Thursday

April 27th, 2017

Insight

Don't disrespect the vice presidency

Albert Hunt

By Albert Hunt

Published May 9, 2016

  Don't disrespect the vice presidency

Will Hillary Clinton pick Sen. Sherrod Brown as her running mate to carry his home state of Ohio or turn to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, flame-thrower of the Democratic left, to energize Bernie Sanders fans? Will Donald Trump tap Sen. Marco Rubio in a bid for Florida?

Vice-presidential choices matter, but not because of the tactical considerations that insiders like to chatter about. It's still fun to repeat that famous line about the bucket of warm spit. It's just that it's no longer true.

As a new book by Joel Goldstein, a St. Louis lawyer, makes clear, the vice presidency has taken on a crucial governing dimension over the last 40 years. The last two vice presidents, Joe Biden and Dick Cheney, have been huge players in Washington and around the world. They played no role, however, in delivering their home states of Delaware and Wyoming to Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

"The right question to ask now is the governance question," Goldstein said in an interview. "Can you see the person selected dealing with Putin or negotiating with leaders of Congress? Can they deal on an equal basis with a Hillary Clinton or Bob Gates or Colin Powell and Don Rumsfeld?"

That is a bottom line that is far more important than any effect on the electoral map. No one doubts that Cheney and Biden exerted enormous influence in their administrations. This is in sharp contrast to earlier times. In the 1960s, the Democrats Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey were bored and sometimes humiliated as vice presidents. Then the Republican Spiro T. Agnew took the office to new depths in 1973 when he accepted bribes and had to resign. (A year later, his boss Richard Nixon stepped down; he'd been Dwight Eisenhower's ineffectual vice president in the 1950s.)

The status of the vice presidency changed in 1976 with the rise of Jimmy Carter's vice president, Walter F. Mondale. The role is still referred to as the "Mondale model."

Dick Moe, who was chief of staff to Mondale, notes that President Carter and his boss "established a totally different vice presidency."

Mondale became an influential presidential adviser with "unprecedented access to the president and all the information," Moe said.

Carter told presidential staffers to treat any request from the vice president as if it had come from him and installed Mondale in the White House West Wing near the Oval Office.

Previously, vice presidents had worked next door to the White House in the Old Executive Office Building. "Mondale said if you're in the EOB you might as well be in Baltimore," Moe recalled.

The Mondale model stuck. All five vice presidents who succeeded him had influence and West Wing offices. George H.W. Bush was an important behind-the-scenes adviser to President Ronald Reagan and Al Gore was a public influence on President Bill Clinton.

Dan Quayle acquired a reputation as a lightweight, but he too carried out sensitive and important assignments; after President George H.W. Bush broke his no-new-taxes pledge, it was Quayle who sought to mend fences and cut deals with disgruntled congressional Republicans. Cheney drove national security policy during George W. Bush's first term.

The Obama-Biden relationship has weathered tests that others would have failed. During the 2012 election campaign, for example, Biden endorsed same-sex marriage even though the President had not.

Obama and the White House staff were furious. Shortly afterwards, the president took Biden's position. The relationship has just gotten stronger.

Comment by clicking here.

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was formerly the executive editor of Bloomberg News, directing coverage of the Washington bureau. Hunt hosts the weekly television show "Political Capital with Al Hunt." In his four decades at the Wall Street Journal, he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor, and wrote the weekly column "Politics & People." Hunt also directed the Journal's polls, was president of the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund and a board member of the Ottaway community newspapers. He was a panelist on the CNN programs "The Capital Gang" and "Novak, Hunt & Shields." He is co-author of books on U.S. elections by the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution.


Previously:
04/28/15:All the anti-Trump Republicans have
04/26/15: Dems' divisions will need healing, too
04/21/15: Candidates, please stop whining
04/19/15: 2016's Other Big Question Mark
04/14/15: Rivals should be in cahoots to stump Trump
03/07/15: Hillary's hubris still could trip her
02/24/15: Free trade is bipartisan target in 2016 election
02/19/15: On Planet Clinton, where everyone's a critic
02/09/15: Questions for Bernie Sanders' establishment guy
02/03/15: From steadfast Iowa to contrarian New Hampshire
02/01/15: Bush's journey from front-runner to straggler
01/27/15: Another election, more phony promises on taxes
01/19/15: How Cruz supporters differ from Trump fans
12/23/15: Why Trump and Cruz aren't Forbes or Cain
12/21/15: Speaker Ryan sails through the easy part
11/25/15: As the GOP candidates emerge Hillary's weaknesses will be revealed
11/05/15: OK, candidates: Ask the questions yourselves. Seriously
10/28/15: Imagine an endgame of Cruz vs. Rubio
10/26/15:Ted Cruz has a Ben Carson problem in Iowa
10/20/15: Will Paul Ryan follow James Polk's playbook?
10/20/15: If only Trey Gowdy could meet with Sam Ervin
10/13/15: Voters don't like revisiting the trials and tribulations of Clintonland --- but that doesn't mean Hillary can't win
09/23/15: Why Jimmy Carter couldn't win the South today
09/17/15: Gov. John Kasich's standout record in Ohio
09/03/15: Republicans chart 4 paths to stopping Trump
08/31/15: Here's how Biden-Warren sort of makes sense
08/28/15:Trump upends New Hampshire's substantive tradition
08/26/15:Jeb Bush is hugging the wrong president George
08/24/15: Underestimating Ted Cruz? That's a mistake
08/19/15: US holds steady in a world of economic trouble
08/12/15: Who will capture Iowa conservatives after Trump?
08/10/15: Debate fireworks that won’t make much impact
07/29/15: A plea for conservatives to speak from the heart
07/09/15: Ex-Im Bank's undeserved rap for crony capitalism
06/24/15: All presidential candidates should be in debates
06/03/15: Foreign policy traps await Republicans and Hillary
06/01/15: It's small stuff that wrecks presidential runs
02/04/15: Can Walker be president without a college degree?

Columnists

Toons

Lifestyles