What good is a VP anyway? The five ps about the V.P. - policy, process, politics, the Presidency, and my PhD

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Insider Picks

At a recent debate between surrogates for the two Presidential candidates the biggest applause line was when Obama's surrogate said that McCain's selection of Palin says it all about McCain's judgment.

What strikes me as interesting, in light of the Insider/Outsider paradigm that shapes the selection and roles of Vice Presidents, is how Palin she fits into the pattern of picks by insider Presidential candidates.

Overall, the VP picks by outsider candidates, starting with Carter, have been awfully Presidential. It includes Mondale, Bush 41, and Gore. Cheney was well-regarded when he was selected, and Biden (although some have their reservations) is also generally considered a good choice who leavens some of Obama's weaknesses. The one outsider candidate who lost, Dukakis, chose Lloyd Bentson - who most polls showed was the single most appealing figure on either party's ticket. On the basic issue of whether or not the VP was considered "Presidential" by the general public - all of these selections were successful. Six for six.

Now consider the VP picks by the insider candidates. Muskie, Kemp, and Lieberman were all generally considered sound, if - in the cases of Muskie and Kemp - unremarkable. Then there was the McGovern fiasco. McGovern had two choices, first Eagleton who then withdrew after it was revealed that he had undergone electro-shock therapy. Then McGovern picked R. Sargent Shriver, who had never held elected office before. Strictly, speaking, Eagleton was actually a solid pick based on resume - but he did end up becoming a problem for the campaign. Ford also had two picks, first his choice when he succeeded Nixon the Presidency and then his choice when he ran in 1976. Rockefeller was chosen in great part because he was considered eminently qualified to be President. However, he ended up not working out, and when Ford was nominated he chose Bob Dole. Based on his resume Dole was a sound pick, but he blew it in his debate with Mondale.

Then there are a series of picks which were made for extremely political purposes. In this, Nixon (unsurprisingly) takes the cake. He chose Agnew because he was an "ethnic" and held onto him as impeachment insurance. When Agnew resigned, Nixon chose Ford a sounder choice on the whole, who actually did serve, reasonably well, as President.

Mondale chose Geraldine Ferraro, a three-term congresswoman from New York. It was a historic pick. But for some it looked like a transparent attempt to appeal to women voters and, because the National Organization of Women had lobbied hard for a female running mate, it made Mondale look like he had caved under pressure.

Four years later, Bush chose Quayle. In fairness, based on resume Quayle was not a bad choice, he was into his second Senate term and had served two terms in the House beforehand. However, Bush reportedly choose Quayle figuring that a young and good-looking running mate would lend a certain appeal to his ticket. Whatever his virtues, Quayle appeared callow on TV and was generally considered a liability. In 2004 Kerry chose John Edwards, who had served a single undistinguished term in the Senate. Edwards did not make any missteps that would register on the Quayle scale. But he spent a fair amount of effort trying to convince voters that he was not too inexperienced in his 2008 run (and that was against Barak Obama...)

And then there is Sarah Palin.

Out of 13 VP picks by insider Presidential nominees, seven had serious credibility problems with substantial components of the general public.

Certainly one can quibble with some of my calls. Maybe John Edwards or Ferraro were regarded as solid picks. Sill, even with the most generous judgments of the insider's choices and more critical judgments of the outsider candidates' selections the the discrepancy is outstanding. There have been no outsider candidate choices equivalent to Agnew, or even Quayle and Ferraro.

The overall trend appears that outsider candidates think very carefully about who they want to work with and who could become President. The insider candidates want to get women to vote for them.

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