, States such as Ohio, Illinois, and the States such as California, the State of Washington, and, as you know, this is at best, as we put it, a donneybrook. Anything can happen. I understand from what I have been hearing from my friends on the television that it will be some time before we hear from California, and I thought since that was the case, since I just left California last night, that I maybe would retire and let both Hubert Humphrey and California have a night’s rest.
1964: Barry Goldwater
I’ve waited ’til now to make any statement about this election because I wanted to find out more of the details of the vote—not just the total but the spread of it, what it might portend at this very early date. I know many of you expected me to make some statement last night but I held that off. I sent the President the following wire, which I think will be available for you if you don’t have it now:
“To President Lyndon Johnson in Johnson City, Tex.
“Congratulations on your victory. I will help you in any way that I can toward achieving a growing and better America and a secure and dignified peace. The role of the Republican party will remain in that temper but it also remains the party of opposition when opposition is called for. There is much to be done with Vietnam, Cuba, the problem of law and order in this country, and a productive economy. Communism remains our No. 1 obstacle to peace and I know that all Americans will join with you in honest solutions to these problems.”
I have no bitterness, no rancor at all. I say to the President as a fellow politician that he did a wonderful job. He put together a vote total that’s larger than has ever been gained in this country. However, it’s interesting to me and very surprising to me that the latest figures that I can get do not reach the totals of the 1960 election. I am disappointed in this because I thought that the American people would have turned out in greater numbers than they seem to have done… As I said in my wire, anything that I can do—and I’m sure that I speak for all Americans—anything that we can do to help the President get along with the solutions to these problems, we’re ready, willing and able to do.
1960: Richard Nixon
As I look at the board here, while there are still some results still to come in, if the present trend continues, Mr. Kennedy, Senator Kennedy, will be the next president of the United States. I want, I want Senator Kennedy to know, and I want all of you to know, that certainly if this trend does continue, and he does become our next president, that he will have my wholehearted support and yours too.
1952: Adlai Stevenson
My fellow citizens have made their choice and selected General Eisenhower and the Republican party as the instrument of their will for the next four years. The people have rendered their verdict, and I gladly accept it… It hurts too much to laugh, but I’m too old to cry. I urge you all to give General Eisenhower the support he will need to carry out the great tasks that lie before him. I pledge him mine. We vote as many, but we pray as one.
Update: Corrected some typos after receiving a Twitter DM noting them [23:52 (GMT -7) 16 Oct 2016].