It’s time we face what is perhaps the harshest of realities for political candidates: at least half will lose their election. In our winner-take-all system, only one candidate can advance. Everyone else loses. Some losers are great examples of losing with class. Others, not so much.
Losing sucks. We get it. We don’t expect any NDTC trainee to lose, but the reality of politics is that some will.
But, even the most successful politicians have lost at some point in their career.
If Barack Obama had given up when he lost his 2000 race for Congress, he may never have been President.
President Bill Clinton? Lost. President Johnson? Lost. President Carter? Hillary Clinton? Dianne Feinstein? Bernie Sanders? Yup, you guessed it. They all lost at one point.
Now, this isn’t to say that if you lose your election you too will become President one day. Instead, it is important to recognize that losing is a regular, and essential, part of the electoral process.
But, there is a right way and a wrong way to lose. There is a way to handle a loss in a professional and respectable manner that may allow you to run again. And there’s a way to show the public that they made the right decision in not voting for you.
To figure out what would be considered the “wrong” way to lose, let’s look at an example.
Suppose you’re an incumbent running for sheriff. Your opponent? The Deputy Sheriff. Your second in command. If you end up losing in a landslide on election night. Should you:
- Respectfully concede the race and wish your Deputy the best of luck, or
- Immediately fire your deputy just moments after the race is called, so they don’t have a job until they take your job?
While the choice may seem obvious to you, some people don’t always see it so clearly.
Put yourself in the shoes of a voter. If that is the reaction out of the candidate, do you think you’d consider voting for them if they decide to run again in the next election? Probably not.
Losing with Class
You’re heartbroken. Your dreams are crushed. You can’t fathom how you have to address a roomful of disappointed supporters. But that doesn’t give you permission to be a jerk.
There is a right way to lose your election. While the old saying “act like you’ve been there before” typically comes into play when you win something, but perhaps it fits here as well.
You shouldn’t come across as though you’ve never experienced difficulty in your life. You should act like you’ve dealt with hard times in the past. You should show that you know how to overcome them and be better because of them.
Let’s look at a few examples.
In the 2008 presidential election, Senator John McCain lost to then-Senator Barack Obama. While McCain clearly suffered a heartbreaking loss, he went on stage just minutes after Obama was declared the winner. McCain supported the results, he supported Obama, and he supported the country.
While McCain could’ve taken the stage and questioned the results or argued against Obama, he urged the country to unify behind the new President-elect. He recognized the history behind the event. He understood that the election was not about him, but about the people. John McCain lost with class.
In 2017, Tom Perriello also suffered a tough loss in his race for Governor of Virginia. Perriello fought hard during his primary and lost to Ralph Northam, who would eventually become the Governor.
Instead of being bitter or a sore loser, Perriello understood that the state needed him to fully support Northam’s campaign. He campaigned hard and joined the Democratic Party of Virginia together behind one candidate. Perriello lost in the way that you’d want someone to lose their primary.
While it is important to understand the proper way to lose, it is just as essential to understand the proper way to win. A successful candidate may have every right to celebrate and be excited, but that does not mean they have the right to disrespect the loser.
When Donald Trump won the nomination to be the Republican nominee for President, he presented us with one of the best examples of a non-gracious winner in recent memory.
While Trump had won a long and hard-fought primary, he immediately took to the stage to ridicule those who had opposed him and treated his nomination as pre-ordained. He failed to show respect to those he had beaten and clearly did not have the best interests of his party at heart.
When you win, you should be excited. You should be proud. You should feel fortunate and be ready to work for your people. And, you should be respectful.
The Golden Rule (or something about Kindergarten lessons)
No matter if you win or if you lose, there is a “right” way and there’s a wrong way to act after the election results are announced.
Regardless of the outcome, put yourself in your opponent’s shoes. How would you want them to act?
Act in a way that you can be proud of. Act in a way that is respectful of yourself, your opponent, and the office you have just won.
Above all else, act in a way that makes voters more likely to vote for you the next time around.
If you don’t want to lose, make sure to check out our blog on how to Get Out The Vote and be successful on Election Day.