Vice presidents matter

My reading of Theodore Roosevelt's political life tells me that John McCain - who says he gets much inspiration and guidance *He won't take a third-party candidacy. He is well aware of how Roosevelt's third-party effort back in 1912 - after the GOP rejected his bid to take the nomination from President Taft who was seeking a second term - was a total disaster.

Roosevelt's candidacy split the Republican vote so that Democrat Woodrow Wilson was elected. Also, Roosevelt's own career was over: He had made enemies of the GOP leaders on whom he would have to depend if he were to have any real chance of returning to the presidency.

*Mr. McCain might very well accept the vice-presidential spot on the ticket.

Oh, I know, he's said firmly he's not interested. But neither was Theodore Roosevelt when GOP leaders insisted that he be William McKinley's running mate in 1900. Roosevelt kicked and bucked, but he finally said "yes." Roosevelt, the then-New York governor, said he didn't want a "nothing" job. But when McKinley was assassinated in September 1901, Roosevelt became president.

The vice presidency might well be a "nothing" job for McCain. But vice presidents do a lot more these days than back at the turn of the century: witness Vice President Gore's heavy involvement in the activities of the Clinton administration.

Am I dreaming? Right now it sounds like a bit of a dream. But if Bush is distinctly behind Gore at convention time in July (or if the race is simply very close, as it is now), then it could become clear - to Bush - that McCain is sorely needed to woo independents and GOP moderates back to the GOP ticket.

Oh, yes, I know there is no love lost between Bush and McCain. The primaries were bruising battles and they left wounds. And I'm fully aware that in a recent interview, Bush was giving no ground to McCain on the issues - making no sounds of conciliation.

Yet, the very next day, Bush said of his relationship with McCain: "I'm confident we can work together."

Political necessity can quickly heal big political differences. Remember what a surprise it was when John F. Kennedy picked Sen. Lyndon Johnson for a running mate?

Many in Kennedy's camp, including Robert Kennedy, detested Johnson. Also, the political philosophies and agendas of Kennedy and Johnson, at that time, were far apart.

But Kennedy needed Johnson (and his political pull in the Southwest and South) in order to win. And Kennedy's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, seeing this reality, urged that this unlikely political marriage take place. And who is to say that Johnson's being on the ticket wasn't the factor that gave Kennedy that very slender win over Nixon?

Also, about here, I can hear someone saying, "People don't vote for vice presidents. They just vote for president."

Well, the main focus of voters is on the top of the ticket. But people do take the vice presidency into account. Johnson and roosevelt both helped their tickets.

But running mates also damage the ticket - sometimes very badly.

I'm convinced that if President Ford had left his vice president, Nelson Rockefeller, on the ticket, he would have beaten Jimmy Carter. That election, too, was razor-edge close.

Also, George Bush didn't have much of a political asset in Dan Quayle. I'm certain that if Bush could have convinced Colin Powell to run with him in 1992, he would have beaten Bill Clinton.

Finally, there is a precedent that should not be overlooked.

In 1980 George W.'s father had said some exceedingly rough things about Ronald Reagan when they met in the primaries. Indeed, George Bush called Reagan's beloved economic plan "voodoo economics." It was clear to all that those two bitter adversaries could never get together.

But am I not right? Didn't Bush become Reagan's friend and very supportive vice president?

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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