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How Vice Presidents Matter

Mitt Romney and the VP pick. After Al Gore, Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin, we look at how Vice Presidents matter.

The Seal of the Vice President of the United States is used to mark correspondence from the U.S. vice president to other members of government, and is also used as a symbol of the vice presidency. The central design, directly based on the Seal of the President of the United States (and indirectly on the Great Seal of the United States), is the official coat of arms of the U.S. vice presidency and also appears on the vice presidential flag. (Wikipedia)

Photo illustration.  (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

American vice presidents are not all exactly household names. You remember vice president Hannibal Hamlin, right? And Danny Tompkins? Schuyler Colfax? Garret Hobart? Well, maybe not.

On the other hand, LBJ rode hard into history. Richard Nixon was veep and POTUS. So were a bunch of others. Dick Cheney made the imperial vice presidency. Sarah Palin made her name just by being on the ticket. Now Mitt Romney’s about to choose – in a time when the vice presidency is changing.

This hour, On Point: Veeps in history, the veepstakes now, and how vice-presidents matter.

- Tom Ashbrook


Joel Goldstein, scholar of the Vice Presidency, Presidency, and Constitutional Law at St. Louis University.

From Tom’s Reading List

Center for Politics “One of the persistent ideas regarding vice presidential selection holds that presidential nominees seek running mates from large, competitive states. Guided by that assumption, the Great Mentioners invariably include many politicians from such states on the lists of prospective vice presidential candidates that they compose every four years. The premise seems to be that a running mate can minimally, at best, affect the national election returns but that a popular favorite son or daughter may help swing an important electoral block.”

The Washington Post “Running mates, by and large, are publicly discussed during the “veepstakes” as a way of balancing the ticket, or complementing the candidate. One might help broaden geographic  or ideological appeal: A northeastern liberal (John F. Kennedy, Michael Dukakis) chooses, say, a more conservative running mate from Texas (Lyndon B. Johnson, Lloyd Bentsen). Another might help emphasize a key campaign platform: Jack Kemp, the thinking went, would bolster Bob Dole’s standing on economic issues, while Al Gore reinforced Bill Clinton’s attributes as a young southern centrist from the baby boomer generation.”

History News Service “Texas Gov. Rick Perry recently denied any interest in being vice president, and that’s understandable.  To be taken seriously, a presidential contender must squelch talk that he or she is really targeting the second spot.”

The Drudge Report “President Obama whispered to a top fundraiser this week that he believes GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney wants to name Gen. David Petraeus to the VP slot!”

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  • Wm_James_from_Missouri

    It is rare for a Vice President to be a decisive force in history. The most current exception that comes to my mind is Presidency of Lyndon Johnson after the assignation of John F. Kennedy. What a difference a day makes !

    • Mike_Card

      “assassination?”  Don’t forget Truman.

    • Joseph_Wisconsin

       Teddy Roosevelt!  The best Vice President in American history.

    • margbi

      I think you meant assassination, not assignation, though I understand Kennedy had some of those, too!

      • brettearle

        Good one margbi….very spontaneously clever….

    • JGC

      But it is not so rare for a VP to be a decisive force in history…Lyndon Johnson already had figured out the statistics on this when he accepted being VP to JFK (see the recent Caro biography on this subject).

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    Having a VP is like having an airbag in a car, they are very, very important when you need them; the rest of the time you rarely even think of them.

    I had respect for John McCain until he ‘chose’ Sarah Palin as his running mate for vice president. Aside from Dubya’s invasion of Irag, that was one of the most irresponsible acts I have ever seen: putting a total ignoramus a heartbeat away from becoming commander in chief… she may very well have made us yearn for the good ole days of Dubya!

  • Ray in VT

    The role of the Vice President has seemingly changed greatly in the past generation, as the VP has been deployed as the point man on various issues by the President.  I’m not sure how far back this goes, so my comment is directed at what I have seen since I became politically active in the 199s, but it is certainly evident over the past several administrations.  The office is no longer as John Adams once described it:

    “My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant
    office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination

  • http://freeourfreemarkets.org/ Steve Banicki

    Portman would help in Ohio, which is a swing state.

    • http://twitter.com/TFRX T. Ralph

      If Romney’s gonna nominate someone who’s effective in delivering Ohio, how about Kasich? Ohio’s voter suppression drive is first-rate.

  • http://freeourfreemarkets.org/ Steve Banicki

    Obama needs Clinton, as in Hillary, as his running mate. 

    • sickofthechit

       Amen to that brother, amen!

  • MrNutso

    Since 1992, Veep’s have gotten way too involved in the executive branch.  It’s not like being a VP in a corporation.  The job is to stay alive in case the President dies and break a tie vote in the Senate.  Non-portfolio VP’s like Gore, Darth Vader and Biden don’t help anything.  They don’t (or in Darth Vader’s case are not supposed to) have any power.  So unless they are named to a top line cabinet post such as State, Defense or Treasury, they should follow the George H. W. Bush school of Vice Presidency and just go to funerals.

    • Ray in VT

      You mentioned the the Constitution’s specifically mentioned duties of the Vice President, but given the scope of the modern Presidency, the Vice President has the potential for other advisory and advocacy opportunities.

      Of course, the relationship of the President and Vice President, both politically and personally, is different today than it was in the early days of the nation when the VP was the guy with the second most electoral votes.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    VP’s candidates these days are just more opportunities for attack by the other party – which is why Romney’s planned running mate has been as mysterious as his tax returns.

    • sickofthechit

       Your analogy is a little off.  Romney will never reveal his tax returns. 

  • Ellen Dibble

    It seems to me a vice president who had been a senator at least wouldn’t be out there voting against your proposals in the senate — except in the case of a senate deadlock.  Even then, maybe a VP would toe the line.  So if Romney is expecting certain countercurrents to his plans from certain Republican wings, he could try to take some of that wing on board.  And if he’s worried about losing New Hampshire (yeah, right), he could go for Kelly Ayotte; she might bring a lot of women voters, actually, where it seems he needs support.  
        All that is different from going for an in-house powerhouse, more like Cheney or Biden.   In the case of Cheney, the “eminence grise,” better put on the ticket as inconspicuously as possible.  In my opinion, I’d be more likely to vote for Romney if I saw a principled — nonpolitical — person of steady conviction, international and national (track record not obscured but not spashy) in that position.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/EY4GHWHOZC24L22CFAKD63JAA4 Mary

    The question to ask is are there any VPs who once having been picked would not have been picked, aside from  Thomas Eagleton.. because of what the press found out about them. and they then went on to become VP any way???

    • J__o__h__n

      Eagleton was more sane that Palin. 

  • Mike_Card

    hmm.  The VP home at the Naval Observatory was first designated as such while Nelson Rockerfeller was Ford’s VP; hardly a century ago, more like 37-8 years ago.

  • brotherjol

    No kidding here, I would vote for any candidate who chose Tom Ashbrook as his VP pick.  We need more dialogue and emotional intelligence, and I can’t think of anyone who qualifies more than Tom =) 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

      Hate to say it but the day Mr. Ashbrook becomes a political figure will be the same day he loses my intellectual respect. I sense that Tom’s talents would be savagely wasted playing the role of VP under anybody.

    • J__o__h__n

      What am I going to listen to for two hours a day?  And I don’t think the president would like being interrupted. 

  • http://twitter.com/PrinceJvstin Paul Weimer


  • http://twitter.com/djFiG FiG

    Romney’s pick: A fellow named Reasonably Good Looking Rich White Man!  He’s a big player in national politics *and* big business!

    • Ellen Dibble

      A certain Adelson maybe?

  • JeanBruce

    Condoleeza Is the only person on record as being excited about the opportunity to go to war with Iraq.

    • http://twitter.com/TFRX T. Ralph

      Really? I was under the impression that Rumstud or other Bushies who can’t just jet off to every country were planning the invasion of Iraq literally before the smoke cleared in lower Manhattan.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1359690163 Katie Contino

    While I love the idea of Rice as the VP candidate for Romney, she’s too moderate for the Republicans which is unfortunate. I wish Romney would get back to his moderate roots and ignore the screams from the far right about social issues and religion, but this definitely wouldn’t fly with the Republican establishment. So he’ll pick someone safe like Portman who won’t go against the grain of the RNC. Too bad, I would vote for Romney if he was more moderate.

  • Ellen Dibble

    A VP who dies is replaced by appointment?  Recalling Spiro Agnew, who if I’m recalling was replaced by Gerald Ford, who actually became POTUS?    Otherwise, the older the better.  Where is Lloyd Bentsen now?  Oh, wait, Democrat there.

    • J__o__h__n

      Please write president not POTUS. 

  • OnpointListener

    Condi dropped the ball before 9/11.  Read the report of the 9/11 Commission and Richard Clark’s book: “Against All Enemies”.

    Condi is an ideologue… just what we need.

  • BHA_in_Vermont

    Cheney was not a complement to GWB, he was the puppet master.

    • J__o__h__n

      This isn’t entirely true.  Bush resisted some of the worst Cheney ideas.  Cheney is still upset over Scooter Libby not getting fully pardoned. 

      • sickofthechit

         Yeah, but Cheney will be forever grateful to Scooter for taking the heat for his own Treason.

        Define Cheney’s Treason?

        It happened when he outed Valerie Plame who was a CIA field operative or even just an employee he then jeopardizes everyone’s identity she had contact with while overseas, as well as everyone they had contact with.  It doesn’t take much to get to aiding and abetting from there.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Petraeus?  You wish!  I think military men like him are great because of qualities antithetical to being VP, i.e., making decisions, getting out in front, moving the ball forward constantly.

  • James Hayes-Bohanan

    Sec. Rice would triple the intellectual capacity of the ticket and might attract more votes than she would lose. As another comment mentions, she was far too eager to attack Iraq, but I somehow sense that failing would be ignored.

    I do not think she would be chosen, however. Romney only likes women who will work FOR him, not with him. I remember well his chauvinism toward Gov. Jane Swift, as he brushed her aside on his climb to the State House.

    • Ellen Dibble

      I also think Rice would not help bridge the gap — she’s not a natural in connecting to other people, it seems to me.  She wouldn’t be upstaging him on campaign platforms, but she wouldn’t be sought out for sharing beers, either.

      • http://twitter.com/TFRX TF RX

        I wonder what Rice would tell the NAACP about voter suppression.

  • BHA_in_Vermont

    If Rubio is chosen, we can start a Rubio “birther” movement :)
    No one cares about FACTS after all.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/ZSWJOMIAJM67XEKGLO6OQUQFL4 Jonas

    Do these politicians have so little faith in the intelligence of the voters that they believe they can trick them by picking a VP based on gender or race?  Do women really think that Romney’s stance on women’s rights will suddenly shift if he picks Rice?  Do Hispanics really believe that Romney’s stance on immigration will change if he picks Rubio?  Come on, do they think we are really that stupid?  Or maybe we are…

    • BHA_in_Vermont

       Um, well YES. Lots of people are “one issue” voters. For instance abortion rights and the Catholic church.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/ZSWJOMIAJM67XEKGLO6OQUQFL4 Jonas

        It’s one thing to be a “one issue” voter…not a good thing but I can sort of understand.  But if you are going to be a “one issue” voter shouldn’t you vote for a CANDIDATE that supports your “one issue”?  How could a person who is pro-choice vote for Romney just because he chooses Rice as his VP?  Do they think she’s going to have a long sit-down with him and change his mind?  Do they think he’s going to drop dead and she’s going to overturn Roe v. Wade?

        I saw McCain’s pick of Palin as what it was…a desperate pander to women that was as transparent as it was pitiful.  It broke my heart to see thousands of women rallying to her, thinking that the Republican party will suddenly start changing it’s platform just because he chose a female VP.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001436729213 Wes Nickerson

    Vice Presidents do matter. Cheri Honkala, the inspirational founder and national coordinator of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, is the VP running mate of Jill Stein, presidential choice of the Green Party of the US. Cheri Honkala is carrying on the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., leading a movement to end poverty in America. Together with Dr. Jill Stein they are championing the Green New Deal to end unemployment and jump-start the green economy of the future.


  • Matthew Bosley

    Marco Rubio born in Florida?   Let’s see his ALLEGED birth certificate first . . . and we can debate whether he wasn’t really born in Cuba for the rest of the campaign!!

  • Ellen Dibble

    Chris Christie?

    • James Hayes-Bohanan

      Now that’s a scary movie!

  • CBP_Medford

    George Romney was born in Mexico and came to the US when he was about 6.  How was he able to run for the presidency without this being an issue?

    • BHA_in_Vermont

       His parents were US citizens. But what the heck, lets start a “birther” movement on Romney too. :)

      • CBP_Medford

        I’m not sure G. Romney’s father was a US citizen, since he was also born in Mexico.  And President Obama’s mother was a US citizen.  Why was it a big deal that McCain, child of two US citizens, was born in the US Canal Zone rather than in the country of Panama?  Hmm…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=696530609 Jason Baade

    I would like to see Romney pick Sarah Palin as his VP nominee, and I hope with the same effect that Palin had for McCain. 

    • brettearle

       You were, of course, being facetious….it’s a funny line.

      Thank you.

      Romney will, however, choose someone who will help him–if only because the nominee won’t hurt him….such as Portman or Pawlenty.

      Romney’s too insecure to pick a strong VP candidate….

  • Merry Gangemi

    After considering how a VP choice helps one’s election…. 
    It would be interesting to see if the vice-presidential choice was a true intellectual and political peer.

    • brettearle

      Romney would never choose a VP that would upstage him –such as Rice or Christie.

      He’s too insecure for that.

      Pride Goeth Before The Fall

  • TribalGuitars

    The sad part about the “Veep” clip is that the corn starch silverware bit actually happened, though it was Dems, not the VP.  The Republicans threw a fit about CFLs and the recyclable dinnerware. The CFL’s worked and saved money, as did the plates and bowls, but the spoons warped in hot soup. So instead of just asking the food service people what worked they had a showdown.  The polarization is THAT bad in DC that the Dems couldn’t allow for plastic silverware (still recyclable)  that worked while the Republicans didn’t want to allow anything that worked more efficiently (CFLs) or the dinnerware that did work and duked it out.  If they can’t agree on something this trivial how are we to expect things that really matter to get done? 

    • brettearle

      Kissinger and Le-Duc-Tho argued over the size and shape of table that would be used for VietNam negotiations.

      Pettiness is another word for “Insecure Ego”–at the expense of the Public Trust.

      • TribalGuitars

         Echos of “Gulliver’s Travels” and which end of the egg to open. If they don’t want to do their jobs, I could use one.

  • http://twitter.com/TFRX TF RX

    Marco Rubio is, reflexively, a “rising star”? I note that “rising star” is what the press calls every Republican under 50 yet to be caught with a dead girl or live boy.

    And I’m glad we had a caller talk introduce the idea of countermanding “one flavor of Latino” politician.

    Tom admits  “I can’t speak to that, given my background”. That I can get behind. He’s a white Dakotan, and then says that. It’s in admirable contrast to everywhere else in the mainstream press where people who don’t have the background on a subject go ahead and give us words anyway.

    Perhaps, though, it behooves the show to line up a guest who can speak to this. If a caller didn’t bring it up, would it have been mentioned?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/MN2U7WJRLKFZBADS2REU45PFCI John

    if WBUR keep on blocking the people who are die hard WBUR commentors or listeners. This program will go down the drain.

    • brettearle

       Explain your claim, please…..otherwise it sounds like it might (though not necessarily) lack credibility.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/MN2U7WJRLKFZBADS2REU45PFCI John

        I counted 50 missing user names that don’t post anymore or change their user names because they blocked but still i don’t see them anymore. WBUR are blocking the people who made this message board “”””ALIVE”””””.

        • http://profile.yahoo.com/MN2U7WJRLKFZBADS2REU45PFCI John

          honestly it is really getting boring here without those people.

          • brettearle

             Can you, at all elaborate, as to what NPR/WBUR might have found objectionable–but what you believe was not?

            Is it possible that these commentors had, in some way, crossed over the line of what NPR regards as questionable or unethical language, claims, or accusations?

            Keep in mind that although NPR is regarded as Liberal Media it still maintains a code of conduct–and understandably so.

            Free Speech has its limits, within specific guidelines as it relates to private organizations.

            NPR may have some waiver or exemption–whereby it functions like a private agency or organization.

            I don’t know that for sure.

            How do you know that NPR was not concerned about liability?

            Without giving names, can you point out, for us, the kinds of opinions and comments that certain people may have been targeted for?

            That’ll give us a better understanding as to whether we ought to organize a formal or informal protest.

            If you can’t substantiate specific kinds of comments, then your points sound too subjective and people might think that your claims are the result of a personal agenda.

            We need more to go on–otherwise your observations are likely to be dismissed. 

          • http://profile.yahoo.com/MN2U7WJRLKFZBADS2REU45PFCI John

            Please ask WBUR to attend Town Meetings all over the USA. Let them see how people argue about everything without them getting boot out from the Town Hall one famous incident was with Barney Frank. Anyway, I am just telling people and what I observed.

          • http://profile.yahoo.com/MN2U7WJRLKFZBADS2REU45PFCI John

            A code of conduct–and understandably

            I think you have to listen more on their guests on the Radio when sometimes they are nasty to each other or no respect for each. did WBUR Blocked their mouth from speaking or putting them off air. Nope!!!
            Hypocracy is very thick in WBUR.

          • http://profile.yahoo.com/MN2U7WJRLKFZBADS2REU45PFCI John

            my bad it’s Hypocricy before some ____.

          • brettearle

             You have failed to substantiate your claims.

            How can anyone take you seriously?

          • brettearle

             We are still waiting for you to back up your claims.

            You throw accusations, out there, and you can’t back them up.

          • brettearle

            You are making VERY LITTLE SENSE.

            You have NOT backed up your claims about commentors.

  • Michele

    While I am not a fan of Sarah Palin as I think that she is completely unqualified for a leadership position.  Cheney feels that McCain’s main issue in losing the election was Palin and her inexperience?  I guess I’m not suffering from amnesia – since I remember that President Obama had less executive experience.  I believe the issue with McCain was in a word: McCain.  He seemed completely out of touch as if he was running for President a decade earlier.  His ideas regarding the financial meltdown preceding the election were wholly inadequate. 

    • brettearle

      Both McCain AND Palin were the problems.

      McCain would have likely lost, anyway–even if he had had a stronger VP candidate.

      The fact is that the country was almost desperate for a change–after Bush II’s second term, anyway.

      And McCain was not a strong candidate, in any case:  He could not gain traction because he had no real vision other than to support (eventually) 5 wars (if you can believe it):


      and, Ta! Dah!,


      Can you believe this guy?

      What might have happened to us, if he had taken over the country?


      Sure, Obama supported some of these, in one form or another; but he was also presented with some of these wars or potential wars, before he was in office….and he would almost have certainly exercised much more restraint in conducting these conflicts than McCain might have.

      5 WARS!  Do you believe that guy?

      • Don_B1

        Plus he would not have asked the Congress for even as large as the undersized ARRA signed by Obama and this country would still have over 12% unemployment and no (effective) healthcare reform.

  • sickofthechit

    Cheney comes to mind as the greatest COWARD to ever fill the office of VP.

    -Five deferments to weasel out of the Viet Nam War he supported
    -Shot a friend in the face in panic when a covey of quail took flight.
    -Fully supported and believed in torture.  Only a coward believes in the value of torture, because they know they would talk.
    -Is a bully, only cowards are bullies.
    -Refused to admit he outed Valerie Plame (the CIA operative), oh wait, that makes him a traitor!
    Need I go on?

    Bring it on “b’s”!

  • sickofthechit

    The most frightening possible VP choice I have heard kicked around lately is Liz Cheney, now that freezes ones marrow.  I guess he could go with Dick, he has a heart now….

  • voterinSC

    How is Ried’s ongoing call for tax returns any different from the “birthers” relentless attacks on the president? Other than the birthers are basing their attacks on fiction while Ried is based on fact.

  • nudistguy2

     Mr. Romney is clearly NOT paying his fair share in taxes when he somehow has managed to contibute 100 million dollars to an IRA.  How is this even possible when the maximum, annual contribution to an IRA is $6000.00? Do the math:  for him to have contributed this amount he would have to be close to 2000 years of age! No wonder he won’t release any more tax returns!  Clearly he has found some loophole that the rest of us are not privy to.

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