The 'pitcher of warm spit' — Veepstakes and the fate of Mike Pence

The 'pitcher of warm spit' — Veepstakes and the fate of Mike Pence
© Getty Images

President Ford lost a close election in 1976. His running mate was Bob Dole; this was in the “hatchet man” Dole era, before he became a respected congressional leader and party statesman.

Later, a good friend suggested that he might have won if he made another choice, such as Bill Ruckelshaus, the heralded former deputy attorney general. Nonsense, Ford replied, people don't vote for vice president.

Flash forward to the 1992 presidential election. Ford told the same friend that he had called President George H.W. Bush to suggest replacing Dan Quayle on the 1992 ticket.


I doubt another choice would have mattered in 1976; I'm certain it wouldn't have in 1992.

This is the season rife with chatter about the import of running mates, as Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump denies White House asked about adding him to Mount Rushmore HuffPost reporter: Biden's VP shortlist doesn't suggest progressive economic policies Jill Biden says she plans to continue teaching if she becomes first lady MORE prepares to select his vice presidential choice next week. President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump suggests some states may 'pay nothing' as part of unemployment plan Trump denies White House asked about adding him to Mount Rushmore Trump, US face pivotal UN vote on Iran MORE also is calculating whether to dump his vice president.

As I've written more times than I can remember, these selections matter little electorally. Sometimes they send a reassuring message: The long experiences of Biden in 2008 and Dick Cheney in 2000 complemented inexperienced nominees. Biden's choice might inject some energy and enthusiasm. Given his age, there might be more focus on the governing qualifications of his running mate, although that's very subjective.

Others — like FDR's first vice president John Nance Garner, who referred to the office as not being worth "a pitcher of warm spit" — have even questioned its import in governing. Biden and Cheney and Walter Mondale, I think, proved the office can indeed have impact.

Politically, the Democrats will carry California with or without Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHuffPost reporter: Biden's VP shortlist doesn't suggest progressive economic policies Hillary Clinton labels Trump coronavirus executive actions a 'stunt' Why Joe Biden needs Kamala Harris MORE or Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassHuffPost reporter: Biden's VP shortlist doesn't suggest progressive economic policies Biden campaign says no VP pick yet after bike trail quip Hillary Clinton roasts NYT's Maureen Dowd over column MORE on the ticket. Florida Rep. Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsHillary Clinton labels Trump coronavirus executive actions a 'stunt' Biden campaign says no VP pick yet after bike trail quip Whitmer met with Biden days before VP announcement: report MORE, a star of the Trump impeachment trial, is largely unknown outside of her Orlando District. That Susan Rice has never been on a ballot before won't matter in North Carolina.


Thinking back to Ford, more interesting may be the persistent speculation that Donald Trump will drop Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceOn The Trail: Pence's knives come out Pence: Chief Justice Roberts 'has been a disappointment to conservatives' Students at school system Pence called 'forefront' of reopening now in quarantine MORE before whatever and wherever the GOP convention commences on August 24.

I doubt he will, but there are two reasons for the conjecture. Trump is heading to a big loss in November, and since he never accepts personal responsibility, it's someone else's fault. Why not the vice president’s?

Pence has been loyal to a fault. Trump is a total stranger to loyalty; ask Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe 'pitcher of warm spit' — Veepstakes and the fate of Mike Pence FBI officials hid copies of Russia probe documents fearing Trump interference: book Tuberville breaks DC self-quarantine policy to campaign MORE.

The straight-laced vice president, a former congressman and Governor, brought credentials that Trump lacked. “Mike Pence was an asset in 2016 because of establishment credibility and evangelical support,” recalls former Congressman and Republican strategist Vin Weber, “Trump doesn't need that anymore. But Pence is a predictably loyal VP, so Trump would have to be a gambler to dump him, betting that any replacement “wouldn't go rogue.”

Any replacement — Weber bets Trump “won't chance it” — likely would be a woman, aimed at mitigating the president's lethal weakness with college educated women. One report suggested Elise Stefanik, the 36-year-old New York congresswoman who went from a George W. Bush loyalist to marching arm in arm with right-wing congressman Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanWorld's most trafficked mammal gives Trump new way to hit China on COVID-19 The 'pitcher of warm spit' — Veepstakes and the fate of Mike Pence Tucker Carlson calls Fauci a 'fraud' after tense hearing MORE of Ohio during impeachment. I doubt Stefanik would wear well.

For two years Republican insiders — for whatever that's worth these days — have predicted he'd likely turn to Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyTennessee primary battle turns nasty for Republicans The 'pitcher of warm spit' — Veepstakes and the fate of Mike Pence On The Trail: The first signs of a post-Trump GOP MORE, the former Governor of South Carolina and Trump's ambassador to the United Nations.

Haley is one of the few to leave this administration on good terms; she then wrote a book taking a slap at some colleagues but fulsome in praise of Trump.

The picture of Haley painted by some of those former colleagues, especially national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonEx-Trump adviser, impeachment witness Fiona Hill gets book deal Hannity's first book in 10 years debuts at No. 1 on Amazon Congress has a shot at correcting Trump's central mistake on cybersecurity MORE, is of a shallow show horse. And there are questions whether Haley, an Indian American and a Sikh-turned-Methodist, would turn off some core evangelical voters by replacing their man Pence.

I don't believe that. Evangelical voters have cast their lot with this thrice married misogynist; his running mate won't change that. I also don't believe that suburban voters in Villanova, Pa., or Dublin, Ohio, will switch to Trump because he has picked Haley.

The rational decision-maker would stick with Pence. This decision, however, will be made by Trump.

In wondering how he thinks about this, my new guide — even more than all the superb in-depth reporting and several books on Trump's character and behavior — is Christopher Buckley's hilarious new novel, featuring the current President of the United States: “Make Russian Great Again.” (A bonus is the depiction of two South Carolinians, the senior senator, a Trump critic turned sycophant named Squigg Lee Biskitt and the state's former Governor and then UN ambassador Cricket Singh. These two easily identifiable figures don't like each other.)

The central character in the novel is an off-the-charts insecure, irrational, impetuous, self-indulgent, resentful paranoid, who is contemptuous of experts and history.

Pity poor Mike Pence.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.