It's Friday, June 12, 2020, the day of the week when I reprise quotes intended to be instructive or inspirational. Today's come from both members of the losing Republican ticket in the 1992 presidential race. Their words are particularly apt this morning because this would have been the 96th birthday of George Herbert Walker Bush.
"Poppy" Bush, as he was known by family and friends, started serving his country even before he got that nickname. His lifetime of service began the day he graduated from high school. Disregarding his father's counsel, Poppy enlisted in the U.S. Navy on this date in 1942 -- the day he turned 18. He nearly lost his life after being shot down over the Pacific, went to Texas searching for oil, was elected to Congress, headed the Republican National Committee, directed the CIA, and was vice president for eight years under Ronald Reagan before becoming the 41st U.S. president.
All during that time, he held down another job: patriarch of a large and loving family. It's a position he came to savor more than any government post.
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I do not expect President Trump to win a second term in November. I write that prediction with neither glee nor regret: As regular readers of this note know, I'm among the dwindling few nonpartisan political journalists remaining. But the basic dynamics of electoral politics is that any incumbent running for reelection in an economy this stressed would face long odds. This would be true of a president, like Bush 41, who was well-liked personally even by his political opponents, which is hardly the case today. Trump is so despised by his adversaries that it's common for otherwise rational liberals to express trepidation that he'd refuse to accept defeat and would attempt to remain in office by force.
To me, this fear is plainly nuts. Only someone who knows nothing about the U.S. military would think the brass would help a president stage a coup. This very week, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff responded to criticism from his fellow officers with a groveling public apology for appearing in a controversial photo op with the commander-in-chief. Likewise, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper -- a West Point graduate -- was lambasted by his former comrades for the same offense. It's as if Esper was in the president's Cabinet or something. Oh, wait…
The real question, in the event of a Joe Biden victory in November, is whether Donald J. Trump would rise to the occasion by mustering a tone of graciousness. He has shown, on rare occasions, that he knows how to do this. But it's obviously not a posture that comes easily to him. For an example he could look to George H.W. Bush. There's no question that it was galling for him to lose his reelection bid. His Democratic challenger was only 46 years old (Bush was 68), had only run a small and relatively poor Southern state, and as a young man had reacted in the opposite manner as Bush when military duty beckoned.
But during the 1992 election season, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton had revealed himself to be an exceptionally skilled and enthusiastic campaigner. Clinton had also been aided by the presence -- and guerilla tactics -- of a third-party candidate, the prickly Ross Perot. For reasons known mainly to himself, Bush's fellow Texan essentially formed a tag team with Clinton against Bush.
In the months leading up to Election Day, as he lagged behind in public opinion surveys, Bush insisted to those around him that the voters would come around. They didn't. A sitting president who'd reigned without a major scandal and directed the wildly successful Persian Gulf War, earned less than 40% of the popular vote in a three-man race. President George H.W. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle were out -- and Bill Clinton and Al Gore were in.
That night, however, irrespective of their private thoughts, Bush and Quayle rose to the occasion. This was not a surprise to anyone who knew Bush. Even most Democrats -- and this is certainly true of Bill Clinton -- will tell you that George Bush was an uncommonly gracious man. He showcased that trait in defeat. His influence extended to Quayle as well.
Like Mike Pence, Dan Quayle is a Hoosier. And Quayle spoke on Election Night in 1992 to a crowd his hometown of Indianapolis. Unlike his boss, Vice President Pence often speaks humbly and inclusively. But if Pence were to lose his job to Biden's running mate five months from now he'd be hard-pressed to outdo Dan Quayle's classy performance 28 years ago. The audience of distressed Republicans chanted, "Ninety-six! Ninety-six!" Ignoring that, Quayle congratulated the winning Democratic ticket, but at the mention of Bill Clinton's name some in the crowd began booing. The defeated vice president held up his hand to quiet them. "Tonight is Bill Clinton's night," he said. "If he runs the country as well as he ran this campaign, we'll be all right."
Minutes earlier, George H.W. Bush had made his own concession remarks in Houston. I find them inspiring to this day and would hope, in the event of a Trump defeat, that he could sound this way:
"The people have spoken. We respect the majesty of the democratic system," Bush told the crowd of disappointed supporters. "I ask that we stand behind our new president. He did run a strong campaign and I wish him well in the White House, and I want the country to know our entire administration will work closely with his team to ensure the smooth transition of power."
With his children and their children standing behind him, the outgoing president then reprised a line he'd used hours earlier to the White House pool reporters. "I plan," he said, "to get very involved in the grandfather business."
He followed through on that promise, too, and that's your quote of the week.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.