Ken Cuccinelli Has Not Called To Congratulate Terry McAuliffe, Why Does This Matter?

Ken Cuccinelli still hasn't called to congratulate Terry McAuliffe. Why does this odd custom continue?

Virginia Governor Forum

At some point along the way it became a custom in politics, at least in high profile races, for the loser(s) in political race to call their rival(s) and congratulate them on their victory. Given that these phone calls typically come at the end of a hard fought, sometimes bitter, election campaign, it’s best to view these calls as a custom that people continue to follow because it’s something that has always been done, but where there really isn’t any sincerity. After all, does anyone really believe that the man or woman who just lost an election is happy that they other guy won? Of course they aren’t. Indeed, sometimes, these calls take on a comical nature, such as in 2000 when Al Gore initially called to concede the election, only to call to take that concession back after doubts started to be raised about the outcome in Florida. Nonetheless, the custom continues, even in an era when it would be just as easy to send a “congratulatory” text message or Tweet, which is why some are raising eyebrows at the fact that Ken Cuccinelli has yet to make such a call to Terry McAuliffe in the wake of Tuesday night’s loss:

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) had not called Democrat Terry McAuliffe after losing the Virginia gubernatorial race and had no plans to do so as of late Wednesday morning, according to a report in The Washington Post.

Cuccinelli has already publicly conceded he lost the race.

At a press conference later on Wednesday McAuliffe said he had still not heard from Cuccinelli.

“I have not had the opportunity yet to speak to the attorney general,” McAuliffe said.

Kevin Drum wonders why these calls are considered necessary, and why it should be a big deal if they don’t happen:

Let’s see a show of hands on this. How many people think we should do away with the whole tradition of a congratulatory phone call from the loser of a political campaign? Is it an insincere gesture that’s nonetheless useful as a public way of bearing witness to the peaceful transfer of legitimate power in a democracy and keeping up a facade of civility? Or is it just a pointless and humiliating ritual that’s long since worn out its welcome? What say you?

These situations are slightly different when there’s an incumbent involved either in the election itself, or as the person leaving office at the end of a term. President Obama met with President Bush within days after winning the 2008 election, for example, and McAuliffe will be meeting with outgoing Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell today. As both a symbol of the peaceful transition of power, and the start of a transition process, such a meeting is both symbolically important and practically necessary. When you’re talking about two people who just happened to be running for the same office, though, it’s unclear that the whole custom serves any purpose other than to create a false air of collegiality among people who, just days before were attacking each other pretty harshly on the campaign trail.

So, yea, maybe you can say not making the phone call when it’s become something of a custom now stands out like a sore thumb as being kind of rude. However, that doesn’t mean that the call itself is really all that a big deal, or that it serves to do anything other than force a losing candidate to put on a false face of graciousness when in all likelihood all they really want to do is get some rest after a long and grueling campaign.

FILED UNDER: 2013 Election, Democracy, US Politics, , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. mantis says:

    And what’s with kids shaking hands and saying “good game” after a soccer match? There is no point to being a good sport.

  2. KM says:

    Because politics is about compromise. At its heart, the point of the custom is supposed to be proof you can work with the guy that just whooped your ass if you ever get lucky enough to be elected. It doesn’t matter if it’s not sincere – most of what politicians do isn’t sincere so why would you expect this to be? Why did politicians kiss babies, you really think they wanted to do that? Did you mother ever make you apologize when you didn’t mean it but the fact that you said sorry was significant (made you acknowledge you were wrong, someone else was wronged and you should publicly address that)?

    It’s just one more sign that Cuccinelli was the wrong option. If he can’t be bothered with a pleasantry that’s more for appearance and symbolism then content, what the hell would he have done later in office? Cheap as it may be, manners matter. He’s one of the ones that would burn it all down rather than compromise and shake.

  3. C. Clavin says:

    You are about as transparent as Jenos is stupid.
    The Republican is a rude douche-bag…but you make excuses for him because he’s a Republican. Meanwhile Christie…another Republican…was crying like a fat baby because Obama hadn’t called to congratulate him…but you don’t bother mentioning that.
    I imagine you are busy looking for the “Both Sides Do It” angle.

  4. KM says:

    do anything other than force a losing candidate to put on a false face of graciousness when in all likelihood all they really want to do is get some rest after a long and grueling campaign.

    It’s called sucking it up and acknowledging you lost, Doug. Many of these types of people will keep fighting a lost cause and kicking a dead horse if you let them. The call is a insincere thanks but a genuine gesture and acknowledgment of defeat. Cuccinelli lost, he can be a man for 2 minutes of his life and acknowledge it before moving on to the next battle.

  5. rodney dill says:

    Calling tends to reflect well on the caller. Other than that I can’t see that it matters.

  6. Argon says:

    It goes beyond sportsmanship. One is a gentleman or one is not.

    Even a huge prick can behave like a gentleman. Ironically, I’ve found that little pricks tend to have the most trouble with that.

  7. Qtip says:

    We know it would be painful to be the caller so we respect them more because they make the call anyway.

  8. C. Clavin says:

    Hey, Doug…the economy grew at 2.8% last quarter.
    Shouldn’t you be writing a post that whines about slow growth…but totally ignores the impact of austerity on that growth?

  9. James Pearce says:

    Stephen Covey would sue me if we were still alive, but this falls under the “Urgent but Not Important” quadrant. Make the call and move on with your life. That’s all.

  10. Jeff Dion says:

    I think it is an important hallmark of civility in our democratic process. When I lost my election, I was disappointed, I was tired, but I called Mike May before I went to my party. Perhaps that is why I have had good relations with him ever since.

  11. Jen says:

    Why make the call if it doesn’t matter?

    1) It makes you look like a good sport–handy if you are hoping to stay in the public eye.
    2) It’s considered a campaign norm–not doing it makes you look like a jerk.
    3) Politics is a strange, small place. You never know who you might need later, and when. It’s good insurance.

    By not making the call, he’s basically confirming what all of his detractors have said about him, plus, it’s dragging out in media coverage.

  12. KM says:
  13. Joe says:

    It’s called closure, for the candidate and for his (or her) supporters.

  14. Ken Cuccinelli Has Not Called To Congratulate Terry McAuliffe, Why Does This Matter?

    Because the GOP was OUTRAGED!!11!!1! that Ralph Northam wouldn’t shake E.W. Jackson’s hand?

  15. anjin-san says:

    When I started playing sports as a kid, my dad told me it was very important to shake the other guys hand when you lost, look him in the eye, and say “good game.” He told me it was important because you are going to have losses in life, and how you comport yourself in defeat is perhaps even more important than how you carry yourself in victory. He said character is important. He told me that I needed to learn to be a man, and this was a good time to start getting educated. “If you can’t do it that way, don’t play sports.”

    Not surprisingly, thes concept does not seem to mean much on the far right.

  16. grumpy realist says:

    It’s part of the etiquette of politics. We may sneer at them and say “what a bunch of stupid codes”, but remember, the reason for politics and elections is so that we don’t have challengers sending armies against each other.

    Cuccinelli’s refusal to call McAuliffe to congratulate him just confirms what a lot of us suspected: Cooch is an egocentric man who doesn’t think that “ordinary rules” apply to him. Either that, or he’s really, really late at going through his “to do” lists. Neither reflects well on him or his organizing abilities.

  17. Stonetools says:

    Sore loser is sore.

  18. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    Republicans no longer honor election results. Cooch didn’t “lose.” There was just an annoying interruption in the campaigning which began anew with 3 seconds after the VA polls closed.

    By not shaking hands, the “win” did not, in fact, happen. Besides, if the predicted landslide does not happen, then did the winner of the most votes REALLY win? There is enough doubt there, we should suspend Mac’s installment until we’ve gotten to the bottom of it. Why didn’t he have more votes? I demand Inquiry! I demand Fruit Cup!

    Republicans have reached the point in their self-destruction that they cannot be bothered to even have the appearance of adulthood, as this would cut into the fundraising, and those dollar goals WILL be met OR ELSE.

  19. rachel says:
  20. C. Clavin says:

    Cooch is an egocentric man who doesn’t think that “ordinary rules” apply to him.

    That’s really the problem with Republicans in general these days…they no longer have any respect for the traditions and institutions that have sustained this Republic for over 2 centuries.
    A phone call is a silly little thing…but his failure to call is a symptom of a much bigger problem within one of our political parties.

  21. C. Clavin says:

    Yes, Obama did call him…but not before there was much sulking in New Jersey.

  22. rachel says:

    @C. Clavin: Oh, for Pete’s sake.

  23. stonetools says:

    Well, you have to understand that according to conservatives, Macauliffe stole the election by getting all those black people, poor people, and single women to vote.

  24. al-Ameda says:

    It seems simple to me. Ken Cuccinelli reflects these times and the political faction of which he’s aligned. They are largely a group of bitter resentful people who feel strongly about the anti-government movement, and they feel entitled to govern. They have no class, no sense of civility. Come to think of it, Ted Cruz is the perfect avatar of this movement – arrogant, entitled, rude and self-righteous.

  25. michael reynolds says:


    As I said the other day, reminiscent of the young Nazi party in Germany: fanatical, hate-filled, resentment-fueled, rude, crude, racist and thuggish. Fortunately the United States is not populated by Germans and this isn’t the 30’s.

  26. elaine stenzel says:

    God forbid,if a republicon won,and the democrat didn’t congratulate him.Geez,they probably would have called a congressional session on why he didn’t and question him repeatedly why he didn’t and have Issa investigation that would last for weeks and weeks

  27. al-Ameda says:

    @elaine stenzel:

    God forbid,if a republicon won,and the democrat didn’t congratulate him.Geez,they probably would have called a congressional session on why he didn’t and question him repeatedly why he didn’t and have Issa investigation that would last for weeks and weeks

    and the investigation would have linked that “slight” to Benghazi. Thank god Cuccinelli lost.

  28. says:

    On a larger scale than this one race, the tradition of a call to formally concede and congratulate your opponent is symbolic that at the end of the election America (or in this case, Virginia) comes first, above personal ambitions. Even if the loser disagrees with the winner they are still on the same side and ultimately should want the best for the electorate. By not making a gracious (or even insincere but polite) concession a politician is putting themselves, their party or their ideals above the Nation/electorate and are showing themselves that much more unfit to be a representative of that nation and/or electorate.

    So this is a minor symbolic act that should absolutely never be abolished and candidates that skip it tell us much about whether they should ever be given another chance or not.

  29. gVOR08 says:

    Republicans are always big on saying character matters. This is another example of their inability to judge character.

  30. Chris Raimund says:

    McAwful ran a dirty negative campaign. I wouldn’t shake that slimeball’s hand either.

  31. Chris Raimund says:

    @gVOR08: Character? McAwful has none.

  32. Chris Raimund says:

    @mantis: Good sport implies you didn’t spread outright falsehoods about your opponent.

  33. Chris Raimund says:

    Did Gore ever concede in 2000 other than the retracted concession?

  34. Chris Raimund says:

    @James in Silverdale, WA: He conceded defeat. That is honoring the result.

  35. Chris Raimund says:

    @Timothy Watson: An why wouldn;t Ralph Northam shake E.W. Jackson’s hand? Why aren’t you outraged about that?

  36. Hal 10000 says:

    I do know that if Cuccinelli had won and McAuliffe had not called him to conceded, Fox News would be running massive coverage of how rude McAuliffe was.

  37. beth says:

    @Chris Raimund: Dude, if you’re going to call people names you don’t get to participate in a discussion about civility. Period.

  38. Midwestern Dad says:

    When Senator Mark Kirk (R. ILL.) Defeated his democratic opponent and was elected senator; they went out the next day for burger’s and beer at Billy Goat’s tavern. I think it indicates that politics are not life and death; you can respect your opponent while disagreeing with them and move on. Calling and conceding suggests a level of maturity and respect for an opponent. As noted above; there is an increased lack of cooperation and civility in recent politics.

  39. V. Bullock says:

    Why does it matter? In politics and life, there are always winners and losers…but there is a protocol also known as common decency. If a losing candidate like Cuccinelli was truly for the people and advancing an unselfish and righteous platform, he should have taken the high road and congratulate the winner so that the people of the Commonwealth who voted for Cuccinelli will continue to support him in future endeavors. A simple phone call would show that Ken C. has class worthy of the dignity of the office he sought but lost; and that while deeply disappointed, he is nevertheless respectful of the voters’ decision and the political process. It is shameful for Ken Cuccinelli (a father of seven children) to take the politically-immature road which sets such a poor example of handling the loss. Confront it and move on. As a so-called believer, he should know better.
    Ken C. should know better.

  40. Virginia Patriot says:

    @Chris Raimund:

    This video will explain why Cuccinelli and Most of Virginia doesn’t trust McAwful –

    McAwful was full of dirty tricks, blood money, libelous commercials, and rigged vote-switching machines all over the state. McAwful is a CON-MAN

  41. Virginia Patriot says: