Reeder: Playing the election loss blame game

“Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.”
                       – John F. Kennedy

SPRINGFIELD – I couldn’t help but think of these Kennedy remarks when I heard Hillary Clinton kvetching about why she lost the election.

Let’s see, she said it’s the FBI’s fault. Or maybe it’s the Russians.

I don’t have any problem believing that either one of those things could have cost her the election. 

But to quote Democratic political strategist David Axelrod: “It takes a lot of work to lose to Donald Trump.”

After all, Trump is the least popular winner of a U.S. presidential race in modern times. 

But neither FBI Director James Comey, nor the Russians told Clinton to ignore Wisconsin or not put campaign resources into Michigan until the final week.  

When I was a student at Galesburg High School, a basketball coach deflected blame for a loss from a teenager who missed the needed basket during the final seconds of the game by pointing out that there were many baskets missed during the game. 

He was right, of course. 

There are many things that contribute to a loss.

Regular readers of this column know that I’m not fond of either Trump or Clinton.

Trump strikes me as a prevaricating braggart. Clinton, on the other hand, struggled to own up to her own mistakes and spoke condescendingly to broad swaths of the American people.

While true leaders shouldn’t equivocate, ours is a political culture that nurtures narcissists incapable of meaningful self-blame, but all too willing to embrace self-pity.

It’s not a new phenomenon. Think of Richard Nixon’s 1962 post-defeat remarks to the political press corps, “You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”

And in his biography, Nixon blamed Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev for tipping the 1960 presidential election away from him and to Kennedy. (It’s those dog-gone Russians again.) 

Tricky Dick is hardly unique. After most elections I’ve covered, losers cast blame. And it’s rarely on themselves.

I remember after one Moline Democratic primary, a drunken loser cursed the voters for their ignorance in not choosing him. (After listening to that diatribe for several minutes, I had to give those voters credit for being pretty smart.)

And sometimes, would-be explanations border on excuses.

Take House Speaker Mike Madigan’s explanation for losing his supermajority during the last election: “Republicans’ millions spent, coupled with the Trump headwind in downstate Illinois, created a difficult environment for many Democratic candidates.” 

Funny, I’ve yet to hear a losing politician say, “I guess the voters liked my opponent’s ideas better than mine.” 

And we are in for a long wait before one does.

• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist. He works as a freelance reporter in the Springfield area and produces the podcast Suspect Convictions. He can be reached at

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