‘It was not worth a bucket of warm spit.’
Those eloquent words of John Nance Garner, FDR’s first deputy, sum up the view that many have on the Vice Presidency of the United States. For years, people have ducked and dived in order to avoid the job that doesn’t have a lot of influence. He’s commonly seen as a backup option.
Now, if they want something to do, they have to pray for several things. One is for the Senate to tie on a vote, so they can cast the deciding vote. It rarely happens, but it’s big when it does – the most recent case was when Mike Pence voted in favour for a Defense Department appropriations bill.
If the Vice President is a bit more morally dubious, they’d either like the President to fail (ala a Watergate style scandal) or that President’s heartbeat to fail. The conspiracy theorists of the world like to think this about Lyndon B. Johnson, who was hurriedly sworn in aboard Air Force One mere hours after JFK was shot and killed in Dallas. A power hungry man annoyed at being second to a younger man, many think he was involved. RFK, JFK’s younger brother, certainly thought that.
Of course, they can temporarily take over while the President is having his appendix out, but that lasts at maximum half a day.
Selecting a Veep
Historically, the Veep was selected one of two days. In earlier years, at the start of the new country, the second placed man in the election would automatically become Vice President. Later on, he would be decided by the convention that also elected the President. 1960 was the first time in which both parties had the candidate choose themselves and not through party ballot.
At the time of writing, Joe Biden is vetting candidates for November 2020. He’s promised it’ll be a woman, with the speculation ranging from moderate Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar to progressive Georgian Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Whether a race is tough or easy, picking the right running mate is probably the most important decision a candidate will make. Biden will surely have his work cut out for him, as Trump would have done in 2016.
This article will tell you how the selection of a VP works. There’s no perfect formula, but there’s a list of considerations that’ll no doubt be in place. Throughout history, we have seen this in action. Without further ado, here we are:
America may have a two party system, but ideology isn’t so black and white. Democrats have moderates, Reagan Democrats, progressives and socialists among others. Republicans have neocons, Tea Partiers, Rockefeller Republicans and libertarians among others. There is no way to make everyone in the party happy. It’s not 100% that every party supporter will vote on party lines.
Though we’ve established the VP isn’t exactly the most influential figure, he (and maybe one day, she) does have weight in decision making and the position is often a springboard to the top. It is important that the ticket mates have differing ideologies in some respect. Again, it will not please everyone, but it opens up diverse opinion.
The best example is most recent. Donald Trump, a member of the populist right, selected establishment Republican Mike Pence. It is best to categorise Pence as a member of the Christian Right, with a broader appeal among traditional members. As his candidacy came unexpectedly and he is not a long-term Republican, his reason for choosing Pence was primarily to assuage fears among the party faithful.
It was also part of JFK’s plan in 1960 – as a Catholic from Massachusetts, he knew that many voters and politicians weren’t fans of him. In both an effort to reach out to them and form a good civil rights plan, he chose Texan Lyndon Johnson.
One notable aversion is in 1992, when Bill Clinton selected the similarly Third Way-inclined Al Gore (who was also geographically close, but more on that later). It may be understandable in this case, as the Third Way was a relatively new ideology within the Democratic Party.
The geography of the United States is as varied as its people, and utilising regions is essential in winning states. Both major parties have strongholds across the country – the Republicans are strong in the south whilst the northeast is the Democrats’ area. Some states have been the same for countless elections – Kentucky and Mississippi remain red, whilst California and New York are true blue.
Even whilst that is true, one must definitely factor in geography regardless of state affiliation. Life in California is much different to life in Wisconsin. A balanced ticket may not represent every corner of the USA, but it allows at least two different regions to have some say. It’s important to note that party affiliation is not the same across the country. A southern Democrat could be more conservative than a northeastern Republican in some respects.
Having a ticket mate from a swing state is most definitely a bonus, as they have the native vote.
Whilst New York was never going to go red, Trump chose Indiana son Mike Pence. Indiana is generally Republican anyway, and also in the midwest – a place with quite a few swing states. The swing state selection has not been so for a while, but there has definitely been geographical variety. Midwestern Obama selected northeasterner Biden. Bush Sr. chose an Indiana native, whilst Bush Jr. picked one from Wyoming. Al Gore of Tennessee chose Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman. Arizona’s John McCain picked a wild card with Alaska’s Sarah Palin. Then representing Massachusetts, Romney picked Wisconsin native Paul Ryan.
As stated before, Bill Clinton did not factor in geography. Al Gore was from nearby Tennessee, another generally red state in the south. This is perhaps unusual, but as we saw in two consecutive elections, it worked.
Until 1984, the only candidates on major party tickets had been WASP men. Two exceptions could be given to John F. Kennedy (a Catholic, though still white and a man) and Barry Goldwater, whose father was Jewish. It’s not really a surprise, considering how long it’s taken to get more women and minorities into politics.
This changed in 1984, when Democratic candidate Walter Mondale chose Geraldine Ferraro. For reasons outside of sex, they lost in an absolute landslide to Reagan and Bush. Since then, there have been two more women represented on a major ticket. One was Sarah Palin and the other Hillary Clinton, both unsuccessful.
The only non-white major party candidate was Barack Obama, who was obviously successful. Since then, more candidates have been putting emphasis on diversity. Indian-American Nikki Haley was reportedly considered by Mitt Romney in 2012. Hillary Clinton’s 2016 list included African-American Cory Booker and Hispanic Julián Castro. She ended up choosing white man Tim Kaine, though that is probably due to her knowing some voters weren’t ready for a woman.
Joe Biden has promised to select a woman. After some controversial comments, it won’t be a surprise if the nominee is also an ethnic minority.
When Barack Obama entered the race, he had been in the Senate for three years. Whilst he’d had some experience in local politics, he was mainly involved in community action and law. Enter Joe Biden, a man who had been in the Senate since Obama was in middle school. With a long career, bolstered in name recognition during the Clarence Thomas hearings, he was the perfect man to guide the inexperienced Obama through the White House.
Some presidents have more experience than others. For some, they entered politics straight out of college, becoming aides and advisors to politicians. Others had jobs including law. Many were in the military, some even making a career out of it. Not all of them could say they had experience, hence why they select those who could help out.
As stated, the Obama/Biden ticket was one such example. Another is Trump/Pence. Trump has no prior political experience or history of elected office, something that he used in order to promote himself as a Washington outsider. Pence was Governor of Indiana at the time and also had served as a Congressman. More palatable to the elected officials, he would handle the legislators.
Whilst Ronald Reagan had been Governor of California, he was pretty politically inexperienced otherwise – he’d entered politics fairly late in life. Contrast this with George H. W Bush, who had been a Congressman, CIA Director and Ambassador to the UN amongst other things. This allowed the balance on the ticket that might otherwise be needed.
This was how Vice Presidents were selected at the start of it all, but it has occurred more recently too. In 1960, JFK did away with the traditional of the convention delegates deciding the running mate, instead choosing House Leader and southerner LBJ. LBJ did not initially want the job, hating having to be junior to a younger man (there was only nine year age gap in reality), but he ended up agreeing. This came to be fortunate for him, as he ascended to the presidency after JFK’s assassination.
In 1980, George H. W Bush won the Iowa caucuses over Ronald Reagan. This is when the Reagan campaign started to fight hard, and when he won, the Gipper asked Bush onto the ticket. It was not only due to his strong start, but due to Bush’s popularity with moderate and establishment Republican.
Joe Biden ran again in 2008, after a failed attempt twenty years before. He lost his edge behind Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. As well as the reasons listed before, Obama asked Biden to serve as his VP.
This is a lot rarer than you think. Across history, the relationship between President and Vice President was a political partnership and nothing else (with the exception of James Buchanan and Rufus King, who were rumoured to be romantically involved). The Reagans never invited the Bush couple to events due to Nancy Reagan disliking them. Bush Jr and Dick Cheney got along, but they were far from friends. Al Gore distanced himself from Clinton towards the end of the Presidency, apparently getting on better with Hillary.
The only two to be considered friends are Jimmy Carter/Walter Mondale and Barack Obama/Joe Biden. Carter respected Mondale, taking an active interest in him and allowing him to actually sit into Cabinet. Obama and Biden clearly got on as friends, even though the former took a while to endorse the latter as President.
It’s fair to say it’s not friendship that’s the most important thing in the world, so it’s no surprise it’s not a case of picking your best friend as your science project partner.
The recipe for the perfect Vice President is an impossible one. You can add being from a swing state and being a minority, but it wouldn’t necessarily make it the best possible cake. It takes a lot of decision making and vetting to decide.
With Pence remaining on Trump’s ticket, it’s on Biden to make the next VP selection. Will these factors be used in the choice? All we can do is just wait and see…