Good morning. It’s Wednesday, Nov. 4 -- Day Two of Election Day 2020. Six different candidates were elected president of the United States on today’s date, all of them for the first time. Those six elections -- the most recent being Barack Obama’s decisive victory in 2008 -- evinced some of the more memorable concessions in American politics. Early this morning at the White House? Not so much.
“This is a fraud on the American public!” said President Trump as his early lead in key battleground states was whittled into too-close-to-call territory. “This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election.”
Joe Biden’s camp reacted immediately -- and with predictable outrage. And so the horror show that is 2020 continues apace. In a moment, I’ll return, for the sake of my own sanity, to previous 4ths of November in U.S. presidential election history. First, I’d point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion pieces spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:
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As the Counting Continues, the Legal Wrangling Ramps Up. Susan Crabtree reports on the likely thicket of lawsuits coming if the vote tally in a few states remains close.
At the White House, Exhaustion and Defiance. Phil Wegmann describes the scene at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. as the returns rolled in and the outcome remained in doubt.
Four Places to (Still) Watch in Pennsylvania. Charles McElwee assesses regions in the swing state that could prove pivotal as votes are counted.
Joe the Father in a Pittsburgh Parking Lot. Howard Fineman found inspiration witnessing Joe Biden back in his element on the eve of the election.
Energy and Race: The Media’s New Intersectionality. At RealClearEnergy, Rupert Darwall argues that major news outlets are pushing climate policies that, paradoxically, hurt people of color. He also weighs in on COVID, climate change, and government coercion.
How to Save Lebanon and Its Christians. At RealClearReligion, Toufic Baaklini and Alberto M. Fernandez urge the government there to pursue a policy of “active neutrality” that favors neither East nor West.
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After U.S. presidents are elected and sworn into office, we learn more about their families, pets, policies and passions. American schoolchildren dutifully commit their names to memory and, over time, their presence in the White House takes on an inevitably that was rarely present when they actually sought office.
“Yes, we can!” seemed foreordained the night of Nov. 4, 2008, in Chicago’s Grant Park, but it certainly seemed a stretch two years earlier when a freshman senator from Illinois with no legislation under his belt and no executive experience signaled that he was seeking the highest office in the land.
Two generations after the fact, the slogan “I like Ike!” still brings a smile to the faces of Americans who think fondly of Dwight Eisenhower and the 1950s -- whether they were alive back then or not. But Eisenhower’s election, which occurred on this date in 1952, was not a foregone conclusion, either.
Certainly, the erudite and experienced Adlai Stevenson didn’t expect to lose handily to the World War general (something he would do again in 1956). But Stevenson handled his decisive defeat with customary grace.
“Someone asked me, as I came in, down on the street, how I felt,” Stevenson said in his concession speech, “and I was reminded of a story that a fellow townsman of ours used to tell --Abraham Lincoln. They asked him how he felt once after an unsuccessful election. He said that he was too old to cry, but it hurt too much to laugh.”
Lincoln did relate this anecdote, but probably not -- as 19th century biographer John T. Morse wrote -- about his 1858 loss to Stephen A. Douglas. Rather, Lincoln made this quip when asked about an 1862 New York gubernatorial election. In doing so, the 16th president was speaking for his White House brethren, Republicans and Democrats alike, when midterm and off-year elections don’t go their way.
Barack Obama learned this lesson, and then some, in 2010. That year, after the votes were counted, a somber Obama acknowledged publicly that he and his party took “a shellacking.”
“There is an inherent danger in being in the White House and being in the bubble," Obama said about the red wave that put the House back in GOP hands and nearly cost Democrats their tenuous Senate majority. “The responsibilities of this office are so enormous that sometimes we lose track of the ways that we connected with folks that got us here in the first place.”
That’s the mature, and politically savvy, reaction. A more naked human reaction came from onetime California political operative (and famed prankster) Dick Tuck, who ran for a seat in California’s legislature when Barack Obama was only 5 years old. After losing handily in the Democratic Party primary, Tuck quipped, “The people have spoken -- the bastards!”
The American people have spoken in 2020, too, although we’re not yet sure whom “the bastards” favored this year. This morning, both Donald Trump and Joe Biden can relate to the spirit of another Adlai Stevenson one-liner, this one uttered five weeks after the 1952 election: “A funny thing happened to me on the way to the White House.”
Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics