Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

J. Danforth Quayle

James Danforth Quayle was born on February 4, 1947, to James and Corinne Quayle in Huntington, Indiana. His grandfather owned newspapers in Indiana and Arizona and eventually sold the Huntington Herald-Press to Quayle's father. Both of Quayle's parents were politically active conservatives who participated in Republican Party politics and instilled their son with strong conservative values. Quayle attended DePauw University and graduated in 1969. After graduation, he enlisted in the Indiana National Guard and attended the Indiana University-Indianapolis Law School. At law school, he met his wife Marilyn, and they were married in 1972.

Quayle turned his attention to politics immediately after graduating and bought a house in the district in which he intended to run for state legislature. However, his plans were interrupted when he was asked to run for a seat in the U.S. Congress at the age of twenty-nine. He challenged an incumbent Democrat who had served eight terms and won in an upset. Quayle served two terms in the House and established a staunchly conservative voting record before deciding to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1980. As before, he challenged an incumbent Democrat and pulled off a surprising victory as the GOP took control of the Senate for the first time since 1952.

While in the Senate, he served on Labor and Human Resources Committee, Budget Committee, and Armed Services Committee. He was particularly focused on unemployment and worked with Edward Kennedy to pass a significant job training bill. After a relatively easy reelection campaign in 1986, Quayle quietly positioned himself as a potential vice presidential candidate. In many ways, he was a welcome contrast to the older, more moderate Republican nominee, George H.W. Bush. In spite of this, his addition to the ticket was a surprise to the nation and the press. As a vice presidential candidate, Quayle was widely disparaged in the press and prone to gaffes and offhand remarks. His performance in the debate was lackluster and widely remembered for his ill-advised attempt to draw a parallel between himself and John F. Kennedy. Nonetheless, the Republican ticket carried the popular vote by more than seven million votes.

Within the White House, Quayle had access to President Bush and served effectively as a liaison between the administration and Congress. Although he fulfilled his traditional duties and loyally supported the President, Quayle was not truly a member of Bush's inner circle. Quayle's influence was generally subordinate to that of stronger personalities within the administration, such as Secretary of State James Baker or Chief of Staff John Sununu. The vice president did chair the National Space Council and advocated deregulation of private businesses as chair of the Council on Competitiveness. He also traveled extensively and campaigned on behalf of Republican candidates.

Although Bush enjoyed a surge in his approval ratings after the Persian Gulf War, he was vulnerable in the 1992 elections. Despite his low approval ratings, Quayle campaigned vigorously. He committed a number of memorable mistakes on the campaign trail, including his infamous misspelling of "potato" at an elementary school spelling bee. More importantly, Bush was badly hurt by a sagging economy and would receive only 37 percent of the popular vote in the election. Quayle retired to private life after the defeat. Although he was mentioned as a possibility for the 1996 and 2000 Republican presidential nominations, he never seriously contended.

Quayle was a loyal vice president who fulfilled the traditional roles of the office but did not exert much authority within the administration. In the popular imagination, he is more remembered for his political blunders than his political triumphs. However, in a White House dominated by strong personalities and a President who saw loyalty as the principal asset of the vice president, Quayle served adequately.