Cable-news networks spend hours of their schedule analyzing the latest moves and actions of the President of the United States. CNN, for at least a little while, will devote time to the people who ran for the office, but lost.
CNN will debut “Almost President: The Agony of Defeat” on Wednesday, August 31 at 9 p.m. ET. In the documentary special, CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger will present interviews with Mitt Romney, John McCain, Michael Dukakis and Walter Mondale and examine their years of working toward snaring their party’s nomination only to find the storm of attention around them dissipating in almost a single moment.
“It’s a hard thing to get over,” said Borger, in an interview. She said she was inspired to tackle the project by a photograph of Republican candidate Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, making a trip to Costco just weeks after the conclusion of his failed bid to oust President Barack Obama in the 2012 election. “That sort of crystallized it, to me,” she said. These people were once seen as potential leaders of the free world, Borger noted, and then discovered quickly that the Secret Service coterie and public attention once accorded them fades, and they must return to their regular lives.
“To be blunt about it, losing sucks,” Dukakis remarks during his on-screen interview. In the documentary, Mondale recalls asking George McGovern how long it took to get over losing the Presidency. The response, he said was, “when I get over it, I’ll call you.”
As she worked on the project, Borger said she kept in mind the seminal campaign book “What It Takes” by Richard Ben Cramer. That book examined not only the 1988 race for U.S. President among George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, Michael Dukakis and Gary Hart, but also took time to probe their inner psyches and learn what gave them the stamina and ambition to take on the project in the first place.
Those who spoke were quite candid, she said. “I was surprised by their willingness” to talk about not only their memories, but their take on what went wrong. Borger said many of the former Presidential candidates have spent much time analyzing their errors – even examining what personality flaws or public reactions might have doomed their efforts.
The documentary, executive produced by Liza McGuirk, includes insights from three senior political strategists: James Carville, Mark McKinnon, and Bob Shrum. All three have been inside some of the losing campaigns.
Borger said she spent hours on the project between other assignments, but was not able to get access to two prominent former candidates: Al Gore and John Kerry. Gore, she noted, has rarely looked back in public on his bid to beat George W. Bush, and Kerry was too busy dealing with his duties as U.S. Secretary of State.