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

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

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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 BidenBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE prepares to select his vice presidential choice next week. President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump 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 HarrisWomen set to take key roles in Biden administration Trump campaign appeals dismissal of Pennsylvania election challenge Pressure grows from GOP for Trump to recognize Biden election win MORE or Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassPressure grows on California governor to name Harris replacement Why it's time for a majority female Cabinet Porter raises .2 million in third quarter MORE on the ticket. Florida Rep. Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsDemings on Florida: 'We're excited about what we're seeing' but 'taking absolutely nothing for granted' Why it's time for a majority female Cabinet Sunday shows preview: The final push to Election Day 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.

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Thinking back to Ford, more interesting may be the persistent speculation that Donald Trump will drop Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceLoeffler to continue to self-isolate after conflicting COVID-19 test results Loeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection Pence campaigns in Georgia as Trump casts shadow on runoffs 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 SessionsAlabama zeroes in on Richard Shelby's future Tuberville incorrectly says Gore was president-elect in 2000 Next attorney general must embrace marijuana law reforms 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 JordanCheney, top GOP lawmakers ask Trump campaign for proof of election fraud New RSC chairman sees 'Trumpism' as future Sunday shows preview: Biden team gears up for transition, Trump legal battles continue and pandemic rages on 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) HaleyNew administration, House turnover raise prospects for more diversity on K Street Republicans need a good woman for 2024 Trump told advisers he could announce 2024 bid shortly after certification of Biden win: report 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 BoltonPressure grows from GOP for Trump to recognize Biden election win Sunday shows - Virus surge dominates ahead of fraught Thanksgiving holiday Bolton calls on GOP leadership to label Trump's behavior 'inexcusable' 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.