The office of the vice presidency might be the most understudied institution in American government, but vice presidents and potential running mates certainly receive their fair share of media attention (not to mention a new HBO comedy series, VEEP). In a series of posts, we look beyond the headlines focusing on the current VEEPstakes and dig into our archives at the Miller Center to examine the contributions of previous vice presidents. In this edition, we examine Albert A. Gore Jr., who, according to President Bill Clinton, had a greater substantive role than his predecessors and had “more influence than any Vice President. Ever.” Previous posts in this series include J. Danforth Quayle, Walter F. Mondale, and Richard Cheney.
Alan Abramowitz recently termed Bill Clinton’s selection of Al Gore a “reinforcing choice.” Both were Southern Baptist baby boomers and shared a centrist “New Democrat” outlook. However, Gore was the Washington insider with military experience (he spent six months in Vietnam as an Army journalist) and brought foreign and national security policy credentials to the 1992 ticket. Gore was one of ten Senators to split with the Democratic party and support a resolution in January 1991 authorizing President George H.W. Bush to pursue military action in the Persian Gulf after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Dick Cheney told the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program in March 2000 that the reason Gore was picked as Clinton’s running mate was that he had voted with the George H.W. Bush administration on Gulf War resolution. According to Cheney:
I always felt [former Georgia Senator] Sam [Nunn] made the decision [to vote against the Gulf War resolution] because he wanted to run for President in ’92. He didn’t think he could run for President if he was on the wrong side from the standpoint of the bulk of the Democratic Party on this issue. Therefore, he led the charge against and turned out it was wrong. Al Gore got to be Vice President because he voted with us on that issue. I don’t think [William J.] Clinton would have picked him in ’92 if he, Gore, had been one of the Democrats who’d voted against it. It had long-lasting ramifications, obviously. In the end, because of the quality of the debate, because we did prevail, because we were so successful with the ultimate operation, I think it really did a lot to boost public support, confidence.
Thus, Clinton’s choice of Gore was not to balance the ticket in any geographic or demographic sense, but rather in terms of experience and expertise. The choice reflects in a broader sense the general trend towards choosing a running mate who is compatible and competent to take over as president, but who will not outshine him.