Reactions to the news that President Obama and Mitt Romney will meetThursday are amusing -- it's almost like some people are expecting afight to break out, or an extended taunting session.
But Obama andRomney are professional guys who will no doubt be respectful during theprivate lunch at the White House, even as they continue what has becomea awkward political tradition.
It's hard for candidates to breakbread after spending months bashing each other, especially at thepresidential level. But most recent combatants have done it, eager todisplay a sense of national unity after a hard-fought election.
Obamadid it himself four years ago, meeting with John McCain at thepresident-elect's Chicago office building. The two men even spokebriefly with reporters, something not scheduled for Thursday: TheObama-Romney lunch is listed as "closed press."
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama believes some of Romney's ideas can be helpful as he plans a second term.
"Thepresident noted that Governor Romney did a terrific job running the(2002 Winter) Olympics," Carney said. "That skill set lends itself toideas that could make the federal government work better, which is apassion of the president's."
Looking back over history, one of themore interesting relationships between victor and vanquished occurredbetween Franklin Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie. The two met a few monthsafter their 1940 election battle, and FDR eventually made Willkie hisglobal ambassador during World War II.
Aides recalled aRoosevelt-Willkie meeting in which the former combatants were heardjoking and laughing, despite their contentious race in which Rooseveltwon an unprecedented third term.
More than five decade ago, President-elect John F. Kennedy welcomed vanquished foe Richard Nixon to his home in Palm Beach, Fla., shortly after their oh-so-close election in 1960.
It'strue that Kennedy was worried that Nixon might challenge disputed votecounts in Illinois and Texas. But Nixon allayed his concern, and the twomen apparently got along okay. (Kennedy also told aides he wanted toask Nixon how he managed to carry Ohio; we don't know how much shop talkcame up, but Nixon does remain the last presidential nominee to winOhio and lose the election.)
In 1968, when he was president-elect himself, Nixon met with defeated Democrat Hubert Humphrey. Historian Michael Beschlossnoted that Nixon talked about tapping Humphrey as United Nationsambassador, but Humphrey opted to resume his electoral political careerinstead.
(Beschloss also noted that post-election peacemaking has along tradition; in 1861, Stephen Douglas famously held AbrahamLincoln's top hat as Lincoln delivered his first inaugural address, justa month before the Civil War broke out.)
Most of thesepost-elections are stilted, but some blossom into friendships. JimmyCarter, who unseated President Gerald Ford in the 1976 election, laterdid events with his defeated opponent.
President George H.W. Bush,defeated by Bill Clinton in 1992, later became friends with thepresident who defeated him, to the point where President George W. Bushjoked that Clinton had practically become a member of the family.
Insome cases, defeated opponents continue to become thorns inpresidential sides -- a situation that is happening now. McCain, whokept his Arizona Senate seat and won re-election to it in 2010, doesn'thesitate to critique the Obama presidency, currently over the prospectof his nominating Susan Rice to be secretary of State.
More oftenthan not, however, presidents and the men they defeated tend to go theirseparate ways after their post-election meeting, the cheering andjeering well behind them.
Carter never hung out with RonaldReagan. Nor did Reagan with Walter Mondale, the senior Bush with MichaelDukakis, or the younger Bush with Al Gore (though Bush did welcome Goreto the White House when the latter won the Nobel Peace Prize).
It'shard to see Obama and Romney -- who had never met before this year'selection -- becoming pals down the line. Romney is 65 years old, holdsno elected office, and seems primed for retirement.
That said, we suspect it'll be a nice lunch. No arguments.