Sometimes it’s a door. Sometimes it’s a window. Sometimes it’s a windshield.
A vanquished politician must have something to look forward to, at least metaphorically, after a profound, unexpected defeat like the one Virginia primary voters dealt Republican Rep. Eric Cantor. Fortunately, politics is as littered with bromides about the lessons of losing as it is with losers.
You can always pledge to continue to fight for the American people — as Cantor said he would Wednesday at a news conference, without offering specifics. You can, of course, find a silver lining. And vow to drive not into the sunset but into a new dawn.
“My favorite expression is, ‘The windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror,’ ” former senator Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.), who was dethroned in 2004, said by e-mail Wednesday. “I’ve attempted to continue looking through the windshield and could not be much happier.”
Daschle, who had served as the Democratic leader in the Senate, left office with plenty of clout in Washington, which softened the blow. “The key is to avoid dwelling on the loss,” Daschle said. “Some of the saddest people I know do just that.”
Losing an election — especially one you were confident you’d win — can be painful, even devastating, losers say. Some are stoic. Al Gore, after the 2000 presidential election, seemed to wear his emotions on his face, growing a beard.
Others trust in the Almighty to help them move on.
“If you have faith, you believe that if God closes one door, he opens a window,” said former senator Norm Coleman, the Minnesota Republican who lost in 2008 to Al Franken (D).
Coleman said his pollster had projected victory. “The Franken race, I had the joy of winning on election night; I thought I had won,” he said.
“I had nine months to process that,” he said, referring to the recount battle that ensued. Coleman also had experience working through a previous political loss: He had suffered defeat in 1998 to former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura in a three-way gubernatorial race.
Few saw Ventura coming — just as the pros did not anticipate a win by tea party candidate Dave Brat in Virginia.
Coleman, then mayor of St. Paul, said, “I went right back to work the next morning as mayor, and it was the best four years of my life.”
The second loser in that contest was Skip Humphrey, son of former vice president Hubert H. Humphrey. “For me, obviously, it was a bit traumatic, but you have to put a little humor in it,” he said with a hearty laugh. “I was winning up until the last three-quarters of an hour.”
Well, at least that’s what the numbers showed, but he, like Daschle and Coleman, says he did not look back with regret.
“The bottom line for me always has been, when you close one door, another opens,” Humphrey said. “A richer and fuller life opened up for me.”
On Wednesday, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) dusted off a durable Winston Churchill quote to address the loss by Cantor, the House majority leader, on Tuesday:
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal.”
True enough. Any number of politicians high and low have had second acts. Richard Nixon came back. Bill Clinton was famously called the Comeback Kid.
What keeps the losers going is the same thing that made them winners in the first place: hubris, ego, conviction, certitude.
“That which has propelled you forward before has to propel you forward again,” said Joe Fuld, a Democratic campaign consultant.
“It’s having that drive and fortitude to say, ‘No, I’m right, and I’m going to continue to succeed.’ ”
But when defeat is too much too handle, when a black cloud in the rearview obscures the silver lining, when every door and window seems sealed shut, Fuld offers this prescription, as dispensed in his recent article for Campaigns & Elections magazine:
“Get professional help. If you find yourself unable to leave your home or relate to folks after a campaign, you may be suffering from depression. This can be serious and is more common than you may think.”