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Almost President: The Men Who Lost The Race But Changed The Nation Hardcover – December 6, 2011
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“[An] engaging study of men who came up short in the presidential arena but still had a significant effect on the life of the nation….”
—Wall Street Journal
“Scott Farris shines a welcome spotlight on the neglected subject of presidential also-rans. In this impressive new book, Farris shows that the losers and their ideas have sometimes transformed their political parties, and moved the nation ahead. Meticulously researched, Almost President is rich in detail and anecdotes, and a pleasure to read.”
—Joseph Wheelan, author of Mr. Adams’s Last Crusade: John Quincy Adams’s Extraordinary Post-Presidential Life in Congress and Libby Prison Breakout
“Scott Farris has penned a series of fascinating portraits of candidates who triggered sea changes in our political process. Informative to readers at all levels.”
—David Pietrusza, author of 1948: Harry Truman’s Improbable Victory and the Year that Transformed America
“To those demoralized by today’s fiercely partisan political arena, take heart! Scott Farris’s superb history of losing Presidential candidates reassures us all that even out of bitter campaigns and defeats, losers do come back and contribute profoundly to major realignments, decency, and equality in American politics.”
—The Honorable David Abshire, former Ambassador to NATO, and current President, Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress
“Farris writes with a lively flair, skillfully illustrating his solid historical research with revelatory anecdotes and facts.” –Publishers Weekly
“A lively, opinionated examination of the instructive role of the loser in presidential races…. [R]iveting, sympathetic treatments…. A most useful aide-mémoire for situating the upcoming presidential slugfest.” —Kirkus Reviews
From the Inside Flap
—Henry Clay, 1824, 1832, 1844 presidential runner-up
Farris explains how Barry Goldwater achieved the party realignment that had eluded FDR, how George McGovern paved the way for Barack Obama, and how Ross Perot changed the way all presidential candidates campaign. There is Al Smith, the first Catholic nominee for president; and Adlai Stevenson, the candidate of the “eggheads” who remains the beau ideal of a liberal statesman. And Farris explores the potential legacies of recent runners-up John Kerry and John McCain. The book also includes compact and evocative portraits of such men as John C. Fremont, the first Republican Party presidential candidate; and General Winfield Scott, whose loss helped guarantee the Union victory in the Civil War.
Almost President reveals that losers often show more foresight than winners, that being ahead of their time is one cause of their defeat, and that losing, like the demolition of a house, can be an opportunity for reconstruction of a political party and the nation. Losing presidential campaigns have created new political alignments and broken down barriers to participation for a wide variety of groups, from Catholics to women. And losing presidential candidates, by conceding victory graciously—an uncommon occurrence in many other nations—ensure that our American democracy works.
Top customer reviews
In "Almost President," Farris recalls the careers and contributions to American history that defeated nominees have made. These highly distinguished Americans include Henry Clay, Stephen Douglas, Tom Dewey, Barry Goldwater, and others. The brief biological sketches show that many of these figures were on the national stage at some of the most critical times in American history, and many others did much to change their parties, which ultimately changed the country. Farris notes that losing nominees were not always quickly forgotten, but decades ago often assumed the role of spokesmen or titular heads of their parties.
As the author notes, this is a country that disdains second-place finishers and runners-up (think of how many Buffalo Bills jokes there were in the early-to-mid Nineties). Men such as Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, and Bob Dole became punchlines or worse in many quarters following their losses, but it really is no small thing to have gotten the nomination of one of the world's two most important political parties--scores of other politicians have run for president and not gotten their party's nomination.
The author is a staunch liberal, so if you are a conservative there are places in the book where you will definitely disagree with the author's conclusions, but "Almost President" is a fascinating, worthwhile retrospective on those who, even though they did not capture the ultimate prize, still greatly contributed to the American story.
But as Almost President proves, even those that lose can still leave a large impact on American political history. The bulk of the book consists of short biographies of nine men to have been major candidates for President, lost, but still left their mark on political history. Those nine men are: Henry Clay, Stephen Douglas, William Jennings Bryan, Al Smith, Thomas Dewey, Adlai Stevenson, Barry Goldwater, George McGovern, and Ross Perot. Also included in the final chapter is a look at the three most recent losers: Al Gore, John Kerry, and John McCain.
All in all a pretty interesting look at those figures usually forgotten. The author does have a slight liberal bias (but it is not bad) and sometimes can be rather long-winded on certain things, but those things do not really detract from the overall quality of the book. I would recommend this to those interested in American political history.
Deeply considered, long researched, and written by someone who has covered political races, run races and advised Governors and Congressmen, and even run for Congress himself, Farris brings a particularly rich and varied background to the analysis that really makes this a special book.
It's is what every chapter was like. If the book was almost cut in half, I would love it. I think the publisher wanted to charge $28 for this and it had to be padded. I get it. Goldwater created the modern Republican Party. McGovern reached out to new demographic groups, who didn't respond. The author dragged it out again and again, much like this review.