The history of concession speeches and calls

The history of concession speeches and calls
Posted at 4:52 PM, Nov 06, 2020

In the early morning hours of November 8, 2000, the state of Florida, which had been previously called for Al Gore earlier in the evening, was called for George W. Bush.

Within minutes, Gore called Bush to offer a concession, as customary, and wished him well as president-elect. As Gore prepared to take the stage to address disappointed, a stunning development occurred.

Gore unexpectedly only trailed by several hundred votes. Gore called Bushto retract his concession, which media reports at the time suggest stunned Bush’s campaign.

Over the course of a month, legal battles ensued as the pivotal state in that year’s election was very close. More than a month later, after Gore lost a Supreme Court battle, he again called Bush to offer his concession. This time, Gore addressed the nation.

“Now the political struggle is over and we turn again to the unending struggle for the common good of all Americans and for those multitudes around the world who look to us for leadership in the cause of freedom,” Gore said. “In the words of our great hymn, "America, America": "Let us crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea. And now, my friends, in a phrase I once addressed to others: it's time for me to go.”

For years, Election Nights took a familiar order: The networks project a winner, the losing candidate calls the winner, that candidate speaks, and then the winning candidate addresses the country.

In 2016, the usual order was slightly broken. While Donald Trump had been declared the winner by the Associated Press, and Clinton called Trump to offer a concession, it was Trump who decided to speak to supporters. Clinton opted to addresssupporters the next morning.

"I congratulated Trump and offered to do anything I could to make sure the transition was smooth," Clinton wrote in her 2017 book “What Happened.” "It was all perfectly nice and weirdly ordinary, like calling a neighbor to say you can't make it to his barbecue. It was mercifully brief.”

Like previous concession speeches, Clinton’s concession speech offered gratitude for supporters, and an offer to unite behind the newly-elected president.

“Donald Trump is going to be our president,” Clinton said. “We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead. Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power.

“We don't just respect that. We cherish it. It also enshrines the rule of law; the principle we are all equal in rights and dignity; freedom of worship and expression. We respect and cherish these values, too, and we must defend them.”

While elections of 2000 and 2016 were between two non-incumbent candidates, concessions can become more tricky when the sitting president loses to a challenger, like in 1980 or 1992. The last two times the incumbent president lost were not close elections.

“I called Governor Reagan in California, and I told him that I congratulated him for a fine victory,” President Jimmy Carter said in 1980. “I look forward to working closely with him during the next few weeks. We'll have a very fine transition period. I told him I wanted the best one in history.”

“I just called Governor Clinton over in Little Rock and offered my congratulations. He did run a strong campaign,” George W. Bush said in 1992. “I wish him well in the White House. And I want the country to know that our entire administration will work closely with his team to ensure the smooth transition of power. There is important work to be done, and America must always come first. So we will get behind this new President and wish him well.”

Years later, Bush joined with Clinton to become a philanthropic duo. The two united to raise funds for disaster relief following the Indian Ocean earthquake of 2004, Hurricane Katrina of 2005 and the Haitian earthquake of 2010.

Whether the customary order of events happen in 2020 remains in question as Trump has vowed to fight if the election is called in Joe Biden's favor. Currently, Joe Biden holds an advantage in enough states to become elected.