August 05, 2015

What happened to the vice presidency?

If Joe Biden decides to forgo a presidential bid, he’ll be something of an anomaly.

Since the advent of the modern presidency under FDR, the surest way to a presidential nomination or to the office itself was service as Vice President.

The list of Vice Presidents who ran for President, won the nomination, or assumed the office since the death of Roosevelt excludes only Spiro Agnew, Nelson Rockefeller, and Dick Cheney.

Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, and Gerald Ford ascended to the office. Alben Barkley and Dan Quayle ran but lost a party nomination battle. Walter Mondale and Hubert Humphrey won the nomination and Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush won the presidency.  Al Gore faced little opposition to his nomination in 2000 and won the popular vote. 

The office became, in the modern era, the equivalent of the Secretary of State in the formative years of the Republic. That office was viewed as an important stepping stone to the presidency. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Martin Van Buren all served as the nation’s chief diplomat before becoming president.

The vice presidency had traditionally been a backwater until Truman’s ascension. Even then it wasn’t until the team of Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale that the office became the powerful office it is today.

It's power is due both because of its proximity to the president in the modern era and its restructuring during the Mondale years. The Mondale model of the vice presidency as a true partner in governing with regular access to the President and an office in the West Wing has been followed by every administration since.

Politically, the vice presidency comes with many assets for a nomination fight: high name recognition, service that allows a serious amount of interaction with party activists, access to donors and media, and a job that allows flexibility for travel, fundraising, and campaigning.

Dick Cheney entered his final term as vice president with heart troubles and, eventually, very low poll numbers. But he also had made it clear early in the administration that he wasn’t interested in running for President. That made him unusual.

Joe Biden, of course, ran for president twice before. His loyal service to President Obama and to the Democratic party would have made him a strong contender for the nomination. 

The historically strong candidacy of Hilary Clinton and a myriad of other factors—some personal, some political—seems to have delayed his decision on a 2016 race. But it seems increasingly likely that he will not enter the race and Clinton will be the nominee.

So the office most likely to produce future presidents or presidential candidates has recently produced two non candidates.

That won’t be a trend. I suspect Cheney and Biden will be exceptions to the general rule.

The Mondale, Bush, Quayle, Gore model is much more likely under the next President. The vice presidency is too powerful, too public, and too tempting for incumbents to forgo a presidential campaign.

The next vice president will be a future presidential candidate.

vice presidency, Joe Biden, Dick Cheney, Election 2016

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