A Hail Mary, full of delusion

Ted Cruz's selection of Carly Fiorina to be his GOP running mate is an exercise in pure delusion.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's selection of former campaign rival Carly Fiorina to be his running mate, when he has not even come close to defeating Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, is an exercise in pure delusion.

The longshot gamble to choose a fellow loser who shares Mr. Cruz's contempt for Mr. Trump only magnifies the desperation of the stop-Trump effort, which polls suggest will suffer another and perhaps decisive defeat in Tuesday's Indiana primary.

Ms. Fiorina had already been campaigning for Mr. Cruz and continuing her acidic criticism of Mr. Trump that had drawn media attention in earlier televised Republican debates. Mr. Trump's mockery of her appearance — "Look at that face; would anyone vote for that?" — only spurred her to go after him.

As Mr. Cruz's running mate, she likely will be cast as his principal surrogate, characterizing Mr. Trump as a misogynist for his recent accusation that Hillary Clinton is "playing the woman card" to solidify her wide female support. But Carly's presence isn't likely to put much of a dent in it.

Tradition dictates that presidential nominees don't name their vice-presidential ticket mates until they secure their own place as the party's standard-bearer, and usually not until the eve of the national convention or during it.

From the earliest days, presidents had no say at all in the identity of their vice president. The first veeps got the office through the Electoral College voting, by finishing second to the elected president.

That arrangement was fine in the first two elections when Washington and Adams, both Federalists, took office together. But when Adams was elected president in 1796, runner-up Jefferson was in the opposition as an Anti-Federalist. So in 1804 the Constitution was amended, providing a separate election for each office in the emerging two-party system.

With it came party leaders, bosses and political conventions, and eventually "smoke-filled rooms" in host cities where the partisan bosses and officeholders made the choices.

The most famous was in Chicago in 1920, when a group of Republican senators chose one of their own, Warrren G. Harding of Ohio, for president and tried to anoint another senator, Irvine Lenroot of Wisconsin, as his running mate.

A revolt erupted on the convention floor in support of a governor, Calvin Coolidge of Massachusetts. He was nominated and elected vice president, rising to the Oval Office on the death of Harding.

Similar smoke-filled rooms have functioned in the White House, two of them in the FDR years, producing vice presidents Henry Wallace and Harry Truman when Democratic bosses met with Roosevelt and persuaded him as Democratic conventions were underway.

In 1940, when the Democratic convention seemed to balk at nominating Wallace, FDR sent word he would not run again if Wallace was rejected. He sent his wife, Eleanor, to Chicago, where the party convention yielded to his wishes. In 1944, a quartet of Democratic bosses persuaded him to take Harry Truman, a Missouri senator he barely knew.

In 1952, when Dwight Eisenhower was approached by political advisers Thomas E. Dewey and Herbert Brownell on selecting a running mate, Ike didn't know he had a say in it and followed their recommendation that he pick Sen. Richard M. Nixon.

Occasionally a would-be president has thrown the choice to the convention.

The last time that happened was 60 years ago, when Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson left to the delegates to pick between Sens. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee and John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts. Kefauver won but JFK used the 1956 contest as a springboard to national attention, and to the presidential nomination and election four years later.

In 1976, on the Republican side Ronald Reagan was trailing unelected President Gerald Ford going into the convention in Kansas City. Reagan's campaign manager, like Cruz now, set out to muddy the picture by getting his candidate to select little-known liberal Sen. Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania, and pushing Ford to name his veep choice, possibly a controversy-causing one. Ford didn't bite, was nominated but lost to Democrat Jimmy Carter that November.

Such has the vice presidency been treated cavalierly in the past, despite the fact that nine occupants became presidents when fate intervened. Mr. Cruz's premature offer now to Carly Fiorina is the latest folly.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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