How to tell when a presidential candidate is really running for vice president
There is a general recognition among political pundits that some people who enter a presidential race, recognizing their longshot candidacies, are really aiming to enhance their chances of becoming the primary winner’s vice-presidential running mate. And we’ll likely see several of them on the GOP side as the 2024 presidential race gets underway.
For example, Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein recently wrote, “Nikki Haley says she is running for president, but a few political observers including a potential opponent have suggested that she might actually be angling for the vice-presidential spot on the GOP ticket.”
Bernstein doesn’t think that’s the case. Certainly, as a former two-term governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Haley has a strong resume. But she’s also been out of the limelight for a few years, which doesn’t help with public name recognition.
And there are a number of other actual or potential GOP presidential candidates, including several current or former governors, senators, Cabinet members and even a former president and vice president.
At this point, we have no idea who will win the Republican presidential primaries next year. But two candidates, former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, are way ahead of the pack and suck up most of the media attention.
One or both may flame out as the primaries progress. But given their current lead, a large percentage of potential GOP presidential candidates probably recognize that a VP slot, or perhaps a Cabinet appointment, is likely their best outcome.
Of course, no one formally runs for vice president. All of those who enter a presidential race hope their campaigns click with the voters, vaulting them to frontrunner status or close to it. But for many of them, becoming the vice-presidential candidate would be a good consolation prize.
And if those candidates gain some popularity with voters, raise money, demonstrate their policy gravitas and hold up under the grueling ordeal our presidential elections have become, it may give them a better chance to get the VP slot.
It’s true that historically not many former presidential candidates have been picked for vice president. The Pew Research Center notes, “By our count, only 18 of the 72 major vice-presidential nominees since 1868 had sought the presidency themselves in that cycle.”
But the recent past may be more instructive.
Republican George H.W. Bush lost to Ronald Reagan in the presidential primaries but became his VP in the 1980 presidential election. Democrat Al Gore ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 and became Bill Clinton’s VP pick in 1992. Joe Biden unsuccessfully ran for president in 2008 but became Barack Obama’s running mate. And Biden picked Kamala Harris, who crashed early in her bid for the presidency, as his VP.
And for those unsuccessful presidential candidates who don’t get the VP position, there are other benefits. Presidents often nominate them for Cabinet slots. Plus, a run might better position the candidate for a successful presidential campaign in the future.
So, while every presidential candidate will say he or she is in it to win, some of them know their best outcome would likely be the VP slot.
Unfortunately, there is a downside to having a plethora of good presidential candidates, especially in this election.
The GOP powers-that-be are concerned that 2024 could be a repeat of 2016. So many good GOP candidates diluted the vote, allowing Trump to win several state primaries with a plurality, not a majority, of votes. Could that happen again? Yes.
Which is why GOP leaders should strongly encourage those candidates who are not seeing significant or growing support (at least in double digits) to drop out early, preferably this fall before the primaries begin. Narrowing the race to two or perhaps three of the most popular candidates would help ensure that the ultimate winner will have widespread Republican support.
And dropping out early and strongly backing the candidate who appears to be the likely GOP nominee might increase the chances of a former presidential candidate becoming the future vice president of the United States.
Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.
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