The Post-Election Walking Dead

"I hear you died, but you put up a good fight right to the very end."

R. Daniel Proctor
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The crowd is gathered as The Walking Politically Dead conducts his funeral march across the room. When TWPD mounts the scaffold – or rather, stage – there are a few calls from the crowd, but the mood is mostly somber.  At times, there is muffled weeping.

As TWPD begins to speak his last words, a few people slip out the back, either not wanting to witness the spirit-crushing scene or desiring not to be associated with the event and to get out before others commit their attendance to memory. 

As the words come, slowly, tinged with forced enthusiasm or sincere melancholy, the comments go on either for as little time as possible or for as long as TWPD can keep a clammy grip on the spotlight. 

And that’s what it’s like at an election night “victory” party for the candidate and the assembled supporters when Election Day goes south. A quote often attributed to President John F. Kennedy (mainly because he used it in a news conference) sums up the varied reactions: “Victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan.”

Frankly, defeat has even fewer people on its side. 

An example, from NBC News, Nov. 9, 2018, “Shock and Sadness Among Some Clinton Supporters”: “As the numbers came in on Election Night, supporters of Hillary Clinton appeared stunned — some with tears in their eyes, others looking devastated as they left early from events that they hoped would be celebrations.”

At the winning campaign’s party as the outcome is announced everyone is high-fiving; smiling; or congratulating each other for their role in the victory. If they had no role they make one up, unofficially.  People don’t want to leave, and others belatedly arrive to share in the moment. 

For local candidates, the upcoming dates of jubilation or despair are the May 1 county primary; the Aug. 2 county general election and state and federal primaries; and Nov. 6 state and federal general election. 

The above-described campaign-night scenes will replay itself multiple times on each of those dates. Elections mark an ultimate demarcation between success and failure. The finality of the ballot box means that winners are in and losers are out, with all the privileges and humiliations, respectively, appertaining thereto. 

Losers often get beaten up, figuratively speaking, by some of the people at their dashed “victory” parties. While many are gracious and caring, there’s a lot of venting. Much of the anger flows from people who’d been anxious to tell the candidate (regardless of how minimal or infrequent their contact), “You did what I said you should do and it worked,” or “I was out there working hard for you and I knew you’d win.” 

That translates more accurately into, “I’m not saying you owe me something for helping you win, but, you owe me something for helping you win.” 

For the losing supporters the frustration is like that of the 100,000-plus football coaches in Neyland Stadium after a Vols loss: the campaign was mismanaged; the message was wrong; the campaign manager was clueless; they spent money on the wrong things; the ads were terrible; and who thought that campaign theme was a good idea, anyway? 

And election night is just the start. 

A most difficult thing losing candidates encounter is discovering that within the space of a few hours they’re now thought of much like yesterday’s mayonnaise-and-ketchup-stained hamburger wrapper – soiled and of no real use. 

The invitations to events stop arriving. News media requests for interviews, comments, and to appear on radio or TV talk shows dry up like a drop of water in the desert. Groups that begged and pleaded for time on the TWPD’s calendar for speaking engagements now hope he won’t call saying his “schedule has been freed-up.”

While family, true friends, and genuine supporters stick by TWPD, others encountering  him on the street or at events wonder how long before they can escape. This is for two reasons: they don’t comfortably know how to say to someone the equivalent of, “I hear you died, but you fought hard right up until your last breath, so that’s good,” or because they don’t want the winner or anyone associated with the winner to see them and think they wanted a different outcome. 

What turns this around? Time. It takes time for TWPD to not feel as if every person he passes isn’t whispering and pointing. They aren’t. Most people are oblivious. Life goes on.

The other is if he runs again and is seen to have a credible chance at winning. In such cases it’ll soon come about that “old friends” will stop him to say, “Here’s what I think you should do…” 

With any luck the next go-round will be someone else playing the part of TWPD.

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