Why McCain Could Break the Presidential-Loser Mold

Like the sun rising in the east and the L.A. Clippers losing more games than they win, you can count on the losing candidate in any election talking about putting the nastiness of the campaign in the past and giving the winner a chance to succeed.

In that sense, John McCain’s comments in an extended interview on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday were utterly unremarkable. Asked to define his role in politics now that Barack Obama will be president, the vanquished G.O.P. nominee replied: “I think my job is, of course, to be a part of and hopefully exert some leadership in the loyal opposition. But I emphasize the word loyal.”

It’s a nice sentiment, but not different from anything we’ve heard from the losing side in past presidential elections. When he and the first President Bush were forced from office by Bill Clinton and Al Gore in 1992, for instance, Dan Quayle said of Clinton, “If he runs the country as well as he ran his campaign, we’ll have nothing to worry about.” But Quayle and his fellow Republicans treated Clinton to one of the roughest presidential honeymoons in memory.

But there is something different about the position McCain is in right now compared to past non-incumbent presidential losers: He’s still in office (and recently announced plans to seek another six-year Senate term in 2010) but, at 72 years old, has absolutely no illusions about ever running for president again. We really haven’t seen this combination in modern times.

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