You campaign for months—years, even—only to lose it all on Election Day. That can't feel great, right? The Daily Beast found out exactly how bad it feels by talking to Walter Mondale (who lost to Ronald Reagan in 1984), Michael Dukakis (who lost to George HW Bush in 1988), and Bob Dole (who lost in 1996 to Bill Clinton). Mondale and Dole had an idea that things weren't going their way, so the final stretch for them was more about maintaining a brave face. "If you don't keep a stiff upper lip, you will start losing all of your good supporters," says Dole. Mondale says he was just trying to avoid "a collapse that would hurt Democrats who were running for other offices." Dukakis, on the other hand, says he fought hard until the very end, noting that he thought he "blew the election by not responding to the Bush attack campaign," calling it his "biggest mistake."
But what about the morning after? "It just takes a while," Dole says. His advice: "Get out, keep busy." That's what Dukakis did—"I went back to work the next day," he says—while Dole went on a trip to Florida and Mondale "took it easy" for a month, doing some reading and fishing. "You spend a lot of nights and quiet time re-debating the issues, wondering about this and wondering about that," he says. Dole agrees: "You start dissecting the campaign, what did we do wrong, was there ever a chance to win … you sort of go over that a million times. Sometimes it keeps you awake at night." Even if it doesn't, your internal clock will still be "all screwed up" from zigzagging across the country during the campaign, notes Dukakis, who remembers waking up in the wee hours for months after the election. "You kind of hang your head," says Dole. "You feel like you let down the party." (Read more Walter Mondale stories.)