Become a digitalPLUS subscriber. 99¢ for 4 weeks.
NewsOpinionOp-Eds

On dumping vice presidents

ElectionsLaws and LegislationJoe BidenBarack ObamaGeorge W. Bush

A new post-mortem account of the 2012 presidential campaign holds that President Obama's strategists toyed with, but rejected, the notion of dropping Vice President Joe Biden from the Democratic ticket and replacing him with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The rationale apparently was that Mr. Obama's re-election was in jeopardy and that Hillary Clinton's popularity, particularly with women voters, would boost Mr. Obama over the top. In any event, the switch never happened and the Obama-Biden ticket rode to comfortable victory over Republicans Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

Such a move would have been an act of ingratitude to Vice President Biden, who, for all his occasional verbal gaffes and outspoken manner, served President Obama as a sounding board for common sense and who was a solid voice for the middle class during their first term.

Mr. Biden has been criticized as cautiously looking out for his own political future at the same time, reserving the option to make a third try for the presidency in 2016. The notion seems far-fetched, with Hillary Clinton hovering in the wings for the next Democratic presidential nomination. But as vice president, Mr. Biden has continued to perform in the job loyally and effectively, to the point that Mr. Obama himself has called him the best vice president yet.

There's a long history of vice presidents being denied a second term, either because the man in the role chose to shed a thankless, end-of-the-road political job or because some strategist imagined that a different nominee might offer a better geographical or other balance to the ticket. Seldom, however, has the choice made a difference in the election outcome.

Perhaps the most momentous dumping of a vice president occurred in 1864 when President Abraham Lincoln surreptitiously eased Hannibal Hamlin aside in favor of War Democrat Andrew Johnson, creating a unity ticket assuring Lincoln's re-election during the Civil War. That didn't work out well, as Johnson, upon succession to the presidency, orchestrated a contentious and bitter reconstruction of the Union.

In 1944, Vice President Henry Wallace was shunted aside as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's running mate in favor of Harry Truman in what was later facetiously called "the conspiracy of the pure in heart." FDR's political advisers persuaded him to shed the suspected mystic Wallace and take Truman, promoted by a fellow Missourian, Democratic National Chairman Bob Hannegan.

Perhaps the most celebrated, and failed attempt, to dump a sitting vice president occurred in 1956. President Dwight Eisenhower urged his controversial standby, Richard Nixon, to step aside and take a cabinet position in Ike's second term, ostensibly for the good of his own political future. Nixon refused and went on to re-election as vice president, and ultimately to the presidency (and eventual resignation).

In 1972, Nixon sought to sidetrack his vice president, Spiro Agnew, from the line of presidential succession to the point of considering appointing him to the Supreme Court, hoping to replace him with his secretary of the treasury, John Connally. But Agnew wouldn't budge, and it was considered too risky to dump him and antagonize his fervent right-wing support in the Republican Party. Nixon and Agnew were easily re-elected, but each went on to resign in disgrace.

In 1992, the senior George Bush was under heavy pressure to dump Vice President Dan Quayle, his surprise choice in 1888, whose repeated gaffes as a nominee and in the second office made him a ready target. A boomlet began to replace Mr. Quayle with General Colin Powell in 1992, but General Powell said he was not interested.

In the end, the Bush strategists feared that dropping Mr. Quayle would only reflect badly on Mr. Bush's choice of him in the first place. The Bush-Quayle ticket lost handily to Democrats Bill Clinton and Al Gore, with Mr. Quayle not a demonstrable factor in the defeat.

Over the last four decades, vice presidents have generally become more involved in the workings of their administrations, especially the three most recent veeps — Mr. Gore, Dick Cheney and Mr. Biden. But it remains unproved that their presence on the ticket ever added or detracted much from the election outcome. Still, dumping the veep remains an enjoyable topic of speculation for political junkies.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
ElectionsLaws and LegislationJoe BidenBarack ObamaGeorge W. Bush
  • Run, Joe Biden run!
    Run, Joe Biden run!

    Jonah Goldberg writes that a Biden vs. Clinton contest for the Democratic nomination would be a gift from the gods for Republicans.

  • How Biden can win in 2016

    Despite Karl Rove's no doubt well-meaning advice, the vice president is best served by focusing on his day job

  • Since when does it take a political campaign to become secretary of state?
    Since when does it take a political campaign to become secretary of state?

    Prospect of a Susan Rice nomination has taken Washington far astray from considering who would be America's best diplomat

  • Building bridges with international students
    Building bridges with international students

    My Mexican father applied to colleges in the United States in the late 1940s and was offered scholarships by the University of Arizona and by Western Reserve (now Case Western Reserve) in Cleveland. His father sat him down and drew a line from west to east across a map of the United States...

  • Drugs rotting on the vine
    Drugs rotting on the vine

    With Ebola threatening the world's populations, there is a new urgency to find therapies. Bringing naturally occurring pharmaceuticals to market should be a priority for our nation because drugs derived from nature are astonishingly successful. The United States' policy and law,...

  • Improve Baltimore's transit to improve its future
    Improve Baltimore's transit to improve its future

    Can Baltimore continue to do what it takes to become a thriving metropolis like Boston and San Francisco, or are we destined to be stuck in the Detroit-Cleveland post industrial doldrums? That question may well be answered by political and civic leaders in the coming months.

  • JLENS: securing our coast
    JLENS: securing our coast

    This Christmas, the United States Army will deliver a spectacular present to Harford and Baltimore counties. A pair of big white blimps will be flying two miles above Aberdeen Proving Ground — unless Congress balks.

  • True news has substance
    True news has substance

    Someone recently told me that she watches the news on TV every night. Her news broadcast of choice: "Entertainment Tonight."

Comments
Loading