- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2008


National election attention centers on the candidates for president, but some of the most intriguing behind-the-scenes decisions usually center around the nominee for vice president.

This year is likely to be no different, and perhaps the nominees for vice president will be more important than at any recent time.

While there is a two-term limit on how long a president may serve, there is no similar rule pertaining to the vice presidency.

Until Richard Nixon became vice president, the office was considered powerless. Nixon was selected by President Eisenhower from a list of 10 candidates placed on a “short list” by Tom Dewey.

Historically, most presidents have selected a vice president who had some national popularity but was not strong enough to influence policy. That was not the case when Nixon, who on two separate occasions when Eisenhower was ill, quietly, with the help of Press Secretary Jim Haggerty, ran the country.

Numerous vice presidents decried the lack of responsibility given the vice president. John Nance Garner, Franklin Roosevelt’s first vice president, is reported to have described the office “not worthy of a pitcher of warm spit” - a sanitized version of his actual comment.

David Webster turned down the office with the comment, “I do not intend to be buried until I am dead.”

During the early years of the republic, Garret Hobart was vice president under President William McKinley, and he developed power in the office to a degree where he was called “assistant to the president.” That was an exception never repeated.

John Adams was invited to a presidential Cabinet meeting in 1791, but no later vice presidents attended Cabinet meetings until 1918 and 1919 when Calvin Coolidge was invited to Cabinet meetings while President Woodrow Wilson was in Europe.

The Cabinet invitation was dropped by Herbert Hoover, but in 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt raised the prestige of the office by inviting Vice Presidents Garner and later Henry Wallace and Harry Truman to Cabinet meetings.

Roosevelt’s gesture was unexpected because he had three vice presidents and ignored them all. Garner was eager to leave the office. Wallace was deemed too liberal even for Roosevelt, and when Truman was elected, Roosevelt kept him uninformed on foreign policy and the war, and, in particular the development of the atomic bomb.

The nation and the world were fortunate that as president, Truman displayed great “gut instincts” in winding down the war and helping developing democracies in countries such as Germany and Japan.

The Constitution originally did not foresee the development of political parties. Thus, when Federalist John Adams became president, the runner-up was Thomas Jefferson, and Jefferson became vice president. Adams and Jefferson frequently clashed on states’ rights and foreign policy questions.

The longest battle occurred in 1800 when it took 36 votes in the House of Representatives before Jefferson was elected president and Adam Burr vice president.

Even today vice presidential nominees frequently are selected as a result of curiously different and often secret methods.

Eligibility for the vice presidency is simple. He or she must be a U.S.-born citizen 35 years of age or older who has been a permanent resident for 14 years or longer. He or she must be eligible to be president under the 12th Amendment. Those are the only rules in the selection process.

The vice president cannot be from the same state as the president. In 1968, Bob Finch of California turned down Nixon’s offer to run for vice president because Nixon’s former residence in California would taint their relationship. In 2002, Dick Cheney reverted to his home in Wyoming so as not to conflict with his temporary residence in Texas, the home of George W. Bush.

In recent history there have been varied reasons for selecting a vice president. John Kennedy invited Lyndon Johnson to join him on the ticket after Robert Kennedy urged him to select Johnson because of his possible influence in the South, and particularly Texas. Robert Kennedy delivered the invitation personally.

Johnson and Kennedy were not friendly, but Lady Bird Johnson convinced her husband to accept the invitation because she wanted him in a less strenuous role.

The only contest for vice president in modern times came in 1956 when first Sen. Estes Kefauver and later Sen. John Kennedy mounted campaigns for the office. Usually no one claims to be the vice presidential candidate. The 1956 Democratic presidential nominee, Adlai Stevenson, refused to make a choice. Kefauver won the nomination by a narrow margin, but Kennedy in losing gained the attention he used four years later in seeking the presidency.

Kefauver, incidentally, turned out to be a poor campaigner who showed up hours late for many rallies.

Nixon made an early decision to select Henry Cabot Lodge as his running-mate in 1960 but kept the choice secret. On the night Nixon was nominated, he called together 25 Republican leaders to express their views. The next morning he announced Lodge as his choice. No real count was taken from the group of 25. Lodge turned out to be a mistake because he was not a good campaigner.

In 1964 when the Democrats held their convention in Atlantic City, President Johnson unexpectedly summoned Sens. Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy and Tom Dodd.

All three were put aboard an Air Force plane and flown to Washington for interviews with Johnson. At the White House, each was placed in a separate car to await the individual summons from the president.

Johnson completed his interviews and sent the candidates back to Atlantic City, not knowing which one he would announce as his candidate for the vice president. In Atlantic City the next day he announced that his choice would be Humphrey.

When Johnson in 1968 announced he would not run for re-election, Humphrey was in Mexico City. He learned of Johnson’s decision while watching television in the U.S. ambassador’s residence.

In 1968, after Nixon felt sure he had withstood challenges from Rockefeller and Reagan, the former vice president had a sound-proof section of his hotel equipped to invite various political figures to state their views on the vice presidency. Names varied from Mayor John Lindsay to Sen. Mark Hatfield to Ronald Reagan and Nelson Rockefeller.

No one mentioned Gov. Spiro Agnew of Maryland. Nixon gave even his staff no indication he was considering Agnew. He briefed his staff on his selection only minutes before asking me to make the announcement. It surprised everyone.

When Jerry Ford became president, he selected Nelson Rockefeller to be vice president because he wanted support from the liberal wing of his party.

Rockefeller became the first vice president to have an official residence. He was installed in the Naval Observatory house, replacing the Chief of Naval Operations. Before that, vice presidents lived in the house they owned.

When Ford ran for election in 1976, he won narrowly over Ronald Reagan. Ford and his staff seriously considered asking Reagan to be vice president. Nancy Reagan killed the idea when she sent William French Smith to meet with Leon Parma and gained a promise that Ford would not offer the job to Reagan when the two met.

During the campaign that followed, Reagan made a point of mentioning Ford once in each speech, but only once.

When George H.W. Bush gained the nomination to be president in 1988 after serving as vice president to Reagan, most expected him to select Bob Dole or Jack Kemp as his running mate. Both men remained at their hotels awaiting a phone call from Mr. Bush. To everyone’s surprise, Mr. Bush selected Sen. Dan Quayle of Indiana.

Mr. Quayle was among the most surprised and was sent to a press conference with no briefing. His innocent handling of that initial press conference damaged his career permanently. Prior to his announcement, Mr. Bush had selected a team of political veterans to help his candidate for vice president, but the team was never called into action as Mr. Quayle stumbled into his press conference.

Bill Clinton’s selection of Al Gore as running mate was made because he considered Al Gore a strong partner. Mr. Clinton gave Mr. Gore more responsibility than any vice president since Nixon, and helped him gain the prestige to run for president.

In 1996, after Bob Dole had cinched the Republican nomination, there was much speculation on who would be his running mate.

Jack Kemp considered himself out of the running and drove with his wife Joanne to a family birthday party in Virginia. His car phone rang, and it was Mr. Dole asking him to meet him in Washington. Mr. Kemp, dressed in blue jeans, delivered his wife to the family party and returned to meet with Mr. Dole. To his surprise, he was invited to run for vice president.

Dick Cheney was asked by George W. Bush to put together a “short list” of candidates for vice president. After Mr. Bush reviewed the list, he ignored it and chose Mr. Cheney as his running mate. It was considered a coup because of Mr. Cheney’s experience in the Ford administration.

Speculation already is rampant as to who will be the next nominee for vice president, but it is unlikely there will be any announcements until August. The best bets for the selection would be from the ranks of governors, but the process of selection will be as varied as in the past.

Geography, political strength, political philosophy and power again will be key elements in selecting the person who will be our next vice president.

Herbert G. Klein is a national fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, retired editor-in-chief of Copley Newspapers and former Nixon White House director of communications. Nancy Crisci contributed to this article.



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