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Jewish World Review
April 10, 2012/ 18 Nissan, 5772
Bizarre process to choose a veep
We are about to embark on one of the more bizarre rituals of American politics — the selection of the presidential candidate’s running mate.
President Barack Obama’s choice is settled. It will be the incumbent, Joe Biden, despite the maneuverings of die-hard Hillary Clinton supporters, who still want to see her be president one day, and proposed she swap her job as Secretary of State for Biden’s as vice president as one way to do it.
Clever idea, but it never caught on. Even by Washington standards it would have come across as too cynical.
The Founding Fathers didn’t have any clear idea about the vice president, only that there should be one in case the president died or was incapacitated. For a while the Constitution directed that the vice president would be in effect the second place finisher in the presidential election; in other words, the winner’s deadliest political enemy would be waiting immediately in the wings.
The Founders couldn’t even find much for the vice president to do except preside over the Senate and cast tie-breaking votes, at most a couple of hours of work a year. Up until Franklin Roosevelt, the political conventions chose their parties’ vice presidential candidate.
That process has been winnowed down to the choice being made by the presidential candidate, a tight inner circle of trusted aides, and perhaps his spouse. Modern political mores dictate that one does not run for the No. 2 spot on the ticket and, if asked, should publicly disdain any interest. Even saying “I’ll help the party in any capacity I can” is considered too pushy.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said last week, “I’m not going to be the vice president.” The political bookies have Rubio the leading candidate to be on the platform with Mitt Romney at 4-1 odds.
Instead, the trick is to have, at arm’s length and with great deniability, one’s name “mentioned” as a vice presidential possibility. The candidate welcomes this “mentioning” — columnist Russell Baker once described it as the work of the “Great Mentioner” — because it is a cheap, harmless and effective form of political flattery.
Indeed, Romney’s “short list” mentions 10 names, all of them political incumbents, either governors or members of Congress. (So much for “outsiders” changing the political culture.) They are, in a sense, human trial balloons.
Even though it has been shown repeatedly that a running mate can hurt a ticket a lot but help only so much, great care is placed in seeking geographical, political and personality balance. Rubio, for example, is from a key swing state and may attract Hispanics voters back to the party.
The Founding Fathers might be appalled by the process but for a change, they didn’t have a better idea.
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