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‘I am rooting hard for you’: Why a 24-year-old letter between presidents went viral

From left, former President Bill Clinton, former President George H. W. Bush and his wife Barbara Bush stand for the National Anthem at the Kennedy Center, Monday, March 21, 2011, in Washington.
From left, former President Bill Clinton, former President George H. W. Bush and his wife Barbara Bush stand for the National Anthem at the Kennedy Center, Monday, March 21, 2011, in Washington. AP

In the third and final presidential debate, Donald Trump again refused to say he would concede the election if he lost, saying he would “look at it at the time.”

He has previously said “the whole thing is about winning.”

“If I don’t win, as good as you say I have done, if I don’t win, I will consider it a total and complete waste of time, energy and money,” Trump said at a campaign rally in April.

A letter that went viral Wednesday night shows former President George H.W. Bush felt differently after his loss. It’s almost 24 years old, written in January 1993 following Bush’s loss to Bill Clinton, but it resonated with people tired of highly divisive politics.

“You will be our president when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well,” Bush wrote. “Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.”

This wasn’t the first time the letter went viral during this election. It also made the rounds in June, before the Democratic and Republican conventions. Saba Gul, the CEO of a fashion company based in Pakistan, was browsing the internet when she found an article that mentioned the letter.

“It really struck me,” Gul said. “I couldn’t shake off the sadness and disappointment of this election, and I saw in this letter a man who was graceful in defeat.”

Gul, who attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and lived in the U.S. for 11 years, decided to share the letter on Twitter. She said even living in Pakistan, U.S. politics are important to her, particularly with the first female nominee of a major party. The post was retweeted about 8,000 times as of Thursday morning.

“It was such a beautiful letter, and it’s what I want politics to get back to,” Gul said. “A lot of people told me it brought tears to their eyes.”

It was then tweeted on Wednesday by Tom Ashbrook, the host of National Public Radio’s On Point, hours before the final presidential debate. His had been retweeted more than 17,000 times Thursday morning.

“Read this. Think about this,” Ashbrook wrote. “George H.W. Bush’s gracious handoff to Bill Clinton. It’s beautiful.”

As well as Trump’s refusal to say whether he would concede the election if he lost, the last debate of 2016 also featured Trump calling Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman,” and Clinton accusing Trump of being Russian President Vladimir Putin’s puppet.

The presidential candidates’ spouses also did not partake in the customary handshake before the debate, as the Clinton campaign refused to do so following a leaked plan by the Trump campaign at the following debate. The plan was reportedly to make Bill Clinton shake hands with women who have accused him of sexual assault.

Here’s the full text of Bush’s letter to Clinton:

Dear Bill,

When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.

I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.

There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.

You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.

Your success is now our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.

Good luck,

George

On Dec. 13, 2000, Vice President Al Gore conceded defeat to Texas Governor George W. Bush in the bid for the presidency. The televised speech occurred after legal battles over the recounting of votes. He called for national unity, saying "we put c

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