A concession speech is an act of leadership. It is an admission that you have not won and an acknowledgment of the electorate’s power. Giving a concession speech was a right of passage and presumed always to occur. Of late, however, political rancor has corrupted electoral comity, so not every losing candidate delivers one.
This year, however, the concession speech made a triumphant return. Here are some examples as collected by the Washington Post.
Tim Ryan, who lost his Senate race in Ohio
“I had the privilege to concede this race to J.D. Vance. Because the way this country operates is that you lose an election, you concede. You respect the will of the people. We can’t have a system where if you win, it’s a legitimate election, and if you lose, someone stole it. That is not how we can move forward in the United States. …
Vesli Vega, who lost her House race in Virginia
“We gave it our all but came up a little short last night. … I want to congratulate the Congresswoman on a hard-fought win.”
Mehmet Oz, who lost his Senate race in Pennsylvania
“This morning, I called John Fetterman and congratulated him. I wish him and his family all the best, both personally and as our next United States Senator. …
“We are facing big problems as a country, and we need everyone to put down their partisan swords and focus on getting the job done.”
Stacy Abrams, who lost her gubernatorial race in Georgia
“It is good to be here in this moment, surrounded by your love and support. And let me begin by offering congratulations to Gov. Brian Kemp. …
“And tonight we must be honest. Even though my fight, our fight, for the Governor’s Mansion may have come up short, I’m pretty tall. This is a moment where despite every obstacle, we are still standing strong and standing tall, and standing resolute, and standing in our values.”
A good speech
The best concession speeches do four things:
One, they admit defeat. Good concession speeches address the facts. The candidates make no excuses; they deal with the reality of the moment.
Two, they acknowledge the hard work of their supporters. The candidate is the face of the campaign, but campaigns are nothing without the hard work of the field staff, the women and men who put their lives on hold to support a candidate in whom they believe.
Three, they affirm the values of the campaign. Such speeches underscore the principles for which the candidate fought.
Four, they express unity that will transcend partisan politics. Good concessions acknowledge that cooperation is more important than partisanship. These days such comity is hard to find, but it does exist and should be expected of every candidate.
Leaders far from the political fray would do well to keep the idea of knowing when to cease an effort or even to walk away from a leadership role. Leaders demonstrate grace when they recognize reality, express support for staff, affirm their values, and wish organization well.
Revealing the true candidate
Chris Matthews, the former host of MSBNC’s Hardball and author of books on the Kennedys, used to say that it was in concession speeches that voters got an inside look at what a candidate was really thinking. Most memorable might have been Richard Nixon’s concession speech after losing the race for California governor to Pat Brown in 1962. This defeat, the second in a row after a loss in the 1960 presidential campaign, stung, and Nixon let it all hang out, saying to the media:
“I leave you gentlemen now, and you will write it. You will interpret. That’s your right. But as I leave you I want you to know—just think how much you’re going to be missing. You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore, because gentlemen, this is my last press conference, and it will be the one in which I have welcomed the opportunity to test wits with you. I have always respected you. I have sometimes disagreed with you. But unlike some people, I’ve never canceled a subscription to a paper, and also I never will.”
That, of course, proved not to be true. Six years later, Nixon was elected president and re-elected four years later. Concession speeches may reveal the inner thoughts of the candidate, but they do not close the door on the future.
First posted on Forbes.com 11.15.2022