A Great Year to be the GOP Vice-Presidential Candidate

The Economist describes the current GOP field (save Huntsman) as a “rum list” of candidates. Typical of a left-wing rag to be so partisan, but who could argue? This situation will however make the VP spot on the Republican ticket much more attractive to rising GOP stars and the race for the veep candidacy that much more interesting.

The Republican presidential candidates (again, other than Huntsman) benefit from comparisons only to the second-tier and third-tier politicians against whom they are currently running for the nomination. Since Huntsman is not going to win, that means whoever gets the Republican VP slot will instantly become the un-Dan Quayle, i.e., the VP candidate who looks more substantive, mature and impressive than the fellow with whom he shares the ticket. If you are Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rob Portman, John Thune, Mitch Daniels or any of the other A-listers who took a pass this year, the VP slot provides an opportunity to raise your national profile while inevitably making many people in the party mutter “How I wish we could flip the order on this thing”.

In the role of VP candidate who outshines the presidential candidate, losing is almost as good as winning. People don’t typically blame the VP candidate for an election loss, so presuming even modestly competent performance, the GOP veep candidate who loses in 2012 is in excellent position to run for the top slot in 2016. And if you win, you win. You have to be vice-president for 4 or 8 years, but public service always involves sacrifice, and you are still well positioned for a future presidential run.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

7 thoughts on “A Great Year to be the GOP Vice-Presidential Candidate”

  1. People don’t typically blame the VP candidate for an election loss, so presuming even modestly competent performance, the GOP veep candidate who loses in 2012 is in excellent position to run for the top slot in 2016.

    Sorry, but how many losing VP candidates have later won their party’s nomination for a subsequent presidential race? Off the top of my head, I can only think of two in the post-FDR era, Walter Mondale in 1984 (Carter’s VP candidate in 1980) and Bob Dole in 1996 (Ford’s VP candidate in 1976), and neither of them won the presidency when they later ran at the top of ticket.

    1. Mondale lost on his own account–and not just based on St. Ronaldus’s rising popularity (his numbers were about the same as Obama’s), but because he did not offer much. Dole was as bland a candidate as there has been since Humphrey. And people are just not likely to vote for white bread. Besides, Mondale’s and Dole’s main qualifications for office were that they “were due”, thanks to their past service to the respective parties and terms in office. Reagan did not even have to tie Mondale to Carter–Mondale just dropped like a lead balloon. Selection of Ferraro did not help–in fact, Ferraro might have been a better counterexample as she brought a lot of resentment from the “traditionalists” in the middle (not to mention the outright conservatives). She was also the target of a flood of anti-Italian and sexist jokes. It is unfortunate that the only comparison we really have for her is to Palin, as Palin certainly contributed to the demise of an already weak Republican ticket. Ferraro might not have imploded the ticket, as Palin did, but she certainly did not improve it. And her political stock has sank as a result of that loss (although she was certainly responsible for that herself). So what we have is only two women–Ferraro and Palin–whose political careers tanked following VP loss. One could argue that Palin’s career improved–but not as a politician. Had she waited until this year, instead of jumping on the McCain bandwagon, and served out her Alaska term, she might have been a more sensible VP candidate this year–as long as she kept her mouth shut. It would have been unfortunate for the rest of us, but, politically speaking, she was simply not sufficiently vintaged.

      Quick–who was Dole’s VP candidate? What happened to his political career?

      1. Jack Kemp was retired when Dole picked him, and retired after. He did run halfheartedly in 2000, but Dubya was inevitable already.

  2. @Just Passing By: Your examples support my thesis — Mondale and Dole were on losing tickets for their parties as VP, and were not tarnished — their parties later chose them as their presidential candidate. Neither was a national figure before they were on a national ticket; they would never have gotten a shot at the presidency without the extra exposure that provided.

    More generally, remember base rates — if politicians do something that leads to becoming president (or a presidential nominee) even 10% of the time then it’s an extraordinarily strong move in that direction.


    And, although he didn’t win the presidency, Lloyd Bentsen, as the impressive half of the Dukakis ticket, raised his stock enormously and landed the plum job of Treasury Secretary under President Clinton.

  3. Left-wing rag? I hope that was sarcasm… And what makes you think that Christie or Thune are any more sane than their current counterparts? Thune might give Perry a run for his money for the Upperclass Twit of the Year. And Christie has a temper issue worse than Gingrich, not to mention his dabbling in t-bagging and getting his state’s credit rating to drop like a rock. That leaves Daniels, Portman and Jeb as the only ones standing on your list. What do these guys have in common? One is yet another Bush scion, the other two worked for his dimwit brother. And this is the prize of the class?? Your analysis seems to have barely pierced the surface…

  4. Keith forgot Bobby Jindal. Jindal is a curious mix–really smart and batshit insane. The batshit insanity is the standard Taliban variety. Although unlike many of them, I think he really means it. But the really smart isn’t the kind of untutored smarts of, say, Mike Huckabee, or merely being fast on his feet. The guy is policy smart, like the RBC readership. If he didn’t look like a 97-pound weakling (possibly a fatal disqualification for the Presidency), I’d say he is the class of the field.

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