PICKING A VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
Posted by Tim Bryce on May 16, 2012
- How picking a VP is a lot like picking the winner of the Kentucky Derby.
It used to be that picking a vice presidential running mate was somewhat of an inconsequential undertaking as the president basically ran everything and the vice president collected dust somewhere in Washington, DC. This all changed when Franklin Roosevelt died unexpectedly in 1945 thereby thrusting Harry Truman into the Oval Office and placing the mantle of responsibility squarely on his shoulders, including our participation in the second world war. As VP, Truman knew nothing about the atomic bomb or Roosevelt’s dealings with Churchill and Stalin. Fortunately, Truman rose to the occasion and carried on admirably. However, this forced people to rethink the importance and role of the vice president. No longer was it considered inconsequential, but potentially had huge ramifications. Since then, the role of vice president has evolved and there is now a closer working relationship with the president. In fact, the selection of vice president is indicative of the presidential nominee’s judgment and ability to make decisions.
As former Governor Mitt Romney is now the presumptive GOP candidate, attention turns to picking a suitable running mate, a task which must be handled delicately as both the people and the media will carefully scrutinize his selection. As the 2012 election may be razor close, Romney’s choice for VP may very well tip the scale one way or another, so he will not be hasty in making his decision.
When then Governor George W. Bush was locking up the GOP nomination for President in 2001, he asked his old friend Dick Cheney to head up his search committee for Vice President. Cheney and Bush considered several candidates, but in the end Bush realized it was Cheney who possessed the credentials he wanted in a running mate. Although he initially was hesitant to accept, Cheney acquiesced to Bush’s wishes. Like others who had gone before him, Bush realized there are basically three considerations for picking a running mate:
First, there is voter appeal; the person must be electable and will support the policies and positions of the presidential candidate without eclipsing the nominee or becoming detrimental to the cause. In other words, the two must be compatible, even though the vice president takes a backseat to the president.
Second, the person must be able to competently fulfill the duties of Vice President without embarrassing the President, thereby becoming a liability as opposed to an asset. The principal duties include serving as President of the Senate (where he primarily does nothing more than cast tie-breaking votes), presides over the electoral college, and acts as emissary for the president as directed. As such, the VP attends a lot of state funerals.
Third, the person must be able to govern should the president become incapacitated, dies, or removed from office. Here, experience and good judgment are of paramount importance to the person selected. The people must feel confident in succession should disaster occur. The vice presidency is also a good stepping stone to ascend to the presidency, and fourteen people progressed in this manner, but many more did not.
Lyndon Johnson was picked as VP by John Kennedy primarily because of Johnson’s extensive Congressional experience and because he was needed to solidify the Dixie Democrats in the election. Johnson, of course, succeeded to the presidency following Kennedy’s assassination. Ronald Reagan picked George H.W. Bush because of his considerable experience in government, including Ambassador to the United Nations and Director of the CIA.
Vice presidential candidates represent either a political competitor, somebody well known, or a dark horse. Selecting a political competitor can be awkward, particularly if a disagreement arose on the primary campaign trail. It is hard to pick someone who has openly criticized you, yet sometimes it is necessary if the person is the holder of political capital, such as Lyndon Johnson. Recent examples of political adversaries include the tickets of Reagan/Bush, Kerry/Edwards, and Obama/Biden. Picking a political competitor can be difficult as the media will focus on the differences between the running mates and question their compatibility. Although it is possible to overcome moderate differences, severe incompatibilities makes it impossible to form a viable team, particularly if they are along ideological lines.
Picking a person who is well known and has no specific political aspirations other than to serve the country are few and far between. This includes people like Dick Cheney, and Sargent Shriver who was picked by George McGovern to run with him in 1972 (replacing Thomas Eagleton who dropped out of the race prematurely). Shriver, of course, was well connected to the Kennedy dynasty.
Unknown “dark horses” would include such people as Senator Andrew Johnson who served as Lincoln’s vice president, and Senator Dan Quayle who was VP under George H.W. Bush. Even though Quayle had served admirably in Congress for several years, the public didn’t generally know him, which is why his selection came as a surprise. Similarly, Senator John McCain startled everyone by announcing Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008, a relative unknown at the time. Palin was primarily selected based on her record as governor of Alaska, and because it was hoped she would appeal to conservative and women voters.
In terms of Romney’s selection, he has several choices. Due to the viciousness of the GOP primary campaigns, it is unlikely he will select one of his political competitors, although picking Senator Rick Santorum may be a concession to the Right. Michele Bachmann is certainly not out of the running either as she possesses a Washington insider’s perspective which would certainly benefit Romney. In all likelihood, look for Romney’s competitors to pull together and serve in Romney’s cabinet, just as Lincoln’s political adversaries served in his.
Big name candidates being bandied about include former Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, former Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, and former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas. Even though he did a good job as governor in Florida, where he remains popular, it is unlikely that Bush will get the nod simply because of his name. He’s a good man, but it will be too close a race and the public does not want to be reminded of his brother. As the 2008 campaign is still fresh in the minds of the people, Palin will not be considered. Governor Christie and Senator Rubio are popular candidates, but it may be premature for their ascension to this level of politics. Ryan has excellent credentials but is embroiled in the budget battle and, as such, is a marked man by the Democrats. Huckabee is certainly a viable candidate, but it is uncertain if he would want to assume such a responsibility (some would say “headache”), particularly as he is now living comfortably in Florida where he makes his living on television and radio.
There are of course dark horses on the horizon, perhaps none better than General David Petraeus who is currently serving as Director of the CIA. His credentials and integrity may be impeccable, but it is uncertain whether he is willing to step into the fray.
So, who will Romney pick? I don’t believe it will be a dark horse as he rightfully wants to keep the attention on the race between himself and the president, not on the vice presidential selection. It will be someone the country will know and is comfortable with, a solid campaigner who will bring experience and political capital to the table. As much as I like Rubio, I don’t believe it is his time yet. True, he would be useful for attracting Latino and conservative voters, not to mention young people and women, but he is still unproven in terms of being able to play with the big boys. Then again, the vice presidency makes a great training ground for learning such things. Huckabee is perhaps the strongest contender, but my money is still on Bachmann, who would make a loyal lieutenant, solidify conservative voters, and run interference for Romney in the Congress. This is a ticket I proposed last year (click HERE) and I’m sticking with it.
Actually, picking a vice presidential candidate is a lot like placing a bet for the winner of the Kentucky Derby. There are lots of variables to wade through, but the horses are almost at the post and decision time is near.
Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Copyright © 2012 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.
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