Posted by: distributorcap | May 23, 2008

Second Banana

So the “veep”portion of this horse race has begun — and other than the talking bobbleheads in the media does anyone really care? Or rather does anyone really care for more than a few days? Has ANYONE ever gone into the voting booth and pulled the lever for President based on whom the choice for running mate was? Did I vote for Al Gore because of Joe Lieberman – are you kidding? That would be a reason NOT to vote for GORE. Did anyone think Cheney would make Bush a better president? I would bet there is a big chunk of the voting population that doesn’t know who the running mate is! If people have voted for VP – I can guarantee it is few and far between. After the initial choice and the one debate – the Vice-Presidential candidate generally fades quickly from focus in the campaign and truly becomes the second banana in a bad vaudeville act.

But the media loves theatre, or rather they NEED something to generate debate (and ratings) — and what better theatre is there than another round of “Mystery Date” (if you are old enough you will remember that game from the ’60s). open the door — to your mystery running mate? The three main questions the idiots pundits will talk about are:

Can the running make bring _____ credentials? (foreign policy, economic, social, etc.)
Does the running mate have the experience where the top of the ticket is lacking?
Will the running mate help bring in a state for electoral votes?

And they will blather on and on about how critical those things. This one will bring foreign policy credentials, that one has military expericence, but the one over there is from such an important state. Like any of that matters in the end. It doesn’t.

First of all, the Vice-President (other than Dick Cheney, who in reality is the shadow President) doesn’t make policy, doesn’t sell policy and doesn’t enact policy. Everything starts/ends and emanates from the President. The Vice-President has exactly TWO constitutional roles — take over when the President dies/becomes incapacitated and break a tie in the Senate. Other than that it is a lot of funerals and ribbon-cutting.

There is no doubt the President will lean on the Veep for advice and expertise. But he also hires a huge staff to do the same thing — you do not need a Vice-President to be your NSA, Budget Director or Chief of Staff. Yes, the Veep is the proverbial “heartbeat” away from the top — but as long as that heart is beating, the Vice-President’s job can be mostly ceremonial — and the country is no different for it. (Then again we would be a MUCH better country if Dick Cheney’s job was only as ambassador to funerals and coronations).

So the game of Veep picking is nothing more than another marketing ploy for the parties – and something to talk about for the media.

Let’s take a look at some of the Vice Presidential running mates over history and see how they have helped or hurt the top of the ticket. I looked a the past 20 Presidential elections, since 1928.

First the Democrats.
In the past 20 Presidential elections, the Democrats have won 10 (4 by FDR, 2 by Clinton, 1-each for Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter) – 17 different VP candidates.

3 were sitting VPs, 13 were senators, 1 woman, Truman and Johnson moved to the Oval Office upon the death of the President. In 14 of the 20 elections – the Democratic ticket won the state the Vice President hailed from. The losing VP/states were H. Wallace ’40, Kefauver ’56, Shriver ’72, Ferraro ’84, Bentsen ’88 and Edwards ’04

The Contests
In 1932, anyone, including Ghengis Khan would have beaten Hoover, so Garner wasn’t as asset. 1936, 40, 44 were easy FDR wins – post depression and the war — so the Veep choices were irrelevant. Truman’s win in 1948 was an upset – but do you think anyone voted for Truman because of Alben Barkley? No one was beating General Eisenhower in 1952 or 1956 (times were good), especially an intellect like Adlai Stevenson — so even tho Sparkman brought him his state in ’52, it was irrelevant (but probably a good choice). Johnson won in a landslide in 1964 — so I don’t think Humphrey mattered that much. Muskie did bring in Maine in ’68 — but that year was such a disaster and Maine was too small too matter. For McGovern, Shriver was second choice behind Thomas Eagleton and didn’t deliver anyway — it was over before it started. McGovern lost 49 states in a landslide. Carter’s ’76 win had a lot to do with Watergate, and little to do with Mondale. Carter’s loss in 1980 had nothing to do with Mondale — and everything to do with Carter.

The only place I think the running mate actually helped with a win was in 1960 (Johnson definitely helped Kennedy) – Johnson was the ultimate crafty politician, delivered Texas and really knew Washington. Kennedy needed Texas to win. To a smaller extent Clinton was boosted in both 1992-96 with Gore (tho Clinton would have won without Tennessee in both cases). Bentsen helped Dukakis in 1988 from a political angle, but didn’t deliver Texas. There is NO doubt in my mind Lieberman hurt Gore in 2000 and contributed to his loss.

Now the Republicans
10 Presidential wins (2-each for Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, GW Bush, 1 for Hoover, GHW Bush). 14 different VP candidates.

6 were sitting VPs (Curtis, Nixon, Agnew, HW Bush, Quayle, Cheney), 5 senators, 3 Governors. In 12 of the 20 elections, the home state of the Vice President went into the “win” column for the Republicans – 2 less than the Democrats. The losing VP/states were Curtis ’32, Knox, ’36, McNary ’40, Warren ’48, Lodge ’60, Miller ’64, Agnew ’68, Kemp ’96.

The Wins
In 1928 Hoover was up against the first Catholic candidate – Al Smith of New York. Religion was the issue, Curtis surely didn’t matter. After the depression, the Republican party was poison for 16 years – Jimmy Stewart couldn’t haved saved the party. In 1952-56 Eisenhower was the hero general from WWII – Nixon if anything hurt him (see the Checkers speech). in 1960, Lodge from Massachusetts was negated by Kennedy from Massachusetts. 64- landslide, the GOP wasn’t read for Goldwater. For Nixon’s comeback in 1968 – the Democratic party was torn apart by the riots at the Chicago Convention and the 3rd party candidacy of George Wallace – Agnew was not an asset to Nixon. After the Nixon landslide in 1972, Agnew was forced to resign in disgrace in 1973 when he was found to have accepted bribes as governor of Maryland. Nixon appointed Ford. Reagan won in a landslide in both 1980 and 1984 – Mickey Mouse could have been his running mate and he would have won. HW Bush was brought in to balance Reagan with foreign policy and what happened? — at the first crisis – when Reagan was shot, Haig initially shoves Bush aside. In 1988, HW Bush won despite picking a joke like Dan Quayle (if anything it hurt him – he was the first elected official to actually get into a fight with a fictional character, Murphy Brown) — but won more due to the fact Dukakis was such a weak candidate. As for Bush ’00-’04 — need I say anything. Cheney didn’t bring him the presidency, Sandra Day O’Connor did. I still cannot figure 2004.

Probably the only running mate that helped the Presidential candidate for the Republicans was Earl Warren, Governor of California. But Dewey was supposed to win and didn’t, and Warren did not bring in California – so I guess he really didn’t help. Lodge didn’t help Nixon in ’60, Dole surely didn’t help Ford in ’76, and Kemp ’96 was a non-starter for Dole. If anything, Quayle hurt HW Bush in ’92 – but HW’s loss was probably more due to “read my lips, no new taxes” and Ross Perot.

Again — the VP candidate was practically irrelevant in the outcome.

Of 20 elections — the Vice Presidential candidate actually made a difference – ONCE – to the Democrats in 1960. And to a lesser extent in 1992-96. So we are going to spend the next 3 months handicapping, predicting and spewing lots of hot air — talking about a person that in the end means practically nothing to the election outcome.

Welcome to the USA – land of buried heads in the sand


  1. Of 20 elections — the Vice Presidential candidate actually made a difference – ONCE – in 1960.This is an education in American politics as well as a sad tale of the state it’s currently in. But now that Cheney for (better or) worse has changed the role of the VP, I’m not so sure that the VP issue is not valid for discussion. I agree that from a Constitutional standpoint it’s a non-starter and from a media standpoint, it’s just another beauty contest. But given the way Herr Cheney has raised the stakes for this office with thu unprecedented way in which he’s wielded power, I wonder if any prospective VP choice would consider accepting that role if it was anything less.

  2. Outstanding analysis, D-CAPny. This post is truly what the blogosphere should be all about: “EACH ONE TEACH ONE”. Congrats. The next time I write about the race over at HELL, I’ll link to this post. While, you’ve proven the thesis you set out for yourself quite solidly, I do have a counter-argument, related as Spartacus notes to Dick Cheney. I could be worng and maybe it was Rove, but I think Cheney came up with the term “the 51% solution.”All of the data on this upcoming election — the popular polls, the electoral polls, the cash market prices, and the futures market prices suggest that the election will be very close yet will be volatile and will hinge on extremely small factors.For example, in the futures market, Obama is 60p-in-the-pound to win the presidency, and a much higher price to win the popular vote. Yet, he is pretty far behind McCain in the electoral polling as of last night — about 60 votes. Clinton is about 4p-in-the-pound to win the presidency in the futures market, yet she leads McCain overwhelmingly in the popular polls and by over 100 votes in the electoral polls.The off-candidates are the strongest since Perot: Barr, McKinney and Nader. They may have some say in the outcome.Given this state of nature and the tremendous polarization between coastal and interior America, I do believe that while historically the choice of a running mate is a small issue, it is a pretty big one this year.For Obama to win in the electoral college he has to overturn McCain’s lead in either FL or OH or the combo of MICH, MIN and IOWA or find some way to win TX. Make no mistake about this, Obama has a massive FL problem and a pretty bad OH problem. I think that Clinton better than anyone could win Obama both of those states, thus giving him an easy electoral win.If Obama doesn’t want Clinton around his adminstration because of the possibility of being a distraction, Obama HAS to pick a Jew if he wants to go the Florida route: Wexler, Wasserman-Schultz, and Wyden are the best choices there, and all three are bona-fide liberals while Obama despite the media bullshit is actually kind of a centrist.If he wants to use the OH path, the only choice is Strickland.And if they feel that while FL and OH are completely out of reach but Obama’s currently small deficit in TX can be improved upon, then Richardson is his man.Or I could be totally wet and the media and McCain have laid the groundwork for painting Obama as OSAMA, then maybe he does indeed need a right-wing Southern White Guy like Kaine or Webb.None of this contradicts your analysis. These are choices worth about 3% plus or minus.The other reason that Obama’s VP choice is so important is that while the Democratic Party is pretty useless, they have about a million great candidates in their front and back benches and in their governors’ mansions. The Republicans are excellent at winning elections but have nothing but shit for potential candidates going forward.Thus, Obama will be anointing the next Democratic Party leader with his choice. That’s important.Also, vice-presidents don’t have to be stuffed moose, you know. I thought that Gore was an excellent VP to Clinton in terms of what his assignments were — RUSSIAN and ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY principally. While I didn’t like Reagan or Bush Sr, I think Bush Sr was very helpful to Reagan and the party in many ways. If for no other reason that in bringing in Baker III, H Baker, Regan and Shultz.

  3. Another fantastic post – so well researched (hahaha-sorry insider joke) and written.And nice to see our man Kelso back on the intertubes.

  4. Dude, this is a great analysis of how unimportant the Veep is.Unless of course your Veep to the asshat from TX. 😉

  5. I beg to differ. The VP is a separate entity of the government it is not a part of the Executive branch. VP’s can hide out in undisclosed locations (kind of like a Bat Cave- aka Bat Man), and they can cut cool deals with anyone they like due to not being a part of the Executive branch. Screw checks & balances…..just close the door to your secret location & do whatever the hell you want. It’s a cush job with lots of perks and less of the stress.Oh to be a fly on the wall for his behind the scenes doings. Oy!

  6. After her “I’m hanging around in case Barack gets whacked” comment, Clinton stands about as much chance of being nominated for VP as I do. Maybe even less.

  7. I’ll only say this once: whoever is Mad Dog’s VP is undoubtedly going to finish Mad Dog’s term or second term. Lord, the man is older than dirt.Regards,Tengrain

  8. I also think the vice presidential choice is going to be crucial this time around. After cheney, everyone is going to be taking a real hard second look. McCain will be using a fringe group guy most likely, because their party is split. The Dems are likewise are split, but it will demolish Barack if he makes up with Hillary and they run together. I would like to see Barack-Edwards. This will also pacify the whites. We need to stop thinking in terms of how it always used to be, the two top dawgs on the ticket need to be a team, I really thought that Gore- Edwards would have changed the accepted norms and broken the mold, I still think they could have. The days of the VP sitting on the sidelines are over, the world and the issues facing all of us are too complex. So, that’s my prediction for the future of politics. Be wary of conditioned political attitudes, they just don’t work anymore.

  9. The real question is, who do you most want to represent your country at state funerals.Seriously, great post.

  10. Sorry, I just had people at the door. Anyway, I think Spartacus is on to this, the neocons used the fact that people are so preconditioned to thinking the VP slot was just ho-hum, it was a political manuever to assure that the old guard would still be in control, i.e. Bush was just the stooge. It was a trap, and it worked. Many people voted for Bush that I know, simply because of Cheney. Remember the debate between Cheney and Edwards, Cheney just hypnotized the audience. The point is this, the electorate can be swayed by the VP choice, it happened. We all saw it happen. I think it’s almost historic that in the USA now, there is a complete different perspective on the VP choice. A political scientist might call it political evolution, even though it is still just going through the birth pangs.

  11. Sorry Dcap, but Mike adds this: Just the fact that Cheney has received so much exposure, unlike any other VP that he can remember, people, especially those who are not highly educated and rely on the MSM now are conditioned to seeing the VP highly exposed and now they expect that as a matter of course. Makes sense.Anyway, I think I said Gor-Edwards, I meant Gore Liebermann. And to tell you the truth, at that time I voted that ticket because we both thought, good, finally a Jew. We didn’t know what a sell out he was then nor did we realize the huge impact of AIPAC, did anyone?

  12. DCap, another great article. I agree with you that the VP is just a place holder. It may sway a few votes but not that many.I would much rather a candidate let me know two things.1) Who will you put on the Supreme Court.2) Who is going to be your top cabinet memebers. I know that it’s impossible to name them exactly but at least a list of potential people would make it easier for voters to make a choice. I think this is a better marker of how much impact they will have on the country then who will be VP.Just a thought.Matt

  13. I think Fran has a point. Cheney stole power by ignoring the constitution. If the next VP chooses that approach then all bets are off. But I don’t think Obama’s running mate would do that seeing as how Obama is a constitutional scholar. It used to be that a VP choice was for the president’s protection ie nobody would consider wacking the prez for fear of having the VP hold the reigns. The only other issue there was to balance the ticket. Makes you wonder who will land up in those positions. Last thing to remember is the VP is nominated at the convention by delegates.

  14. I am starting to become addicted to your posts. Really good stuff.If I may add a quote from former VP John Nance Gardner…“The vice-presidency isn’t worth a pitcher of warm piss”.The man was fond of insightful quotes.

  15. really good post…funny how I used to think the VP position was not important- but after Darth Cheney I have changed my mind…totally…the rest of the country- I have no idea how they rate it…But you putting it all in perspective that was really helpful…

  16. dcap, your streak of superior posts continues unabated! My comments on the matter would only be repeating what others have already said. Let’s hope that Unka Dick was the most anomalous of anomalies.

  17. I agree the VP only has a few minor official roles, but unofficially, the VP can act as a surrogate on the campaign trail, can punch a little harder in debates and once in office can muscle Congress to the president’s will without making an administration look bad.

  18. I think it’s important for all to remember that Cheney TOOK power that was normally afforded the VP. I don’t think that will be a problem with any of the candidates that we might end up with.Obama — for the reason stated above about him being a constitutional scholar.Clinton — would be to afraid to show weakness in front of the country to let a VP do anything other then ceremonial duties.McCain — will have to do things by himself or risk being called to old to handle the job.I do think that Obama is the candidate that is most likely to use his VP to help him administer the office. The VP is always a career politician, if not a house hold name, there is no reason why he can’t help the president.Just my

  19. Not to be handicapping or predicting – but I head on CNN that in a surpise move to get into the White House, Hillary Clinton will divorce Bill Clinton and marry John McCain.

  20. Great post.As Tengrain pointed out though, Mad Dog’s running mate choice may be very important if he wins the presidency.

  21. Jeez, hilarious Dr.Zaius, don’t put it past her. heeheeheeM&M

  22. I think the Veep choice is going to get a bit more scrutiny this year because of the huge chance that neither McCain nor Obama will finish out their terms of office. McCain is older than dirt and with his temper could stroke out any minute, while Obama, well… the Shrillery said it out loud, finally. The chances of a Kennedy happening to him are very, very high, due to his skin color and the many disgruntled racists out there. I won’t handicap the possible VP’s (except to say that Edwards and the Shrillery are definitely out as Obama’s running mates — Edwards was incredibly weak last time, and the Shrillery, well). And to be blunt, I doubt that most of these supposed political calculations really matter. If this were a normal year with normal candidates I’d say you’re correct that the VP candidate doesn’t matter, but I think given the sopecial… mortality… problems of McCain and Obama, the voters want to know that the VP candidate is a serious person who, if called to do so, would serve well as President. That’s pretty much it though. What state he comes from, how well he “balances” the ticket by providing expertise the President doesn’t have, etc., I don’t think anybody cares. It’s just a case of, “would he or she be okay as President?”. So I will respectfully disagree. This simply isn’t an ordinary election, and while your observation will ordinarily be correct, this year, I think, the VP selection will get a bit more scrutiny by those voters who can pull themselves away from American Idle and Survivor:Iraq for a few minutes…- Badtux the Skeptical Penguin

  23. I think Cheney was able to steal so much power because Bush was inexperienced, incurious and not particularly bright.The GOP goons selected Dick because they knew Bush was a puppet all along; an empty suit they sent out to mouth the words they wanted him to say.Alas for them, when Bush got off his leash and spoke extemporaneously, he was exposed as the mean spirited nitwit we all know and loathe today.I seriously doubt McCain will seek a VP who appears stronger and more in control than he–McCain is a hell of a lot more like Cheney than he is Bush. He’ll want a VP who can deliver some votes, then resign himself to attending State funerals and speaking at insignificant events.

  24. Man can you write! And research! I leave the heavy lifting to my commenters. That’s the kind of lazy ass I am. But I did post one yesterday “Who do you want to be Veep? I got great answers.

  25. Excellent point of view and writing. You are on fire lately.

  26. Excellent post and analysis, DCap. And while it does give one pause about McCain’s running mate possibly taking over, Reagan was almost as old as well, and his VP, Bush the First, didn’t get to be President until he won on his own.

  27. Kelso’ nuts-in today’s paper there was a cartoon that basicially said that Obama should pick J Webb-presumably because the cartoonist feels that Obama needs to balance his (non-existent-I believe) tilt to the left with a right-leaner. I would like Richardson-he’s maybe not so much to the right as Webb-but his skills in diplomacy and negotiations are to be noted. Its unfortunate that Obama will probably be urged to select a VP that is more right-leaning, just to garner more votes from certain populations, in my opinion. It’s just a media thing that Obama is so far to the left in the first place!

  28. Excellent. I do think that the vice presidency has some importance, but you’re right that it doesn’t really decide elections. On the other hand, I think that both Obama and McCain need to seriously consider women as potential running mates.

  29. I wonder if Cheney will try to keep his spot, and “help” McCain with his vast experience. Satan is ALWAYS in power.Great post, DCap.

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