Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Mitt Romney’s VP pick will either be VP or fall into obscurity

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Editor’s note: This does apply to Paul Ryan, selected as Mitt Romney’s VP pick over the weekend. We’ll have more on the Ryan pick later.

Would you have voted for Joe Biden as vice president? Dan Quayle? Dick Cheney?

We get to vote for president; the vice president comes along for the ride. You might have voted for Lloyd Bentsen instead of Dan Quayle. Could have picked Jack Kemp over Al Gore or Geraldine Ferraro over George H.W. Bush.

The last time a vice president became president was Gerald Ford in 1974, and Ford became vice president because Spiro Agnew had to resign for reasons that had nothing to do with Watergate. At some point, who we elect as vice president is going to make that difference once again.

Political junkies might care who the VP nominee but mostly, the American people have trusted that whomever the nominee picks, that person will be OK should the VP have to become president.

Until 2008.

More people paid attention to a VP pick for the first time since, well, maybe 1972. If you are too young to remember, Google Thomas Eagleton when you get a chance.

Sarah Palin changed the dynamic for how a VP nominee is chosen, and to be fair to the half-term former governor of Alaska, that wasn’t her fault. The one thing we can’t blame Palin for is choosing Palin in the first place.

True, Palin could have turned down the opportunity. And there are some potential 2012 VP nominees who may turn down Mitt Romney (if asked) because they don’t want to be seen as being on a potentially losing ticket.

The process has not been kind to those that accept the nomination — and lose. For every Joe Biden and Al Gore, we have had a Palin, John Edwards, Joe Lieberman, and Jack Kemp (Edwards and Lieberman were on the side that likely had the most votes, but shenanigans prevented a fair outcome). None of those four had much of a political future on the national stage. Palin’s opportunity could have been 2016 if she had not accepted John McCain’s invitation. Now, we’ll never know.

You could argue that Al Gore, Joe Biden, Spiro Agnew, and Richard Nixon ran into those same concerns when they were the VP nominee. What happens if we don’t win? The problem is that voters aren’t really choosing who the vice president will be. Your vote for Obama won’t change because Biden (or in many rumors, Hillary Clinton) is the VP, and your Romney vote will stay pretty tight no matter how he picks. Well, maybe not if it’s Sarah Palin.

Tim Pawlenty would have no reason not to accept Romney’s invite, since his national future, um, well, he has no national future other than being a VP selection. Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal still have a shot of running for the top spot in the future. Nikki Haley is smart enough to know her time isn’t now.

But being the VP nominee of a major party, even one that may lose, is too good to pass up for most people. The allure, the fame, the recognition. Your spot in almanacs and encyclopedias for generations to come. Sarah Palin may not have much, but she does have that.

The last losing VP nominee to be nominated as a presidential candidate was Bob Dole in 1996. Dole had to wait 20 years and run from the most awkward position of Senate Majority Leader to pull that off. I don’t know Bob Dole, Bob Dole is not a friend of mine, but this wave of GOP contenders are no Bob Dole.

Someone will be Mitt Romney’s VP nominee, and that someone has a 50-50 to 40-60 shot of being the next vice president of the United States. If the recent trend continues, that person will either be the next VP or the answer to a trivia question. What’s worse is that the person will have little say in which way that goes.

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