“May the best man win”
Above is what you typically hear at the start of any kind of competition.
Against the backdrop of Donald Trump’s rewriting of every rule in the book of how to contest and win an election, the following list details 10 times the generally accepted most or at least very qualified candidate for president or prime minister did not end up winning, for one reason or another:
1) Hillary Clinton (USA, 2016)
Hillary Clinton has served as senator for the state of New York, was first lady when Bill Clinton served 2 terms in the White House and was secretary of state under Barack Obama. Her political experience dates back easily 4 decades. Donald Trump is a multibillionaire who has hosted TV reality shows. They faced off in November 2016 and Trump came away the victor. Sure, he won 3 million less actual votes than H Clinton, but he won the electoral college and that is what matters.
2) Hillary Clinton, again (2008)
Barack Obama was a mere first term senator when he swept past Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party primaries on his way to the Oval Office.
3) Michael Ignatieff (Canada, 2006-2011)
Michael Ignatieff is a world renowned academic, having taught at the 3 of the top universities in the entire world – Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard. He earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, his master’s at Cambridge and doctorate at Harvard. He has written extensively to broad acclaim on topics in the areas of international politics and Canadian, British and Russian society and history. Ignatieff has also penned many articles for globally respected British and Canadian newspapers including the Guardian, in addition to working for the BBC. He lived in the UK from 1978 to 2000.
Ignatieff became an MP in 2006. He ran for the leadership of the Liberal Party in 2006, losing out to another entry on this list, Stéphane Dion, before ascending to the position of leader in 2008 when Dion resigned in the wake of general election defeat. As party leader, he was sure to become prime minister of Canada if the party emerged victorious from the next election. The following general election was held in 2011, but party slumped to its worst general election performance of all time, with Ignatieff even failing to hold on to his own seat.
In the end, Ignatieff had the academic knowledge, foreign policy expertise, but could not seem to turn any of that into electoral prowess. As such, he only went as far as leader of the opposition. He stepped down as Liberal Party leader in 2011, paving the way for eventual party leader and current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who took over the party mantle in 2013.
4) Stéphane Dion (Canada, 2008)
Stéphane Dion is just as brilliant an academic as his compatriot and previous entry on this list, Michael Ignatieff is; he holds a PhD from Sciences Po Paris and taught at the University of Montreal for a decade. Like Ignatieff who spent 2 decades in the UK, Dion also lived abroad, spending the better part of a decade in France. Unfortunately for the French Canadian who once supported a push for Quebec to become independent from Canada, he was just as unable to parlay academic acumen into election winning ability.
Liberal Party prime ministers had governed Canada for 84 of 139 years of the position’s existence by the time Dion took over the party. He then presided over the party when it had the greatest ebb in its history, just 2 years removed from a 13-year run of Liberal Party rule in Canada.
He held on to his seat and thus remained an MP. Most recently he still played a role in Canadian government as the country’s Foreign Affairs minister. That was until 2 days ago when he retired from politics after being relieved of his ministerial portfolio during a cabinet reshuffle.
5) Mohamed El Baradei (Egypt)
Egyptian legal scholar Mohamed El Baradei is a 2005 Nobel laureate who once headed the International Atomic Energy Agency for over a decade. He has a doctorate in international law from New York University and also studied in Switzerland. He won the Nobel Prize for his contribution to non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. El Baradei also served on the board of the International Crisis Group think tank. He clearly has the academic standing and foreign policy chops necessary to be a world leader as president of his country.
El Baradei returned to Egypt in January 2011 and joined in protests ultimately leading to the ouster of long time Egyptian strongman President Hosni Mubarak in what was to become known as the Arab Spring. Following Mubarak’s toppling, El Baradei expressed his readiness to run for president and to lead Egypt into a new more democratic age. However, he faced a firestorm of criticism with detractors branding him everything from an opportunist, given the number of years he spent living outside of Egypt before what they saw as his conveniently timed return, to a Western spy or puppet, given the favour with which he is viewed by Western governments.
His aim was to run for president with the backing of National Salvation Front umbrella opposition group. However, the post-Mubarak powers that be neutralised him by naming him interim vice president in 2013 – a post from which he resigned after around a year citing human rights abuses at the hands of the government to which he could not give tacit support.
His progress towards the presidency has stalled ever since.
6) Dominique Strauss-Kahn (France, 2011)
Everyone will agree that Dominique Strauss-Kahn is a brilliant economist. He taught economics at a Paris area university before working as a government economic advisor, then Trade minister and subsequently Finance minister in the 1990s. A member of the Socialist Party, he ran in the party’s presidential primary but lost in 2006.
Incoming President Nicolas Sarkozy lobbied hard for Strauss-Kahn to be named IMF managing director, which he was in 2007. It was widely thought that Strauss-Kahn would return to French politics to run for the presidency in 2012. Given the unpopularity of Sarkozy and the beleaguered state of the opposition Socialist Party, he was thought of as a shoe-in.
That was, however, until the Sofitel affair, which saw Strauss-Kahn arrested and charged with attempting to sexually assault a hotel employee in New York. After that, many other scandals and accusations of that nature piled up and turned the would-be saviour of French politics into a political leper.
7) Alain Juppé (France, 2016)
Alain Juppé is the dictionary definition of a political stalwart on the French local political scene. His is a political career that has reached dizzying highs and dipped to dismal lows over 3 and a half decades of public service. The current mayor of Bordeaux has always been just at the foot of the podium of French political power without ever becoming president; he served as prime minister, as defence minister and twice as Foreign Affairs minister, 2 decades apart. What he will however almost always be best remembered for is having been mixed up in a corruption scandal in the early 2000s, over which he was found guilty in court and even barred from holding public office for a time.
The man referred to by his mentor and former French President Jacques Chirac as “the best among us” has always been thought of us president material but the stars have never seemed to line up. In 2016, he ran in the primary contest of the centre-right Les Républicains party to determine its presidential candidate for the May 2017 election. An odds-on favourite throughout the campaign, Juppé made it to the final round but was crushed by fellow former PM, François Fillon.
Forever the bridesmaid, never the bride is Juppé.
8) Al Gore (US, 2000)
Al Gore was US vice-president during the 8 years of the Clinton administration. He fully intended to succeed his buddy Bill at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 2000. It was unquestionable that he had the experience to be up to the job as president, as he had just served as the president’s deputy. Despite winning the popular vote by some 500 thousand votes, he went under to George W Bush, amid controversy over voting machines in Florida and accusations that the election had been stolen by the Republicans.
After that he left politics and became a prominent climate change awareness advocate.
9) Jeb Bush (US, 2016)
Jeb Bush was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007. His father is former President George HW Bush, and his brother is former US President George W Bush. Bush seemed to be a strong contender to put his experience running Florida to use running the whole US. However, hurricane Trump put paid to all of those ambitions. Bush slumped out of the Republican primaries without making much of an impact and Trump is now US president.
10) David Miliband (UK, 2010)
One of a pair of brothers making waves in the Labour Party in the 2000s, David Miliband made a name for himself by becoming Foreign Secretary in 2007 when Gordon Brown took the baton as PM from a retiring Tony Blair. David Miliband studied at Oxford and at MIT in the US.
When Gordon Brown’s Labour outfit failed in 2010 to carry on Tony Blair’s trend of 3 straight general election victories dating back to 1997, Brown stepped down and a party leadership contest ensued. The final vote pitted the Miliband brothers against each other, with Ed Miliband – who had never held one of the Great Offices of State like David had – emerging as the winner. Ed Miliband was apparently more in touch with the Labour Party’s priorities at the time – so in touch that he led them to election defeat in 2015, with saw them win 26 less seats than the previous election and saw the Tories win so many seats they didn’t even need to form a coalition à la 2010 with the Lib Dems. But who’s counting?
David Miliband continued on in the House of Commons as a backbencher until 2013 when he resigned and relocated to the US to run the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian NGO.
The jury is out as to whether David Miliband may have made a better Labour Party leader than Ed, but one thing they appear to be equally talented at is ending up in hilarious food related photos, as seen below.
At the very least all these loveable losers can go on well-paid speaking tours now, I suppose. At best they can follow Michael Ignatieff’s lead and write books about winning and losing in politics.