Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Veepstakes and Experience (A Cautionary Tale)

Josh Kraushaar was getting into it on twitter just now, saying that "Rest assured there will be a lot of veepstakes talk, in large part because the GOP's VP bench is so deep." To which I replied that he has the causation wrong; because there will be lots of Veepstakes talk over the next few months, which is caused simply by the vacuum between nomination news and the general election campaign, the Veepstakes talkers will need plenty of people to talk about. And thus a deep bench.

After all, there are always far more plausible VPs than there are plausible presidents (and almost have to be, since all plausible presidents are plausible VPs.

Anyway, Kraushaar also noted, "Striking how many of the VP candidates are part of the class of 2010, back when the GOP got its groove back." He may be right that Romney will seriously consider one or more of the class of 2010, and he's certainly right that Veepstakes observers, myself included, will mention one or more of that group, so I have no dispute with that one.

If Romney were asking me, however, I'd certainly be advising extra caution. Extreme extra caution. In the postwar era, only a handful of VP selections had even close to as little experience as most members of the GOP class of 2010 have.

If we combine time in the Senate, House, cabinet position, or as Governor, the least experienced in the postwar era were (not counting Earl Warren, who would be tied for 4th by being in his sixth year but breaks the tie by being re-elected to statewide office...or, you know, include him if you would like):

4T. John Edwards, 2004, one almost-full Senate term at that point. Worked out fine that year. Exploded in scandal four years later.

4T. Gerry Ferraro, 1984, in her sixth year in the House. Scandal-marred VP run.

4T. Richard Nixon, 1952, after two full House terms and in his second year in the Senate. Scandal-marred VP run, very close to getting dumped from the ticket.

3. Tom Eagleton, 1972, in his fourth year in the Senate (previously had held statewide office including Lt. Gov.). Scandal, bounced off the ticket. Wound up, by the way, having a long, well-respected career in the Senate.

Which leaves the two with the least experience:

2. Sarah Palin, 2008, in her second year as Governor. Well, that didn't work out all that well.

And the champion?

1. Spiro T. Agnew, 1968, in his second year as Governor -- but took office about six weeks after Palin did, so even less experienced on this scale. Did not end up in jail.

That's the list. Hey, Mitt Romney: don't say you weren't warned.


  1. And is Josh Kraushaar doing anything more than flinging monkey poo against the wall? Does members of Versailles think before they write? Does he realize how many members of the GOP Class of 2010 are toxic in their home states? And even those that aren't toxic yet(Chris Christie for one) aren't going to win Mittens any states he wouldn't win by himself.

  2. There was scandal alleged against Nixon during his VP run, but he defeated it very handily. It's true that Eisenhower was considering dumping him from the ticket, but that was before Nixon gave his big speech. Besides, Nixon went on to be re-elected as VP, come within a whisker of winning in 1960, plus of course wins in 1968 and 1972. That was an excellent pick for the future.

    Is there any evidence that Palin hurt McCain's candidacy? It seems the people she annoyed were never going to vote Republican anyway. Besides, by choosing Palin as VP, McCain propelled her into the political mainstream, which has had an undoubtedly positive effect. She is a potential future Presidential candidate, in large part thanks to McCain's pick.

    1. I don't have the cites handy, unfortunately, but yes, I think there was at least one published paper demonstrating that (unlike almost every VP pick ever) Palin was a drag on the ticket.

      However, I really can't hate enough on the sentiment that somehow Palin being in the spotlight is a good thing for anybody besides Palin. So, I'll just leave it at "I disagree with that statement."

    2. There was quite a bit of evidence that she was dragging McCain lower than he needed to be. Anyway, McCain's appeal was that people who wouldn't vote Republican WOULD vote for him (Remember McCainocrats?)so if Palin was turning them right back off, I think that hurt.

      As far what she's done since then, even if I were to accept that the Republican Party is pleased that Palin got so much attention for so long (attention that seems to be ending now), that most assuredly wasn't McCain's goal. His goal was to win. Whatever virtues Palin brings to a party he no longer needs are rather irrelevant.

    3. I can't disagree more, Colby. The effect of a VP pick on the election is minimal, although I could be wrong about the specifics of Palin - Matt Jarvis's cite would be helpful. The VP pick can't swing votes or states any more (if it ever could). Given that, the whole point of choosing a VP candidate is to elevate someone into the national conversation.

      You may be right that it wasn't McCain's primary goal, but it most assuredly was the goal of many Republican party actors, and as McCain's goal was to please them, it becomes his proxy goal.

      As for whether Palin being in the spotlight is good for anybody besides Palin - she was a big factor for the Republicans in the 2010 Congressional win, and she could yet be a Presidential candidate. You don't have to agree with her politics to see that she's become a key figure in the Republican party, in a way that the previous picks, Quayle, Kemp and Cheney, did not.

    4. Well, I can't provide the cites, so I'm trying to find what I'm referring to. I likely heard about the piece on Monkey Cage, and looking back, Sides talks about a Johnston & Thorson piece from a MPSA conference. Here is a link to Johnston & Thorson writing some of this up publicly: And here's a link to the Johnston & Thorson paper directly:

      (Apparently, that was from APSA 2009. Haven't seen it in print yet, but that doesn't mean anything. There are so many journals that it's impossible to keep up to date with anything not directly in your line of interest)

    5. anonymous @ 12:22: good points, but the one about elevating someone into the national conversation is a bit off. If there has to be one "whole point," then it's: Do No Harm. The next proper criterion is: Choose a Qualified Person. Palin was a disaster on both counts, and it was obvious to all clear-eyed observers from the outset. It should also have been obvious to those GOP party actors (Kristol, etc.) who apparently *did* push her in order to elevate her into the national conversation.

      Moreover, adding to Jonathan's analysis, on the evidence of the major party VP nominees since 1960, elevating a promising prospect into the top tier via the glare of the national spotlight is definitely not a primary motivation (nor a winning strategy): all of the candidates in the first list below were already in the top tier (for VPs), holding statewide office for many years or with a similarly sterling résumé (GHWB, Kemp, Cheney), and some having already run for President and/or VP (GHWB, Humphrey, Gore, Kemp, Bentsen). All of those in the second list were younger, less well-known, and/or had fewer bona fides.

      Top Tier Choices--7 eventual winners
      LBJ, Lodge
      Gore (on the cusp: 8 yrs in House, 8 in Senate, but did run for President in 88 before joining ticket in 92)

      Second or Third Tier Choices--2 eventual winners
      Dole (on the cusp: 8 yrs in House, 8 in Senate before joining ticket in 76)

    6. @anon 12:22:

      "The effect of a VP pick on the election is minimal"

      While we know that is the case, I would not count on candidates themselves to be so well-versed in the political science research. We're already talking about guys who are so self-possessed as to run for President with substantial success, and when they make the decision, they've spent months hearing everyone speculate about it and generally treat it as the most important thing they'll do in the campaign. Neither one us really knows what goes on in their heads when they make the final call, but I don't think we can confidently say they're dismissing the idea of helping their own campaign out of hand.

      "Given that, the whole point of choosing a VP candidate is to elevate someone into the national conversation."

      That does not logically follow. Just because the VP won't move votes doesn't mean that they're only picked to get them into some nebulous "national conversation". For one thing, see above- while the VP may not move votes, the P may not know that. For another, it's not either-or- there are several other reasons to pick VPs- to help in later governing, to reward loyal constituencies, to underline campaign themes, to send signals to party actors, and on and on. For a third, most of the history of recent VP selection flies in the face of the idea that they're selected just to join this "national conversation"- Biden, Edwards, Cheney, Gore, Kemp, Bush were all high-profile politicians with well established issues and brands (most of whom had already run for President, and I think even Cheney "ran" under JB's definition). If anything, they became less a part of this conversation due to the pressure on the VP to toe the P's line.

      "it most assuredly was the goal of many Republican party actors"

      Without any evidence of that claim, I cannot accept it as "most assuredly". I'll buy that some of them wanted her to be Vice President, but to be a pundit-cum-gadfly, or the laughingstock she currently is? I don't see it.

      "McCain's goal was to please them"

      Why was that McCain's goal? Because he needed them to win. So we're back to "VPs are picked to help win the election".

      "she's become a key figure in the Republican party, in a way that the previous picks, Quayle, Kemp and Cheney, did not"

      She's actually rather similar to Quayle, really- acting as a pundit against a sitting Dem President despite a poor national reputation and flirting with Presidential runs, he's been there already. Cheney's decreased national role is almost assuredly due to his poor health, and Kemp had a lot more influence before his selection than Palin ever did before hers, so those two are imperfect comparisons.

      But the larger question is, while Palin has certainly commanded media attention, is that what McCain/Republicans in 2008 wanted from her? I'd say the evidence is mixed at best, given the way the knives come out every time she talks about future runs for office, given her disastrous polling numbers, and given McCain's obvious ambivalence to her since about October, 2008. That she has become a public face for a very unpopular Republican Party is not evidence that that's what McCain was intending when he picked her. Indeed, I'm still pretty sure he picked her to be VP, not a pundit.

  3. What about the current president? He would rank about third on the list and he made the top office!

    1. I think the top of the ticket works rather differently, as those guys are well vetted by the primary process. Besides, one counter-example doesn't prove all that much.

    2. Fortunately, the discipline required to get the nomination for president from either party weeds out people without any stamina, intellectual capacity and organizational skills.

      See Santorum, Richard.

  4. One of the writers at Kos convinced himself that the most logical choice for Romney would be a Southerner in Congress, preferably from the Senate, with some/any experience on defense committees, and no discernible liberal tendencies.

    That took him to Jim DeMint, where he promptly fainted.

  5. Unsure whether Edwards is a 4T, or in 4th all by himself (bumping the others to ties for 5th). Yes, by time, it's identical. But, Edwards had only won one election. The other 4Ts had won 3.

    I guess the question is: what is the operative feature here? Time in any elected office? Number of successful campaigns? Time in an office that gives a person reasonable duties? (so, House members after about 1980 would be treated as just so many noses to be counted, whereas Senators actually get to do things and matter, and after enough time, House members are actually doing something, whereas governors matter a bunch, but some come from podunk states with miniscule budgets and few social cleavages to all gets quite complicated!)

    I look to number of campaigns run and number won as indicators. Because, let's face it, almost every American is qualified to be VP, because almost all can wake up and ask if the President is alive or dead. However, having run and won in competitive elections is, well, really good practice for being a VP candidate. I sense you're after good VP candidates, not good VPs. (Palin, for example, would likely have made a perfectly fine VP, in that she wouldn't have had to do anything, but made a bad VP candidate in that, well, she opened her mouth.)

  6. Running for president is very different than running for vice president. If a presidential candidate is found wanting for experience, they won't get the millions of votes they need to win. However, the sole judge of the adequacy of the qualifications of the vice presidential candidate is the presidential candidate, who may have made an error.

    It's also worth mentioning that it's pretty rare for an elected president to truly need to hit the ground running to the same degree as a president who ascends via the vice presidency. The former gets several months to put together a staff and a cabinet, and has been working on policy initiatives for years, just within his or her own campaign.

    A VP who becomes president always assumes office in a mild-to-severe crisis, and usually suddenly. He or she is thrust atop a large bureaucracy that has been built to suit the management style of another person and was staffed largely according to that person's political and personal needs, which may or not be the same.

  7. Earl Warren had been Attorney General of California for four years prior to his time as governor, which I think arguably ought to count, and then was Alameda County DA for 15 years before that. So maybe he was a bit of a lightweight when it came to national politics, but he had a lot of experience in California politics.

    Of course, it's worth noting that several presidents have had less experience than your folks tied for fourth - none of Eisenhower, Carter, and Obama fit your criteria.

    It also seems as though George H. W. Bush ought to be in the list given the conditions you outline. He spent four years in the House, was never a governor or in the Senate, and never held any proper cabinet positions. He was DCI and UN Ambassador, but neither of those is strictly speaking a cabinet position.

    1. Both of Bush's positions sometimes have cabinet status; don't know if they did when he held them. I probably should, however, have said something like "high executive office" -- I'd certainly call GHWB more relevantly experienced in 1980 than someone with four years in the House and then a term as Ag Secretary.

      And on Warren: sure. At Matt said above, there are lots of questions about how to count various types of experience. This is just one list, quickly defined. The point is more that a lot of people with little experience have done poorly than that there's a strict, exact relationship.

      Also: I'd make a "conquering Hitler" exception.

    2. But, JB, can you clarify what you mean by "done poorly?"--Are we interested in bad candidates or bad officeholders? (with the obvious proviso that we don't get to observe half of them actually do the job)

    3. Well, I'd say both: either someone who was a terrible candidate (which mostly means they got bounced off the ticket or close) or someone who was a political liability in office. You really don't want either of those things.

      I don't think it matters nearly as much whether your pick winds up a helpful part of the administration or a nonentity. And people will laugh at the VP no matter what, so don't hold that against someone.

  8. Not that I disagree about picking somebody with experience, but few VPs had more experience than Dick Cheney. Experience isn't everything. Not being evil also is a good criterion.

    1. Yes, to JB's "conquering Hitler" exception, we should probably add "not being Hitler." (Sorry, Godwin.)

    2. Cheney wasn't a bad political pick, though. He almost certainly helped the ticket in 2000, and didn't hurt it in 2004.

    3. I can see an argument that he hurt it. There was a lot of talk about replacing him with Rudy or Condi (Granted, there's still a lot of talk of the Biden/Clinton switcheroo right now, but anecdotally, it seemed like more back then) and as I recall, Kerry overperformed what the models would have suggested. I mean, at the end of the day, it's hard to argue that the guy taking the oath was really all THAT hurt by some element of the campaign, but from a poli sci perspective, it might be worth examining.

      Although this is kind of nitpicking- I still think Cheney was good politics for Bush, and probably pretty useful in the kind of White House Bush was interested in having.

    4. Or rather, Bush was useful in the kind of White House that Cheney was interested in having.

  9. It's really a no-brainer. Rob Portman is the ideal pick for Romney: he would deliver Ohio and nobody would question his credentials to be president should that contingency arise.

    1. Would he "deliver" Ohio, though? One statewide win against a lackluster, underfunded opponent in a gangbuster year for his party does not indicate a lock on that state's EVs. Besides that, after the 2010 census, I think Romney shouldn't try to make Ohio the high noon state. If you're going to concentrate on one state like that, better to go with Florida, I think.

  10. Portman may not deliver Ohio. Nevertheless, he served in the House, Cabinet-level positions, and the Senate. He possesses the requisite experience, and he seems equable. I'd select him if I were Mitt.


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