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Lessenberry: The Republican Party should never allow another Donald Trump to happen again

Oct 20, 2016

Forty years ago, Gerald Ford, the only man from Michigan ever to reach the White House, went to bed in the wee hours of Election Night not knowing whether he had won or lost.

For Ford, the very closeness of the election was a sort of vindication. He started the campaign terribly unpopular. Inflation was high, and he was the man who pardoned our one clearly criminal president, Richard Nixon.


One poll taken after the Democratic convention suggested Ford might win only Michigan.

But he battled back to almost a tie. When he finally woke up the next morning, he had won 27 states and 241 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win.

But it wasn’t quite enough.

He had lost Ohio by a tiny margin of 11,000 votes out of more than four million, and was behind in Hawaii by only 7,000.

Winning those two states would have given him the election.

Ford, however, didn’t dispute the results. In fact, it never occurred to him to do so. Instead, he called a press conference.

You can watch it below:

His voice was entirely shot from non-stop campaigning, so he stood there while his wife Betty read his statement conceding defeat and congratulating Jimmy Carter.

Al Gore had real reason to believe he was robbed. He actually won the popular vote sixteen years ago, and was only three electoral votes short.

But when the Supreme Court stopped the Florida recount, he faced the cameras with class and grace, and congratulated George W. Bush.

“Just as we fight hard when the stakes are high, we close ranks and come together when the contest is done,” he said.

Watch Gore's speech below:

Nobody has ever had to ask a presidential nominee if he would accept the results of the election. Until now.

Last night, Donald Trump again said he might not. “I will look at it at the time. I will keep you in suspense,” he said.

Nolan Finley, the deeply conservative editor of the Detroit News, loathes Hillary Clinton.

But minutes after the debate, he wrote a column that should speak for all Americans.

"No one with such cavalier disregard for the Constitution and American political tradition can claim any right to sit in the White House ... [Trump] proved what his critics have been saying about him: He’s dangerous. His campaign is over, or should be. Who cares who he appoints to the Supreme Court if he would destroy the nation’s foundation?"

There were several times last night when I thought I was watching the equivalent of a drunk in a nuclear power plant, one happy to slur Hispanics as “bad hombres” and call his opponent a “nasty woman.

One very telling line that should have gotten more attention came early, when Trump said that if he gets to name a couple justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade would be reversed. “That will happen automatically, in my opinion,” he said.

Well, no, it wouldn’t

The Court doesn’t issue decrees. It rules on cases, and that might take years. But it is neither clear the nominee neither knows nor cares how things work.

What’s also clear is that his party owes something to us, once this election is over. They need to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.