Now that the foregone conclusion of Mitt Romney’s nomination has become all-but-official, the next obsessive focus of pointless media speculation will be Romney’s Vice Presidential choice. Yesterday, Romney named the head of his search committee, which means weeks of breathless rumors are sure to follow. Already, everybody from jolly ol’ Chris Christie to picante Marco Rubio have denied interest, but conventional wisdom holds that they’re just being coy, because the Vice Presidential nomination is a low-risk way to raise your national profile, setting you up for greater things down the line win-or-lose.
As usual, the conventional wisdom is wrong.
While Vice President traditionally has been an office compared most often to a warm bucket of spit, in the past three administrations it’s grown to have some actual responsibilities and power. That doesn’t change the fact that in the modern political era (post-WWII), only two V.P.s have become President by non-assassination/resignation-means, and Richard Nixon had to wait 8 years (plus, of course, Al Gore won the majority of the popular vote and lost by one Supreme Court justice).
There’s some logic to the idea that a losing Vice Presidential candidate is actually in a better position than a winner. The candidate’s name becomes widely known, and they don’t carry the baggage of the Presidential candidate in the way they would after an actual administration. The theory is that you make your name, and take another shot down the line.
While this sounds good in practice, in the past 40 years, only one losing Vice-Presidential candidate who never held the office actually became his party’s (losing) nominee: Bob Dole, and he had to wait 20 years. Even beyond the lack of future success in national elections, the list of failed V.P. nominees shows a striking run of bad fortune and choices.
2008 – Sarah Palin
The spunky Pop Culture superstar was the most previously-unknown V.P. candidate in recent history, and she’s since been portrayed by Tina Fey and Julianne Moore, so there’s that. But she resigned as Governor of Alaska less than a year later for no discernible reason, pretty much killing any political prospects. And everytime she looks at her grandson, she knows that he’s half-this-guy.
2004 – John Edwards
Since he lost the Vice Presidential race, he’s fathered a bastard child, had his wife leave him before dying of cancer, and is about to go on trial for six felonies that could lead to 30 years in prison. His name is now an epithet in all of Oprah Nation.
2000 – Joe Lieberman
In 2006, Joe failed to be re-nominated for his Connecticut Senate seat, but was able to retain the seat as in Independent. He was John McCain’s first choice for his running mate in 2008, but the impossibility of picking him brought Sarah Palin upon all of us.
1996 – Jack Kemp/ 1988 – Lloyd Bentsen
They’re both dead, but since they made it to 73 and 85 respectively, they’re pretty lucky for this group.
1984 – Geraldine Ferraro
After making history as the first major female national candidate, Ferraro lost two Democratic primaries for a New York Senate seat, saw her husband convicted for fraud and her son for cocaine possession, and decided this was a good idea.
1976 – Bob Dole
20-some years later, he decided this was a good idea (and got to co-star with Cameron from Modern Family!)
1972 – Sargent Shriver
After replacing Thomas Eagleton on the ticket when it was found out he’d gone through electroshock therapy, Shriver gamely went down with the McGovern ship. Eventually, he got to look at four of his grandchildren knowing they were half-this-guy.