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the failure of the republican vice presidency

People say the Vice Presidency is useless, but I disagree. About 1 in 8 VP’s become President. Lyndon Johnson allegedly accepted Kennedy’s offer because he figured that a 16% of becoming President was nothing to laugh at. That’s why it is so disappointing to see that Republican VP’s and nominees in the post war era have been of particularly low caliber, especially in comparison to the top of the ticket. The top of the ticket has been filled with Senate leaders, popular governors, and an enormously successful general. The #2 slot? Not so great.

It didn’t start out so bad. In 1948, the first post-war election, the VP nominee was Earl Warren, a California politician, Berkeley graduate, and future Supreme court justice. ’60 wasn’t bad either. Henry Cabot Lodge  was open to civil rights and seemed to have many virtues.

Then, the problems start. Nixon, who was Eisnehower’s #2, was brilliant yet twisted and vengeful. William Miller, who ran with Goldwater, was a rather obscure Congressman who contributed little. The real slide starts with ’68. Agnew was run out of office due to tax evasion. His replacement, Gerald Ford, took over after Nixon (a former VP) resigned. Ford pardoned Nixon and doesn’t have much to show for his short time in the White House.

In my view, Bush I was probably the last respectable GOP VP or nominee. Even though I disagreed with him hugely, he was actually a figure of national prominence and was deeply knowledgeable about important issues. Even when he did things that I thought were immoral, they were relatively contained (e.g., the Gulf War did not turn into an invasion of Iraq).

Then the GOP goes 0-5 in my book. Bush’s VP was Dan Quayle. I don’t think he was a moron. Rather, he was a competent, but undistinguished, Indiana legislator from a political family. The next VP nominee was Jack Kemp. His nomination had no impact on the party, even though he had a passed some notable legislation on taxation earlier in his career.

The real disasters hit in the 2000s. Dick Cheney was hugely instrumental in one of the Republican Party’s biggest policy failures ever – the Iraq War. He also instituted torture. The last VP nominee was Palin, governor of Alaska. In principle, not a crazy pick, but upon closer examination, a disaster as well – a quitter, demagogue, and simply not informed on crucial issues.

Here’s my summary of the Republican vice presidents and nominees:

  • Two who helped make the world a better place (Lodge, Warren)
  • One who gets my grudging respect (Bush I)
  • Three who had little impact (Miller, Quayle, Kemp)
  • One who was mildly bad (Ford)
  • Three complete disasters (Palin, Cheney, Nixon)

Not a great record, especially since one of them got arrested, another would have been arrested, and a third publicly defends torture. I sure hope Romney exercises better judgment than his predecessors.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 29, 2012 at 12:01 am

11 Responses

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  1. Looking forward to your analysis of the equally pathetic Democrat running mates! Granted, nearly all were senators (which seems to be a plus for you), but they did not do much for the election outcomes.

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    Randy

    May 29, 2012 at 6:19 pm

  2. @Randy: If you can find me some Democratic VPs or nominees who were arrested for tax evasion or instituted torture, I’ll be more than happy to write it up.

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    fabiorojas

    May 29, 2012 at 6:26 pm

  3. Randy: On a more serious note, it seems that the Democratic party chooses its #2 more wisely. The worst one I can think of is John Edwards, who may be to going prison on a personal scandal. Biden, Gore, Bentsen were all considered competent. Mondale was a standard issue democrat of his era. Ferraro was probably substandard, a rather obscure Representative at the time. Muskie and Shriver weren’t bad. It’s not that the Democrats tend to nominate great visionaries, but they seem to avoid picking complete disasters.

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    fabiorojas

    May 29, 2012 at 6:37 pm

  4. “I sure hope Romney exercises better judgment than his predecessors.”

    Romney, as a moderate with dubious social and economic conservative credentials, will likely pick a VP who can help him with one or more of his demographic “problems” – the religious right, for whom he is not Christian enough, women, and Hispanics — and with the Romneycare=socialism problem. From the point of view of electoral politics, I’d expect a Hispanic version of Michelle Bachmann.

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    krippendorf

    May 29, 2012 at 7:38 pm

  5. In my interpretation, the categories you employ are ‘competent (or not)’ and ‘moral (or not).’ I think these break down, for Cheney’s defenders would argue that instituting torture was about America’s national security interests. You can disagree (I certainly do) but then the risk is there is no competence category, just a moral one. Or at the very least, things can only be morally competent or morally incompetent, never immorally competent. (You come close to saying GBushI is immorally competent, but only then because his immorality was “contained.”)

    This problem is further evidenced by your comments comparing Dem VPs with GOP VPs. The analysis is shaped by the fact that Dem VPs are more likely to share your moral concerns. The analysis is pre-tipped against the GOP.

    Finally, most VPs are picked for political not governance reasons. To use categories of governance to judge them seems analytically wrong from the start. But then who in America are we to judge as governors?

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    Austen

    May 29, 2012 at 7:59 pm

  6. Fabio: I’d say you are a bit generous with your characterizations of Edwards, Biden, and Bentsen. While none of them are as insidious as Cheney, they didn’t “do anything” for the ticket or the party. Shriver was a latecomer to the ticket — not chosen by the party at the convention. I’ll agree that the list has no “complete disasters” (Palin, Agnew, Cheney), but there aren’t many at the top end of the bell curve either.

    I’d also suggest that Ford may have been the right choice at the time; no one wanted an activist in the White House after Nixon and his pardon of RMN was probably the right thing to do then.

    I wish all the VP nominees could be LBJ.

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    Randy

    May 29, 2012 at 8:06 pm

  7. I do not use “helped the ticket” as a criteria because that matters little to me and there’s little evidence that VPs affect elections. Also, I don’t think that Dem’s share all of my moral concerns. Dems share my concerns over racial equality, but they don’t share them in other areas like war and immigration. My post reflects the fact that my assessment of Democratic VPs runs from “meh” to “ugly,” while GOP VPs/nominees have often been really, really bad from a leadership perspective (e.g., Agnew/Nixon/Palin) or a policy perspective (Cheney).

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    fabiorojas

    May 29, 2012 at 9:36 pm

  8. Are we talking about the same Joe Biden who Osama Bin Laden considered “unprepared for that post, which will lead the U.S. into a crisis” if he ever took over the presidency?

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    Josh

    May 29, 2012 at 11:20 pm

  9. I think appeals to authority, on the topic of American politics, are particularly unconvincing when the authority being appealed to is Osama Bin Laden.

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    JD

    May 30, 2012 at 12:30 am

  10. JD: + 1

    Like

    ksiler

    May 30, 2012 at 1:13 am

  11. In terms of leadership, has anyone (probably even Presidents) matched Nixon on China ?

    and ahem, what happened to Bob Dole ?

    Like

    floplo

    June 2, 2012 at 6:48 am


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