The issue of Vice Presidential selection by the major political parties is an interesting one, as they have proved, historically, that they follow very different patterns. This is of interest now as the two parties face the issue of who will be their Vice Presidential nominees, and a potential heartbeat away from the Presidency.
The Democratic Presidential nominees regularly, and systematically, choose United States Senators going back as far as 1948, with the only exceptions being 1972 (second choice nominee) and 1984, and in both cases, the electoral college losses were massive landslides. Sixteen times out of seventeen elections, the nominee came from the upper chamber.
Harry Truman chose Senator Alben Barkley of Kentucky in 1948, while Adlai Stevenson ran with Senator John Sparkman of Alabama in 1952 and Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee in 1956, followed by John F. Kennedy choosing Lyndon Johnson of Texas as his running mate, with all four of these Senators being from the South. Johnson then chose Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota as his Vice Presidential nominee.
Hubert Humphrey selected Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine in 1968, and George McGovern chose Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri in 1972, but then dropped him from the ticket over reports that he had undergone psychiatric treatments, picking Kennedy-in-law and Peace Corps director and Ambassador to France R. Sargent Shriver as his replacement. One has to wonder whether this made things worse for McGovern, as he won only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia against Richard Nixon, or had no effect, probably the latter.
Jimmy Carter chose Senator Walter Mondale of Minnesota as his Vice Presidential running mate in 1976 and 1980, and then Mondale as the Presidential nominee in 1984 chose New York Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro, the first female Vice Presidential nominee. But Mondale could do no better than McGovern had in 1972, with Ferraro being the only nominee not coming from the Senate, other than replacement Shriver in the McGovern campaign.
Michael Dukakis selected Senator Lloyd Bentsen of Texas in 1988, followed by Bill Clinton choosing Senator Albert Gore, Jr of Tennessee to be his Vice Presidential running mate in 1992 and 1996. Gore than had Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut as his choice for Vice President in 2000, followed by John Kerry having Senator John Edwards of North Carolina as his selection in 2004.
Finally, Barack Obama chose Senator Joe Biden of Delaware for the Presidential elections of 2008 and 2012. One can assume that it is very likely that Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders would choose a member of the Senate to be the Vice Presidential running mate in this year’s election.
When one examines the Republican pattern on Vice Presidential choices, it is clearly very different, beginning in 1964 and to the present. Six Vice Presidential choices had the House of Representatives as their major electoral accomplishment before getting the nod for number 2.
Barry Goldwater had William E. Miller of New York as his running mate in 1964; Richard Nixon had Gerald Ford of Michigan as his choice for replacing Spiro Agnew under the 25th Amendment in 1973; Ronald Reagan chose former Congressman George H. W. Bush of Texas in 1980 and 1984; Bob Dole had Jack Kemp of New York in 1996; George W. Bush chose former Congressman Dick Cheney of Wyoming in 2000 and 2004; and Mitt Romney had Congressman, now Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin in 2012. So in 7 out of 13 Presidential elections starting in 1964 and with Ford replacing Spiro Agnew who resigned in 1973, a Congressman or former Congressman was the Vice Presidential nominee. All would be regarded as “quality” running mates, with maybe the exception of Miller in 1964.
The same cannot be said about the “non Congressmen” who were Vice Presidential choices. Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew was a true disaster, selected twice by Richard Nixon in 1968 and 1972, and eventually forced to resign on corruption charges in 1973. Senator Dan Quayle of Indiana was George H. W. Bush’s choice for Vice President in 1988 and 1992, and was a true embarrassment in his one term as Vice President, alarming everyone when Bush threw up on the Japanese Prime Minister, and when Bush had an “Atrial Fibrillation”, worrying Americans that Quayle might succeed to the Presidency. And Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, John McCain’s choice for Vice President in 2008, was another true disaster and embarrassment. Agnew and Palin also shared the distinction of having been governors for less than two years when they were chosen.
The only distinguished “non Congressman” chosen for Vice President by Republican Presidential nominees was Kansas Senator Bob Dole by Gerald Ford in 1976, and later the Republican nominee for President in 1996.
Clearly, the Democratic Presidential nominees had much more high quality and experienced choices for Vice President, with the Republicans, sadly, selecting three mediocre “non Congressman” candidates, in Agnew, Quayle and Palin, and the first two serving in the Vice Presidency.
Given this history it is likely that the GOP will again select a Congressman or a relatively unimpressive governor as their Vice Presidential choice in 2016, someone who would be perceived by many as the less qualified choice for Vice President compared to the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee. And were Donald Trump to select a US Senator, it is highly unlikely that he would pick an exceptional candidate who might outshine himself. So we would need to be concerned about the prospect of his choice being a heartbeat away from the Oval Office.
Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, August 2015).
This article was originally published at History News Network