Filed under: Congress, Election 2008, Local Government and Politics, MSM, Party Politics
With just four weeks left until back to back National Conventions and the promise of news cycles dominated by the Olympics from the 8th through the 24th (along with a short Obama vacation stuck in there), the world of punditry (yours truly included, although if I fall in anywhere in the ranks of pundits its somewhere in the farm leagues) has become infatuated with the relative non-story of the veepstakes.
I know all the arguments about veeps. Geographical balance, ideological support, diminishing the candidate’s weaknesses. All these will be factors in the decision of who to choose to balance out the ticket on both sides. Still, history is filled with examples where the veep failed to deliver on expectations. In 2004, Senator John Kerry failed to pick up any southern states with the addition of John Edwards to the ticket, as Republicans were able to successfully mitigate that advantage by sharply contrasting Edwards’ geographic origin with his actual voting record. Al Gore’s selection of “conservative” Democrat Joe Lieberman (seen at the time as such mostly for his stands against the entertainment industry and his hawkish stand on Israel) seemed to have had less to do with the closeness of the election than the late breaking revelation of a Bush DUI in the last few hours leading up to the election. Geraldine Ferraro did very little to affect the blow-out of 1984, and if anything actually hurt Mondale through her husband’s fiscal woes. On the other side of the aisle, Dan Quayle seemed to do little to ignite the youth vote in Bush’s favor (and perhaps ended up being a net drag on the ticket), and in 1964 Barry Goldwater’s choice of Bill Miller did little to shore up his problems, well, everywhere, as though Miller was from New York he wasn’t seen as moderate enough to balance out the ticket. Spiro Agnew in 1968 presented similar problems, as he failed to carry Maryland, proved a continuing embarassment in the media, and ultimately provided an initial disgrace to the Nixon administration when he was convicted on crimes related to goings-on in his gubernatorial administration (Side note: It seems rather inconceivable in this day of bare-knuckle campaigning, with a multitude of ways to both discover and broadcast such a scandal and everyone looking, from campaign chiefs to school teachers with blogs, that a Vice-President could survive an entire term with such a scandal hanging over their heads).
Those are only the political considerations of choosing the vice-president, however. The Vice-Presidency is far more important than it was at the beginning of the nation, but just how important a particular vice-president is has been rather variable. While Dick Cheney’s influence has been undeniable, the general pattern has been to give the Vice-President some intriguing but not overly important project to work on so that they have some level of experience and knowledge of the full power of the executive branch. This trend was mostly a response to Harry Truman suddenly being thrust into the role of commander in chief following Franklin Roosevelt’s sudden passing in the closing days of World War Two. For the most part, however, the role of the Vice-President remains to attend the funerals of less important world figures and to…..well, not to be morbid…….but to wait.
The Vice-Presidency, though, isn’t even all that great of a prize for promising politicos. In the modern era of the Presidency (roughly 1932 to present), there have been plenty of veeps cum presidents. However, only George H.W. Bush was elected to succeed the president they served under, and he managed to only serve one term, indicating that perhaps the veep position is not the best training ground for executive success. Truman and Johnson, who were elected to their own terms, failed to secure their own second terms (which they were entitled to pursue given that they were elevated past the half-way point). Ford failed to secure his own term (although he did run an incredibly close race given the amazing odds he faced). Nixon had to undergo a bit of a political refurbishing before he won the nomination, and many pundits believe that had more to do with his relentless work on behalf of the party rather than his Vice-Presidential experience. Al Gore maintains an air of hope, but he seems dead-set on Obama win, and given that he’ll be 68 in 2016 (the next shot if Obama wins and wins again) and the Democrats have never been ones to give someone the nod because its “their turn,” he seems consigned to the dust-bin of failed veeps.
Still, despite the fact that the Vice-Presidency will likely be of limited import in a race with such sharp contrasts between the two major candidates, these conversations are always fun and important for a number of reasons. They allow the victor to reach out to supporters of his vanquished foes. This has been particularly important for John McCain. Huckabee and Guliani seem to be out because they both have gigs (Fox News for the Huckster and a repeat of the Nixon strategy of becoming Mr. Republican for Rudy!) and because they would create major havoc for McCain with flanks of the party he already has some weakness with (SoCos for Rudy! and fiscal cons for the Huckster). The one candidate benefiting from this strategy right now is Romney, who paid down his personal debt to bolster his chances. Romney is also just young enough that he could be a logical successor to McCain in ’12 or ’16. On the Democratic side, Hillary is clearly benefiting from this.
It’s also a good way to find out which factions of the party are throwing around the most weight these days. In 1996 and 2000, Alan Keyes and abortion foes threatened to walk from the party if someone like, say, Tom Ridge (who is pro-choice) was given the nod. McCain’s record on life is good enough, but I feel he would still suffer if he attempted to pull out Ridge (and he’s indicated as such to his closest advisors). One potential candidate benfiting from this right now is South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who is good on both fiscal and social issues (although he is being discussed less given that he holds the dubious distinction of being one of Time’s Worst Governors). It’s probably also the reason we hear names like Bill Richardson and Evan Bayh, who hail from the more moderate Clintonian wing of the Democratic Party (which is causing a bit of heartburn amongst Obama’s faithful progressive acolytes).
Finally, it’s also a great time for both future candidates and their supporters to get their name back in the press. This phenomena has very little to do with keeping the name in the heads of the voters–with literally thousands of elected officials across the country, most people are lucky to know the name of their own Governor, much less that of Rhode Island (Don Carcieri). This is more for the benefit of the chattering class and activists, trying to place these people into consideration for statewide office (in the case of Congressman) or possibly cabinet slots or the presidency itself. This is probably part of the reason for the groundswell of support for such potential candidates as Eric Cantor (a possible candidate for Minority Leader, and hoping we take back the House soon enough, Speaker), Lousiana Governor Bobby Jindal (already being talked about for ’12), and former Ohio Representative Rob Portman (Governor of Ohio). For the Democrats this isn’t quite as apparent, as Obama seems to be the second coming in of itself. But as a stretch, I would say Claire McCaskill could be a potential national leader at some point.
And then there’s a final category that’s a bit more dubious. It’s the group of people that are mentioned because, well, it’s tradition. They’re politicos who could have had a shot at the Presidency but for some reason or another were denied that shot. This phenomena is not unique to the veepstakes; it happens in the Presidential race too…..sometimes, much to the candidate’s chagrin. Former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating didn’t jump on his mention this past time (although, frankly, I was just about to jump on his bandwagon, given his courageous leadership after the OKC bombing in 1995). Tommy Thompson and Jim Gilmore failed to make a splash and, if I had to guess, were probably victims of the “next step” being pulled away by no fault of their own. But back to the veepstakes: Tom Ridge is a perennial Republican mention (another good leader taken out of consideration due to the fact that he’s unacceptable to a major faction), and on the Democratic side there’s Bob Kerrey (who could probably beat back the scandal relating to his service in Vietnam) and Sam Nunn (who was first mentioned in the late 80’s but is considered unpalatable to the liberal wing of the Democrats for his role in Don’t Ask Don’t Tell).
At any rate, it’s always a fun game. And this year, it’s extended to Virginia: Cantor on the Republican side, Kaine for the Democrats. Of the two, there’s probably alot more to Kaine, as he provides much needed Executive gravitas to Obama’s campaign. Cantor is just not well-known enough, although he would definitely provide a great deal of cover for McCain on the right and would probably help the margin of victory in the 7th District (not statewide). Kaine, however, has serious problems in state: he failed miserably during the special session, with every House Democrat voting against his plan, and he’s angered the progressive bloggers for siding with Gerry Conolly in the 11th District Democratic House primary.
Still, the news continues to role in. Kaine’s introductory video that was shown at the Democratic state convention can be seen across the Progressive blogosphere, and the nod of Terry McAullife can never hurt. However, Kaine suffered a major blow today in the form of an editorial from Richmond Times Dispatch columist Jeff Schapiro, a prominent face around the statehouse. He slams Kaine’s credentials and notes that departures have rarely been a good thing for either of Virginia’s parties. It should also be pointed out that Doug Wilder suffered alot of push-back when he attempted to leave the Governor’s mansion early to cash in on his prominence as Virginia’s first black governor. Additionally, Senator George Allen faced alot of criticism for preparing for a potential ’08 bid, which only compounded his problems in 2006, as Democrats were able to plant doubts about his commitment to serving Virginia. Anectdotal (and I always warn politicos to avoid relying too heavily on anectdotes versus polling data), but intriguing nevertheless.
Cantor’s luck seems to be moving in the opposite direction: his boosting by fellow Congressman Virgil Goode continues to get raves, including in the Washington Post, and in a National Journal poll of Congressional Insiders, Cantor came in second only to Mitt Romney. Could this very well just be boosting of Cantor’s profile in the event of a Republican thumping in the House, leading to Cantor replacing Bohener as Minority Leader? Very likely. Still, neat to see a Virginian in the spotlight.
I apologize for going on a bit longer than I had anticipated, but this is a key example of the sort of prolonged bloviating you should come to expect in the next few weeks. Hopefully, we can get back to issues, particularly with so much at stake (next post: energy). Still, always fun to think about the machinations of politics. I consider myself afflicted with ADIDAP (All Day I Dream About Politics).
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