OPINION — A little historical perspective. In the history of the United States, according to The University of Virginia’s Miller Center, the two narrowest presidential margins of victory have been the race between George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000, and Rutherford Hayes against Samuel Tilden in 1876.
Compared to those two races, the current race “is actually quite a comfortable victory for President-elect (Joe) Biden,” according to an article by the Miller Center’s CEO, William Antholis. (The center is a highly-regarded bipartisan historical resource on presidential history.)
According to Antholis’s article, Bush’s election night lead in Florida was 1,784 votes. And, Florida alone would have flipped the election. President Donald Trump needs to flip tens of thousands of votes in multiple states to change the result. To do this, Trump must find those votes in Georgia recounts and convince a court (and probably multiple courts) to change or throw out tens of thousands of votes across multiple states.
The Hayes-Tildon margins were tiny and across South Carolina, Florida, Oregon and Louisiana. It took four months and a highly divided commission to give the victory to Hayes. Similar to this election, there were charges of fraud and voter disenfranchisement. That stalemate was over just 7,685 votes.
The task before President Trump and his lawyers is more daunting – much more daunting. While it is mathematically possible, it is so statistically unlikely that the decent thing to do is follow President Gerald Ford’s example from his race with President Jimmy Carter, which was decided by .27%. Ford conceded the day after the election. President Richard Nixon would have needed to flip 115 votes in Hawaii, 8,858 in Illinois and 9,980 in Missouri to defeat John Kennedy. Instead, he conceded the morning after the election.
A concession and a civil and peaceful transition is the example a statesman would follow. So, don’t count on it. Trump has never been either civil or a statesman.
How presidents spend their post-presidency time? President Dwight Eisenhauer wrote his memoirs and advised both Kennedy and Johnson. President Harry Truman also advised both Kennedy and Johnson. He wrote his memoirs, oversaw the building of his presidential library and rarely strayed too far from his beloved bourbon.
Johnson wrote his memoirs and prepared his library. Nixon wrote his memoirs, lectured and continued his China diplomacy, the second-most famous feature of his presidency. He was an advisor to Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
Nixon authored six critically acclaimed books and spoke about foreign policy around the world.
President Ford wrote two books, considered a run as Ronald Reagan’s vice president. He wrote extensively on domestic and foreign policy. He was the co-chair of the National Commission on Federal Election Reform. Clinton awarded the 86-year-old Ford the Presidential Medal of Freedom in August 1999, in honor of his public service in binding the nation together after “the nightmare” of Watergate.
Carter has been a tireless volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. He has been a freelance ambassador for international missions. He has advised presidents on Middle East issues. He has been involved in mediating disputes between the U.S. State Department and the most volatile of foreign leaders. He’s written three books.
President Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease shortly after leaving office, and spent his remaining days in seclusion with his wife, Nancy.
President George H.W. Bush got involved in his sons’ Jeb’s and George’s political lives. He teamed with Clinton to create the Bush-Clinton Houston Tsunami Fund, a national fundraising campaign to provide assistance to damaged communities throughout Southeast Asia after a tsunami struck there.
Clinton has been active in the Clinton Presidential Foundation combating HIV/AIDS, fostering racial and ethnic reconciliation, and promoting the economic empowerment of poor people.
Former President George W. Bush has quietly relaxed on his ranch, refraining from any criticism of his successor, Barack Obama or any other president. He created the Bush Institute for the purpose of continuing discussions about the best policies to foster economic growth, human freedom, education, global health, and various women’s initiatives. He’s devoted a good deal of energy to wounded veterans and post-traumatic stress among veterans. He wrote his memoirs and published a book about his father’s military experience.
To what statesman-like endeavors will Trump devote his time? One suspects he will try to take a few strokes off his golf game while becoming the most inconsequential former president in modern history.
Michael Sanborn writes from Rapid City.
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