What We Can Learn From ‘The Agony of Defeat’

By A.J. Katz 

CNN has devoted an overwhelming amount of prime time hours to analyzing the current presidential election cycle. The network will take an hour-long detour tonight at 9 p.m., with the documentary Almost President: The Agony of Defeat.

CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger sits down for a series of interviews with presidential candidates who fell short in their bids to win the White House: Mitt Romney, John McCain, Michael Dukakis and Walter Mondale among them. “Each man provided me with a great degree of introspection,” says Borger in an interview with TVNewser. “These conversations are something you don’t get much of what you speak to other politicians or candidates.”

A significant focus of the program is how even after all of these years, each candidate still feels the harsh effects of losing. “What really struck me is that none of them have yet to really get over it,” says Borger. The wound seems a bit fresher for Romney who told Borger, “I’d love to do it all again, and I’d love to win!”

“This project is actually something I have thought about for years,” says Borger, who used the Richard Ben Cramer book What It Takes, as a guide. Calling the book “the seminal work in political journalism,” Borger says it shows what a candidate truly goes through when they run for president. She also recalls coming across a photo of Mitt and Ann Romney shopping at a Costco not long after losing his bid for president, a trip they made without being surrounded by the secret service. “There’s a picture of them loading their car up with groceries, ready to go home,” says Borger.” It is something that resonated with me, the fact that you can go from the pinnacle of almost being president, back to that normal life.”

The candidates recall things they believe may have destroyed their chances of winning. McCain talks about how he wanted Joe Lieberman as his running mate, but was afraid the RNC would flip out over his pro-choice stance. (Lieberman was Al Gore‘s running mate 8 years earlier). He also cited the brief suspension of his campaign the day the stock market crashed less than two months before the election, and the general stress of having to be perfect at all times. “You can’t become almost totally scripted, so that there’s no mistake,” McCain tells Borger. “My greatest strength is being extemporaneous.”

“I really want the audience to realize that no matter what you think of their politics, these are still human beings,” Borger says. “I hope people understand that running for president is like nothing else in American life. I hope the viewers respect how these people put themselves out there day in and day out for years. They are honestly not like us, and each of them truly believed that they could change the country.”