Al Gore and Richard Nixon don’t have much in common beyond having served as vice presidents. Except for this easily overlooked historical note. Both were involved in presidential races that were closely contested–with results marked by controversy and intimations of ignominy.
Gore, of course, won the 2000 popular vote but lost in the Electoral College when a Supreme Court decision conceded Florida to George W. Bush by less than 600 votes.
Nixon lost a popular-vote squeaker in 1960 to John F. Kennedy by a little more than 100,000. Percentage wise, it was 49.7-49.5. Nixon won 26 states to Kennedy’s 22. It had been the narrowest presidential-election margin in nearly half a century.
When the 2000 and 1960 elections were over, the losers had to make a call–besides a concession formality. They had to decide whether to appeal. They had their reasons–and their determined, emotional advocates.
Florida, of course, had featured the “hanging chads” debacle that has become part of political lore. Gore had topped his opponent at the national ballot box, but came up short in the Supreme Court. He didn’t want to risk “partisan rancor” that would have ill-served a country divided politically. No appeal.
For Nixon, it had come down to Illinois and Texas, the difference-makers in the Electoral College. Kennedy won Illinois by 0.19 percent, Texas by 2 percent. Nixon’s partisans saw conspiracy in the Dailey Machine of Chicago and Cook County as well as the cronyism and corruption in Texas on behalf of “Landslide” Lyndon Johnson. Nixon was also concerned about divisiveness scenarios and took one for the team. No appeal.
Both did the country-first, honorable thing–however naive that sounds right now–even though campaign insiders pushed for vindication and victory.
Contrast that with what could happen in a post Clinton-Trump America.
A Trump presidency is unconscionable, if not unimaginable. But by most accounts, unlikely. But a Clinton presidency likely comes with this grim reality. A runner-up, soundly-defeated Trump would not be a dodged bullet.
The chaos candidate would not reprise Nixon and Gore by showing some class and taking one for his country to avoid a societal schism.
* Not when his incendiary rant-filled campaign is fueled by scapegoating–using economic frustrations to ignite ethnic animus.
* Not when his fan base is one that ranges from Duck Dynasty followers and evangelical hypocrites to chronic Hillary haters and spineless GOPster pols.
* Not when the nominee regales in polarizing, conspiratorial rhetoric that is anathema to any kind of compromise and national healing.
* Not when he has already equated a loss with a rigged election. This serves to delegitimize the results–as well as provide a pre-packaged excuse for being a loser.
* Not when he has committed to “locking up” his opponent as if America were some authoritarian banana republic.
* Not when his narcissistic, misogynistic character prioritizes his own celebrity over the public good.
* Not when there’s no good reason to expect that Trump, ranting about global cabals, won’t keep the rabble frothing as it vents its frustrations by continuing to channel its under-informed, over-indulged, pop-culture icon.
Imagine, a candidate to prompt Nixon nostalgia.