THE POLITICAL GRAVEYARD….In the New York Times today, Mark Leibovich revives an old chestnut: Republicans respect their losers while Democrats throw theirs in the trash heap of history. For example:
Bob Dole lost to Bill Clinton in 1996, but has retained an elder statesman’s role within the party. Barry Goldwater lost 44 states to President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 yet remains a conservative icon. Richard M. Nixon lost narrowly in 1960 and went on to be elected president in 1968.
Is this really true, though? Dole left politics after 1996 and has had no serious role in the Republican Party since then. (Elder statesman? Please.) Goldwater may be considered a conservative icon today, but for a decade after his 1964 defeat he was a pariah. George Bush Sr. can’t even get his own son to take his calls, let alone anyone else in the party. Newt Gingrich has a little more clout with Republicans than Al Gore does with Democrats, but not much. And Tom DeLay? Fugeddaboutit.
And Democrats? Adlai Stephenson became ambassador to the UN in JFK’s administration. Hubert Humphrey lost to Nixon in 1968 but still made at least a respectable run for the presidency again in 1972. Jimmy Carter lost in 1980 and then began a career as the “best ex-president ever.” Howard Dean got himself elected head of the DNC. Al Gore’s star is rising even as we speak.
I admit I’m playing devil’s advocate here. It really does seem as though Republicans treat their losers better than Democrats. (Mondale and Dukakis are probably the star exhibits.) But in the postwar era, with the exception of Nixon, no one from either party has run for president, lost, and then eventually come back to win. I suspect there’s less to this myth than meets the eye.