The primary concession formula: No surrender

The political concession speech is now a concession in name only.

After all, what is there to concede? Certainly not the rightness of one's ideas, or the superior efforts of one's supporters. Whether a candidate is staying in the race or dropping out, the concession speech is not a surrender but a call to arms.

"We head out west and the fight goes on," New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Tuesday night &

with nary a word of congratulations to the three Democrats who'd placed ahead of him in the New Hampshire primary. A stranger to presidential politics would never know that he'd eked out only 5 percent of the vote, or that he'd wind up quitting the race just two days later:

"Thank you, New Hampshire, thank you for all you did for us!"

You're ... welcome?

When the concession speech does congratulate the winner, it does so perfunctorily, usually in a few lines tucked into the beginning of the address &

the better to get them over with. The losing candidate may dryly state the obvious, as after Tuesday night's New Hampshire primary, when Barack Obama described Hillary Clinton's victory as "hard-fought," and Mitt Romney said John McCain "out-competed us." He might toss the victor a few kind words, like Obama saying Clinton did an "outstanding job." If the speaker is gracious, he might even ask for applause on behalf of his mortal enemy.

And then he moves on to what he hopes everyone will remember. The concession speech is really a retooled stump speech, in which the politician repeats all the themes of the candidacy (health care, security, whatever) and reminds the audience that the stakes couldn't be higher. Even those who are abandoning their quest for the presidency tend to revisit their qualifications, as if to say, Yoo-hoo, America, take a look at what you're (ital) not (end ital) getting! Like any stump speech, there is a formula, and rules to follow.

First, it is important to thank all the very nice people in (name of state). As former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani put it doggedly after finishing fourth in New Hampshire, "We've made a lot of good friends here."

The candidate should note that his or her spirits are high!

"I am still fired up and ready to go," second-place finisher Obama said Tuesday night, paraphrasing one of his favorite stump lines.

Indeed, the candidate is focusing on the positive! For example, look how many people came out to vote &

albeit for other candidates.

"This is a great night for Democrats," Clinton said after her brutal third-place showing in the caucuses. "We have seen an unprecedented turnout here in Iowa."

It is important, also, to reassure the audience that this is no deterrent, that a poor finish is not, say, the result of a crumbling operation headed by a lackadaisical candidate who has squandered considerable hype and name recognition. For example:

"The fight goes on, my friends," Fred Thompson said after finishing fourth in the Iowa caucuses.

A wise politician will retroactively lower the audience's expectations, reminding voters that at some point in the past, people voiced doubts about the campaign, and compared with back then, the campaign is doing (ital) real (end ital) well.

"Nobody thought that we would even be one of the contenders in New Hampshire," former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said after finishing third among Republicans in New Hampshire.

Note the victories, paltry as they may be.

"I've gotten two silvers and one gold," said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, attempting to blunt hissecond-place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire by pointing out his first-place finish in Wyoming. (Wyoming? They voted?!)

If staying in the race, the candidate should remind audiences that this is just the beginning.

Giuliani: "Think of it as the kickoff."

And if leaving the race, the candidate should also remind audiences that this is just the beginning.

"The fights we've waged in this campaign will not end tonight," Sen. Chris Dodd said as he pulled out of the race after the Iowa caucuses.

Remember! There is no cause for bitterness, even if one has been utterly, utterly walloped.

"Look, folks, there's nothing to be sad about tonight," Sen. Joe Biden told an audience as he ended his campaign after the Iowa caucuses, in the manner of a dad trying to reassure his losing Little Leaguer. "I feel no regrets, not one single solitary ounce of regret."

Chin up. Brush away those tears. There are no losers here.

Share This Story