Saturday, July 03, 2004

Cheney for VP?

Question: I heard that President Bush might be considering replacing Vice President Dick Cheney with another nominee on the 2004 ticket. How often has this happened? And do you think Bush might choose Sen. John McCain to be his running mate?
From: Walter W. of Colorado Springs, Colorado
Submitted: July 02, 2004

Gleaves answers:



It's not often that an incumbent president picks a different vice president when running for another term -- but it happens more than you might think.


It has happened in wartime. In fact, two wartime presidents who are ranked as "great" picked a new running mate. In 1864, Abraham Lincoln replaced Hannibal Hamlin with Andrew Johnson. Hamlin, from Maine, was strongly anti-slavery. When Lincoln decided to run for a second term, he turned to a Union Democrat from the South, hoping the selection of Andrew Johnson would help with Reconstruction. Lincoln had been impressed by Johnson's loyalty to the Union under difficult circumstances. The Tennessean had tried to keep his state from seceding, often amid crowds that threatened him. Lincoln wanted that kind of commitment in his VP and so asked Johnson to run with him in 1864.

In 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt replaced Henry Wallace with Harry S. Truman. What a fateful decision that turned out to be. Wallace had served as VP in only one of FDR's terms (1941-45). FDR liked Wallace but was reluctant to run on the same ticket with him in 1944 because the Iowan came to be perceived as too controversial, too radical. He had advocated centralized government planning in agriculture; had idealistic if not utopian tendencies; and was an uncompromising internationalist. Some influential Democrats thought that Wallace was off the reservation.


In peacetime, too, the president has chosen to change horses mid-stream. For the 1976 election, President Gerald R. Ford made sure his vice president, Nelson Rockefeller, would not be on the ticket. Ford picked Bob Dole to replace him. The new ticket narrowly lost to Jimmy Carter. It is widely considered Ford's worst blunder, because getting Rockefeller off the ticket cost him New York state's electoral votes, which would have put the incumbent over the top.


Sometimes the president does not have the luxury of choosing whether to pick a new VP. Sometimes the vice president resigns. In 1973, Richard Nixon's vice president, Spiro Agnew, resigned in disgrace, which led to Gerald R. Ford's ascent to the vice presidency under the provisions of the 25th Amendment. He was only the second VP to resign.

The first VP to resign was John Calhoun in 1832. He left office after serving with Andrew Jackson almost a full term. Ostensibly Calhoun quit the post to represent South Carolina in the U.S. Senate, but there had been much antagonism between the two because of the nullification crisis and Peggy Eaton affair.

Of course, death necessitates picking a new vice president. Seven VPs have died in office:*
- George Clinton died April 20, 1812 (at the end of Madison's first term);
- Elbridge Gerry died November 23, 1814 (early in Madison's second term);
- William R. King died April 18, 1853 (never actually assumed official duties under Pierce);
- Henry Wilson died November 22, 1875 (midway through Grant's second term);
- Thomas A. Hendricks died November 25, 1885 (early in Cleveland's first administration);
- Garret A. Hobart died November 21, 1899 (midway through McKinley's first term);
- James S. Sherman died October 30, 1912 (at the end of Taft's only term).

Note two things about the deaths. First, James Madison had two vice presidents die on him. Second, note the pattern of the deaths. You'd expect deaths to be randomly spread out over the calendar year. But four of the seven VPs died during the fourth week of November. Two died during the third week of April.


Before going further, it is worth noting that one in five president-vice president teams were reelected to a second term. The eight president-vice president teams returned to office:
- Washington and John Adams;
- Monroe and Tomkins;
- Wilson and Marshall;
- Franklin Roosevelt and Garner;
- Eisenhower and Nixon;
- Nixon and Agnew;
- Reagan and Bush;
- Clinton and Gore.


If Bush has in mind picking a new running mate, what are the criteria for such a momentous decision? One pundit, Bill Schneider, claims that there are ten criteria: number one is helping the ticket get elected ... and the other nine don't matter. Seriously, there have traditionally been eight criteria, any combination of which are operative in a given election cycle. When presidential nominee John Kerry recently picked Senator John Edwards to be his running mate, several of these criteria influenced him.

(1) Picking presidential timber. One in every five presidents has died in office (or in Nixon's case, resigned). The most important criterion -- from the viewpoint of the national interest -- is that the vice president must be prepared to assume the duties of president in the blink of an eye. So he or she better have the experience, knowledge, judgment, temperament, and fortitude to step into the role.

(2) Winning a state. There are some 17 battleground states in the 2004 election, any one of which could determine the election outcome in November. Political necessity may dictate that Bush select someone who can deliver the electoral votes of a large, strategically important battleground state. The likely Democratic nominee, Senator John Kerry, chose Senator John Edwards in part because he has Southern roots -- he was born in South Carolina and made his living in North Carolina -- and the Democrats need to cut into Bush's strength in the region.

(3) Balancing the ticket. Bush did this in 2000 when he selected Dick Cheney, whose extensive experience in Washington and with foreign policy compensated for the former governor's relative inexperience on the national stage. It has been observed that in 2004 Democrats do not need to balance the ticket; Democrats are more united than ever because of their opposition to George W. Bush. Nevertheless, in Edwards, Kerry picked someone who balances out his personality; Kerry is seen as aloof; Edwards, a polished populist with the common touch.

(4) Healing the party. If the primary season reveals deep rifts within a party, then sometimes the VP pick reflects the desire on the part of the presidential nominee to "kiss and make up," thereby unifying the party before the election. In 1980, Ronald Reagan reached out first to former president (and moderate) Gerald R. Ford and then to George H. W. Bush (also a moderate) to restore unity in the party after inflicting cuts and bruises in previous campaigns.

(5) Shoring up the base. Sometimes a party wants to mollify an old constituency or reach out to a new constituency -- women, African-Americans, Hispanics, Catholics -- so selecting a VP nominee from that bloc becomes a strategically important decision.

(6) Exciting the electorate. Does picking a particular individual as a running mate grab the nation's attention? Does this person introduce an election-season dynamic, an excitement, that can be capitalized on? John Kerry is betting on John Edwards doing just that.

(7) Making a personal statement. Sometimes the presidential nominee has to send a signal to the nation that he is his own boss, that he is not just a reincarnation of a previous president. Al Gore felt the need to do this in 2000. He wanted to distance himself from Bill Clinton, so he picked Senator Joseph Lieberman to be his running mate. Lieberman had been the first prominent Democrat to criticize Clinton for having an affair with Monica Lewinsky, and lying to the American people about it.

(8) Getting along. This is the most intangible quality, the most personal, but it comes down to a gut reaction. Are the president and vice president compatible? Is there good chemistry between the two? Can they form a good working relationship? In 2004, when John Edwards was campaigning in the primary, he was careful not to launch all-out assaults against frontrunner John Kerry. Some pundits observe that Edwards was campaigning for the VP slot all along.

Former presidents have given thought to the process. In a recent interview, when Bill Clinton was asked about the guideposts for choosing a VP, he advised Massachusetts Senator John Kerry (the presumptive Democratic nominee) to keep the basics in mind: "The most important thing is that he pick somebody that he believes with all his heart would be a great president if he dropped dead, got shot, was in a plane crash. And the second most important thing is that he pick somebody that he likes and has confidence in, that he'll give a lot of responsibility to and form a real partnership with. If those two conditions are met, everything else is secondary."**

Now to your question about about Arizona Senator John McCain.*** Bush and McCain have been rivals, no doubt about it. During the 2000 primaries, McCain made a serious run at becoming the Republican nominee, beating out then-Governor George W. Bush in such battleground states as Michigan. McCain has also been a tough critic of the Bush administration at times. Yet a presidential nominee sometimes chooses his rival to bring interest and balance to the ticket.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy asked Lyndon Johnson to be his running mate; there had been much tension between the Kennedys and LBJ prior to that decision (and afterward as well); but Kennedy believed he needed a Southern Democrat to help him win. It turned out to be a good choice, as Johnson later won election on his own (in 1964) almost a year after Kennedy's assassination.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan selected George H. W. Bush to be his running mate. The two had considerably different political styles, and during the primaries Bush had famously called Reagan's economic agenda "voodoo economics." But it turned out to be a felicitous choice, and Bush was elected in his own right (in 1988) after Reagan's two terms.

The rival shouldn't think too differently, however. Early in his political career Theodore Roosevelt advised: "It is an unhealthy thing to have a vice president and president represented by principles so far apart that the succession of one to the place of the other means a change as radical as any party overturn." TR would know. Dramatic change is precisely what happened after he succeeded William McKinley.


Has a president or party convention decided not to endorse a vice presidential running mate? Strange as it may sound -- yes. This happened once, when many Democratic leaders in 1837 thought their vice presidential pick was so controversial that they refused to renominate him at their convention. (He was known to have affairs with black slave women.) Martin Van Buren ran for president on the Democratic ticket and won. Richard M. Johnson was elected vice president by the U.S. Senate, not the Electoral College, as prescribed by the Constitution.

Since we are resurrecting unusual occurances involving the vice presidency, it is worth noting that when Theodore Roosevelt became president in September 1901 following William McKinley's assassination, he served out the remaining three years of the term without a vice president. Prior to the Twenty-fifth Amendment, which was ratified in 1967, there was no settled constitutional mechanism for presidential and vice presidential succession. The 1967 amendment stipulates that if the vice presidency becomes vacant, the president "shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress." But in 1901 it was perfectly legal not to replace a vice president, and TR did not. Not until the Republican National Convention in 1904 did TR have a vice presidential running mate in Charles W. Fairbanks of Indiana.


Many prominent politicians have ridiculed the office of vice president. Nelson Rockefeller once said (to Richard Nixon) that the vice president was "standby equipment." Our nation's first VP, John Adams, called it "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." Daniel Webster, explaining his refusal to accept the vice presidency, said, "I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead." Theodore Roosevelt opined, "I would a great deal rather be anything, say professor of history, than vice president." And Harry S. Truman cracked, "Look at all the Vice Presidents in history. Where are they? They were about as useful as a cow's fifth teat." Ha, ha.

But remember the basic reason the Founding Fathers created the office of vice president -- to establish a constitutional successor to the president. The vice president is only one heartbeat away from the most important, most powerful elective office in the world. He or she must be prepared to lead if the president dies (which has happened eight times****), resigns (happened once*****), becomes so incapacitated that he cannot fulfill the duties of the office (happened once******), or is removed from office (never happened). Over the course of American history, 14 vice presidents have become president, so it's crucial that Bush choose wisely.

*Source: The Political Graveyard, at

**President Clinton quoted in Adam Nagourney and David M. Halbfinger, "Will It Be a Match Made in a Political Foxhole? A Cradle Robbing? A Loyal Twin? New York Times, July 2, 2004, p. A14.

***The discussion over whether Dick Cheney might resign so that George W. Bush can pick another running mate heated up when USA Today published a commentary by James Gannon on June 21, 2004.

****The VPs who assumed office upon the death of the president were John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester A. Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry S. Truman, and Lyndon B. Johnson.

*****President Richard Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974, when the Watergate investigations brought him close to impeachment in the U.S. House.

******In 1985, George H. W. Bush became the first vice president to serve as acting president -- for approximately eight hours. Prior to having surgery, President Reagan designated Bush as acting president.

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