On November 8, 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt followed the election returns coming in via telegraph to the White House. He was running for his own term, having succeeded William McKinley who had been assassinated in 1901, just six months into his presidency. Roosevelt was immensely popular – viewed by the Democrats as virtually unbeatable, with men like William Jennings Bryan and even former President Grover Cleveland refusing to run against him. It fell to one Alton B. Parker, a New York Court of Appeals Judge, to be the sacrificial Democratic lamb that year – his ticket balanced by an 81 year old millionaire from West Virginia. TR won by nearly twenty percentage points in the popular vote.
Sitting in the White House that evening with his wife, Edith, and a crowd of friends, he stunned his guests, not to mention his spouse, by announcing that he would not be running for reelection four years later. That was an odd way to celebrate a great victory – but it was far from impulsive. He kept his promise in 1908, leaving the White House on March 4, 1909 more popular than ever.
Of course, he was only 51 years old when he went into retirement, and he did struggle with just what to do with the rest of his life. Family members were fond of saying that Roosevelt “longed to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.” This seems to bear a striking resemblance to a current former occupant of the Oval Office.
Flash forward a century and think with me about a scenario that has possibilities, though I have no way to predict its probability. If John McCain turns out to be the Republican nominee, and then if he indeed wins the White House in November, he will be, at 72 years of age, the oldest president elected to a first term (Ronald Reagan was 73 when elected the second time).
Imagine with me that President-Elect John Sidney McCain III appears on television late in the evening on November 4, 2008 to claim victory, graciously congratulate his worthy opponent, and thank those who voted for him. Then he pauses, looks over to his wife and smiles, and turning back to the camera says the following: