Skip to comments.Must a VP Candidate Really Be Ready to Be President?
Posted on 07/16/2012 12:05:56 PM PDT by Kaslin
Its a predictable mantra as speculation mounts about the identity of the person who will occupy the number two spot on the 2012 GOP ticket: The most important thing for a VP selection is that it be someone who is prepared to be president.
At first glance, this rings true. But political history shows that someone who can energize a campaign is actually more important. The primary job of a Vice Presidential candidate is to deliver a highly motivated and effectively mobilized base, while at the same time doing relatively little harm. Joe Biden wasnt effective because the country saw him as ready to be presidentnor was Dan Quayle, but they did what they were supposed to do. They worked tirelessly to deliver votes.
Occasionally the country gets a chance to see someone who is ready to be president and a solid campaigner in the same skinGeorge H.W. Bush and Lyndon Johnson come to mind. But this is rareand there have been cases when VP candidates certainly had what it might take to be real presidents in waiting, only to fall glaringly short on the campaign side.
There is no better example of this than what happened 52 years ago.
The 1960 presidential race has been analyzed probably more than any other election in the past one hundred years. Three men all who would eventually become president occupied center stage: John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard M. Nixon.
But in a very real sense, it was the selection of a running mate by the Republicans that turned out to be a crucial, yet usually overlooked, part of the story. Of course, John Kennedys tapping of his rival Lyndon Johnson is an epic political tale that has been the substantial focus of attention, but it is what happened on the Republican side that year that should be examined afresh and anew by Mitt Romney and any and everyone on his team involved in vetting potential running mates.
The biggest VP crash-and-burn candidate in recent memory was a man by the name of Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. He was Nixons running mate as they battled the Kennedy-Johnson Democratic ticket in 1960. Though conventional historical wisdom generally suggests that Kennedy beat Nixon because of Nixons first debate performance, or his failure to call Coretta Scott King, or vote-fraud shenanigans in Illinois, the real story may have much more to do with Mr. Lodge.
David Pietrusza, in his 2008 book, 1960: LBJ vs. JFK vs. NixonThe Epic Campaign That Forged Three Presidencies, described Mr. Lodge:
On the surface he seemed quite impressive articulate, handsome, experienced, a true public servant from one of the nations most distinguished families. But in the long history of vice-presidential nominees Lodge though scoring extremely well in abstract popularity polls ranked as among the more puzzling of selections. He was unable to carry his home state, nearly powerless to affect any outcome in his region, a toxin to his partys conservative base, and, ultimately, a drag upon the ticket in a region the South where real breakthroughs might be gained.
Lodge was described by chronicler Theodore White as, like medicine good for you, but hard to take.
Why would Richard Nixona skilled political strategistchoose someone who would go over like a lead-balloon? The answer seems to be in his desire to base his decision on the qualifications to actually serve as president, more than political considerations such as campaign skills or the ability to help the ticket geographically and demographically.
Mr. Nixon also sensed that the crucial issue of the campaign was foreign policy no doubt a reflection of his own interests. To try to go toe to toe with the Democrats on domestic issues would, he thought, give the natural advantage to his opponents. Lodge had, in fact, been a very effective U.N. Ambassador during the 1950s and had some good press recently. After the U-2 spy plane fiasco in May of 1960, he helped the U.S. regain the Cold War public relations initiative by highlighting the fact that the Soviets had been eavesdropping on our embassy in Moscow. A device was hidden inside a gift that had been given to our ambassador back in 1945 a great seal of the United States carved in wood.
Yet, the choice of a running mate from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedys home state, and, in fact, of someone who had already been soundly beaten by Kennedy in a senate race eight years earlier, seems in retrospect rather curious.
In contrast to Richard Nixons energetic fifty-state marathon, Lodges hatred for the nuts and bolts of press-the-flesh campaigning translated into a lackluster performance. He took long naps after lunch, refused evening appearances, and regularly canceled those scheduled in the afternoon. One politico complained, we didnt mind him having a nap in the afternoon, but why did he have to put on his pajamas?
Nixon had well-known problems with television that year, but Lodges work before the camera was far worse the only redemption being that much of it never saw the light of day. During one of many attempts to produce shows or spots, he botched his delivery so badly that several expensive hours worth of work had to be completely scrapped.
Henry Cabot Lodge was a significant drag on the ticket. And as the campaign reached the end, he gathered his team a few days before the election to prepare a statement. Margery Petersen, a Nixon secretary, was asked to type it up. She later recalled: When I saw it, I just couldnt believe my eyes. It was a concession statement! I refused to type it.
The fact is that the most effective running mates have not been people who instantly resonated with voters as presidential. On the contrary, the best of the lot have been good team players, hard campaigners, and politicians who understood that it wasnt about them. They balanced, complimented, and did their best to help the person in the top spot to win. Whether or not a person who steps from some other duty to run for vice president is prepared at that moment for the actual presidency is not the real issue.
Just read any biography of Harry Truman.
Say this out loud: "President Joe Biden"
Yeah, it helps.
I am the vice-president of the United States. In that I am nothing. But I may be everything. - John Adams
Stupid answer for a stupid question!
A president doesn’t even need to be ready to be president.
Can you say President Obama? (Me neither)
Today the slot of vice president only exists as impeachment insurance.
Can you say President Biden? (Me neither)
2008 the ‘Rats elected a Presdient who wasnt ready to be President.
Wasn’t? Still isn’t.
Ha! That ticket was a double wammy!
Neither one of those guys is ready for prime time!!
These days even the candidate for president doesn’t need to be prepared or qualified to be president.
Dear Reader Obama is living proof of that.
I couldn't remember who sung it...lol.
“Joe Biden wasnt effective because the country saw him as ready to be president”??? Yikes!!! How much MORE effective could he be at protecting Obama -— but the specter of a Joe Biden Presidency!!!
Yet the vice-president, a person who has the potential to be president of the United States, is chosen in such a cavalier manner. Usually by a committee formed by a presidential campaign intended to "balance" the ticket geographically.
The process has given us mediocrities for president such as Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford and a couple others I can't name off the top of my head. Harry Truman was for the most part OK, I guess, but the exception to the rule and he ended up getting elected in his own right.
I would support a constitutional amendment that requires the VP to be elected separately. I realize this might create situations where we have a Republican president and a Democrat vice-president (and vice versa), but if anybody can suggest a better way, I'm open to it.
Yeah, I think they need to be ready.
Good Lord please add Al Gore to your list. I found him worse than Biden for sure. Who was Carter’s VP? He must have been a disaster.
A good question to have asked Harry Truman.
That’s for directing me to this article. I agree with it.
I don’t want a Tim Pawlenty.
I want an Allen West.
Kaslin, you always post the most interesting articles, and this was no exception!
I’m old enough that I recognize the name, Henry Cabot Lodge, but as I was reading the piece I suddenly realized I had no idea who Nixon’s running mate was in that famous election.
I read another piece the other day about whether or not being veep helps you become president. It might have been just about governors who were veeps, it was in the Star-Ledger here in NJ (I bought the paper because I needed newspaper for chores, but of course I read a bunch of it first!). I got the impression that the Gov. Christie as potential veep is providing their writers with a lot of column fodder.
Anyway, the consensus of the piece was that, in modern times anyway, it was better to just run for president.
I wondered why they didn’t discuss the case of Nixon a little more. He ran for President as the current Vice-President and lost, but then of course he won the top job 2 elections later.
Has anyone else every done that? As VP or otherwise? Not just run for the nomination, but been the nominee, lost and then won on another go-round?
Anyway, I thought the author made some good points, but I do think a person who is VP should be ready to be president.
I guess that would be another interesting piece, how did Veeps who became President due to the death of the POTUS make out? And how “ready” were those fellows thought to be during the campaign(s).
I know I read a great article years ago about how some Dem pols in a smokey backroom basically saved the US from Communism by getting FDR to dump Henry Wallace for Harry Truman. I think that was the last good thing the Democrats did for this Country.
“The vice-presidential selection process has always been something that bothered me.”
Originally it was the top 2 vote getters who served as pres & vice president. How and why that was changed I don’t know, but the constitution must have been amended to change it.
Of course, nowadays it would guarantee a rep/dem or vice-versa result.
Maybe someone can fill us in a little.
“Jungle” primary for president? It’s an interesting idea.
Could we end up with a, for example, Ron Paul/Hillary Clinton (or vice versa) administration?
(Let’s just get rid of Obama for now (that man is becoming increasingly lawless), we can iron out all the other wrinkles in 4 years!)