Why Romney's choice for vice president could determine America's future
Marco Rubio? Nikki Haley? Chris Christie? Mitt Romney's VP choice is not just about ticket-balancing, which the evidence does not show as affecting election outcomes. Historical patterns show that with his pick for 'veep,' Romney will anoint a future presidential front-runner.
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But since Truman, three former vice presidents – Lyndon Johnson, Nixon, and George H.W. Bush – have won presidential elections. More to the point, 10 of the last 13 presidential elections have featured at least one candidate who had either served as or been nominated for vice president. In our own day, the nation’s second-in-command automatically becomes a front-runner for commander in chief.Skip to next paragraph
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How did that happen? One key factor was the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution in 1951, which barred presidents from serving more than two terms.
Before then, presidential electioneering by a sitting vice president would have been seen as a ploy to undermine the chief executive. Once term limits were instituted, vice presidents could openly campaign for the top post.
Most important, with presidential selection of running mates, the vice president became part of the White House. Under Truman, the vice president joined the National Security Council. When John F. Kennedy became president, Johnson got a suite in the Executive Office Building. With the election of Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale became the first vice president to work in the West Wing itself. That’s where Joe Biden is today, a few doors down from Barack Obama.
So as Mitt Romney begins vetting possible running mates, let’s stop talking about which one might best balance the ticket. That’s a hangover from the pre-WWII era, when that was all a vice president did. And we still don’t know if it has any effect on electoral outcomes.
Instead, let’s focus on what we do know: Romney’s choice for vice president will almost surely run for president, too. And if Romney wins in November and again in 2016, his choice will be the favorite to win the presidency four years after that.
So as our gaze moves from one possible nominee to another – Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rob Portman, Nikki Haley, Chris Christie, etc. – don’t ask who will help Romney on his path to the Oval Office. Ask who you’d like to see sitting there four or eight years down the road.
Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history and education at New York University. He is the author of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory” (Yale University Press).