Monday, December 6, 2010

Out of Season Veepstakes Talk

Since it's now thoroughly appropriate to talk about the GOP nomination battle, I guess to be inappropriate we have to start speculating about the second spot on the ticket. 

(You think it's too early for nomination talk?  Sorry.  It's going on right now; by this time next year, it might be over, for all we know, as it basically was on both sides in 2000). 

Anyway, a little while back Mason Herron had a good piece over at Frum Forum knocking down the idea that Chris Christie is a strong candidate for a 2012 presidential nomination, but I wanted to disagree with this bit:
Christie has unequivocally stated that he will not run in 2012. Although he did spend this recent election season campaigning for other candidates, he has not taken the steps necessary for potential presidential contenders, so it appears we can take Christie at his word. As for the possibility of a potential vice presidential bid, I wouldn’t bet on it. Although potential candidates often declare that their priority is their home state without meaning it, I take Christie at his word; he’s well aware of the monumental obstacles that his state still has to overcome, and he seems determined to finish what he started.
This is terrible advise, on two counts.   First of all, if "what he started" looks good enough to get him the VP slot in 2012, then he'd be smart to get out: if things go well, he'll still get the credit for everything working out, while if things go downhill, the next governor will take the blame.  Part of the idea here is that, for better or worse, elected officials only have limited ability to control anything.  Governors, of course, have almost no ability to control the larger economy, and their ability to control the state's public policy is limited by other players in the state government as well as constraints from the federal government.  So ambitious governors who have "earned" a good reputation at any particular moment are wise to get out before the bad times to come.

More generally, anyone offered a VP nomination should take it.  Would Richard Nixon have been president if he had passed on the VP nod in 1952?  Would George H.W. Bush have been president?  Even Bob Dole might never have become a presidential contender, and eventually a nominee, had he passed in 1976.

Of course, there are other paths to a nomination, as Barack Obama and John McCain can tell you, and a VP nomination is especially useful if it leads to actually becoming VPOTUS.  Dole is the only losing VP nominee in the modern era to eventually be nominated for president (Muskie, Shriver, Ferraro, Bentsen, Kemp, Lieberman, and Edwards all fell short).  Every elected VP from Nixon through Al Gore (Nixon, Johnson, Humphrey, Mondale, Bush, Gore), however, was eventually nominated for president except for Spiro Agnew and Dan Quayle.  But of the losing group, it's hard for me, anyway, to see any of them having done better had they not gone the VP route.  And remember -- everyone who turns down a VP nod is not only failing to seize an opportunity, but is also giving an opportunity to someone else.  Besides, while one out of eight (Dole, that is, and twenty years later at that) may seem like terrible odds, in fact far fewer than one out of eight eligible Senators or Governors ever wind up as presidential nominees. 

So, given the choice between staying a governor to "finish the job" and accepting a VP nomination, my advice to pretty much anyone would be to go VPOTUS, all the way.  Anyone, that is, who wants to be president.  I'm sure there are people who get mentioned for the #2 job who really don't want to be #1.  Or at least, I'm sure it's theoretically possible.


  1. I think Herron's problem here is this:

    ...I take Christie at his word...

    Presumably Christie has capable political advisers. If so, they are probably telling him what you set forth here - that if he has any national political aspirations, he would be crazy not to accept a VP nomination.

    But those advisers may also be telling him that it would be very wise to act as if you have no national political aspirations! And that includes denying that you'd accept a VP nomination, saying that you want to "finish the job", etc.

  2. I always thought that the best thing a person who wants be President can do is be VP for a ticket that loses in a landslide--the FDR approach. The ticket must be doomed from the start, but by being a diligent footsoldier one can raise one's national profile by being on every ballot in America.

    The problem with being elected VP is that you may get the nomination eventually, but you rarely win the White House. Either you come from a successful 8 year administration, in which case you are swimming against national fatigue (Gore, Nixon in '60, Humphrey), or you come from an unsuccessful 4 year administration, in which case you are running with the handicap of already having your instituted policies rejected on a national level (Mondale). There is a reason why, since the War of 1812, there have only been two times when the White House was held by a President-President-VP combo for 12 years (Jackson/Van Buren, Reagan/Bush).

    Granted we are dealing with a very small sample size here, but the fact is that almost every VP that has become President has done so when their boss kicked the bucket or left office. They rarely win on their own (although the aforementioned Gore, Nixon, and Humphrey came awfully close).

  3. Christie has one big problem,- he's big. Life Taft big. He's a walking heart attack. Hard to see how you can be a heartbeat from the presidency when you're a heartbeat from you own coronary.

    Ditto Haley Barbour, who has a car carry him a few hundred yards to work every day.

  4. @Kal

    The fact that FDR is the only losing vp candidate in history to later reach the presidency makes it hard to extrapolate from any strategy he used.


    You raise an often overlooked point. The fact is, physical appearance matters. Any candidate who is fat, short, and/or balding is at a distinct disadvantage, no matter how good his resume or skills.

    Still, Clinton wasn't exactly anorexic.

  5. Yeah. If Palin had performed better in 2008, she'd be an almost unbeatable frontrunner right now. Seems very possible Christie enjoys his attention-level where it is now but fears the scrutiny of a national campaign would expose some skeletons.


  6. Where I'd disagree is that 2000 was wrapped up before fall 1999....I'd say by summer 1999 at the latest.

  7. Matt,

    Hey, I said by this time, not at this time. That's the point -- it's being contested right now. (And, really, that's been true for a couple of years already -- it's never too early to talk about the next presidential nomination contest.

  8. Kudos on the first graf here. That's a lede Chris Cilizza wishes he wrote, really.


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