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Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

Quayle: Vice Presidency ‘a Stepping Stone’ to the Presidency

President Bush walks along the colonnade with Vice President Quayle enroute to the Oval Office

President Bush walks along the colonnade with Vice President Quayle enroute to the Oval Office, March 20, 1992. Photo by David Valdez, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration. PD.

Today marks the anniversary of President George H.W. Bush’s selection of J. Danforth Quayle as his running mate for the 1988 presidential election. Bush had chosen a team of inner-circle Republicans, including Jim Baker and Kim Cicconi, to conduct his veep search. Bush made the announcement of his choice on the second day of the Republican National Convention. In March 2002, the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Project interviewed Quayle and he discussed at length the process of being selected and serving as George H.W. Bush’s vice president. Below are some relevant insights from that interview that apply to the vice presidency and selection process today.

Regarding the selection process, Quayle observed:  

One, you can never pick when you’re going to be selected for Vice President…You can choose when you’re going to run for President. You cannot really select when you’re going to be—or choose when you’re going to be selected Vice President… You want to be in a position. I was positioning myself to eventually run for President. Now, obviously, the Vice Presidency was a stepping-stone to that. I mean, that’s why people want to be Vice President. That’s why nobody really turns the job down.

Quayle also remarked on both George H.W. Bush’s expectations for and support of him in the role of vice president. In the interview, Quayle noted that Bush was very firm against leaks, but he was also easy to get along with.

With him having been Vice President, it was very helpful to me because he knew the constraints and the opportunities of the Vice Presidency. The constraints are obvious—it’s the President’s agenda and that’s it. It’s not your agenda, and loyalty is to be practiced and adhered to. It wasn’t difficult with me or with him. There are two requirements of being Vice President, that is to be prepared and be loyal.

Quayle also offered this advice on using a vice president:

What you want is to have a Vice President who will do a lot of things that you can’t do, but in your capacity. You want him to be able to go to a lot of the political events that you don’t want to as President. You want him to be able to go up to Capitol Hill as much as possible, because it’s so important to have good relations up there. You want someone who is going to be able to travel around the world, who will go to places that the Secretary of State might not be able to get to…You pick up interesting information and insights by having your Vice President out there… you want somebody who you can feel comfortable working with on a day-to-day basis, because you’re with him a lot. If you don’t have that comfort level, it makes it difficult because you’re stuck—you’re attached at the hip.

Read the Miller Center’s full interview with Quayle here and check out RTT’s previous post on Quayle’s vice presidency.

Romney’s Veep: Attack Dog or Tonto?

Romney, Ryan, and Va. Governor Bob McDonnell campaigning in Ashland, Va. on Saturday, August 11.

Romney, Ryan, and Va. Governor Bob McDonnell campaigning in Ashland, Va. on Saturday, August 11.  Photo by tvnewsbadge, CC BY 2.0.


If all goes as it should, Paul Ryan will spend two weeks in the national spotlight: this week and the week surrounding the vice presidential debate on October 11 at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky.  That debate will come eight days after the first presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney and five days before their second encounter, and Ryan’s job will be to attack Obama in gloves-off, full-throated ways that Romney, as the Republican nominee for president, will need to show more restraint in doing.  That’s the nature of a vice presidential candidacy—attack, attack, attack.  And not, incidentally, attack the other candidate for vice president, which would strike most voters as tangential to the real choice they are making.

This week, Ryan’s job will be different: to appear to all the world as Tonto to the Lone Ranger, Robin to Batman—that is, as the junior member of a high-powered team that is greater than the sums of its parts.  

And the Winner Is?: Romney Announces Ryan as VEEP choice

Paul Ryan speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on February 10, 2011.

Paul Ryan speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on February 10, 2011. Photo by Gage Skidmore. CC SA.

This morning Mitt Romney announced he selected Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his GOP runningmate. Romney's veep choice is just another affirmation that this election is a duel over competing visions for the economy and the government's role in economic affairs. In a speech this morning, Congressman Ryan made the case for why he's ready to be veep:

I believe my record of getting things done in Congress will be a very helpful complement to Governor Romney's executive and private sector success outside Washington. I have worked closely with Republicans as well as Democrats to advance an agenda of economic growth, fiscal discipline, and job creation.

While the Romney-Ryan ticket certainly makes the election a clear choice over approaches to economic affairs, it's still unclear how the pick will impact coalitional differences within the party - particularly between conservatives and more pragmatically-minded Republicans - and how independent voters will respond. 

We'd like to congratulate "RTT's Political Junkie of the Week," Joseph Emerson, who correctly predicted Ryan as Romney's choice in our VEEPstakes contest. Joseph noted in his entry that Romney would choose Ryan for the following reasons:

1) Keep the focus on the economy 2) Attempt to steal a solid “blue” state 3) A budget has already been developed 4) “Teapublicans” love him 5) He’s not old 6) There’s also an alliteration factor “Romney-Ryan”

Joseph also noted that Ryan's last name will fit nicely with the campaign's "R" logo.

Well, done, Joseph, well done.

Stay tuned for a new contest and chance to win the title of "RTT Political Junkie of the Week" and a coveted Miller Center shirt! 

Should Voter Preferences Matter in Veep Selection?

Mitt Romney speaking to supporters at a rally in Tempe, Arizona.

Mitt Romney speaking to supporters at a rally in Tempe, Arizona, April 20, 2012. Photo by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA.

One of the factors presidential nominees consider or are faced with is a call from factions within their own parties for a particular vice presidential running mate. While the presidential nominee ultimately decides, along the way countless pundits, party leaders and other members of the political class weigh in with suggestions on who might excite the party base, who might help unite party factions behind the presidential ticket or who might carry the party to victory in the general election. But where do voter preferences fit in this process? Do they matter in veep selection? Evidence from this election and a previous one suggest they don’t. Among the most important criterion is a vice presidential candidate’s ability to demonstrate presidential leadership and to be ready to assume the number one position on day one. So if the vice president is supposed to be prepared to represent the whole people, should voter preferences matter in the selection process?

Although most voters don’t pay attention to vice presidential candidates when they cast their ballot, enough people do that it can tip most close elections. Thus, in this close election year, who Mitt Romney selects might matter more for voters than in other years. A CBS/New York Times poll last week found that vice presidential selection will matter “a lot” to about one quarter of voters and somewhat to additional 50 percent of voters for their decision in November. Meanwhile, a recent Fox News poll asked voters who they would prefer to see on the Republican ticket if given a choice. Of the entire sample population, 30 percent preferred Condoleezza Rice, 12 percent preferred Marco Rubio, 8 percent preferred Chris Christie, and 6 percent preferred Paul Ryan (24 percent didn’t know). When the findings were narrowed to which veep candidate Republican voters would like to see, 30 percent of Republicans supported Rice as top choice, while Marco Rubio was the second most popular at 19 percent (16 percent said they didn't know). Yet, Reuters reported last week that Mitt Romney’s likely final three top choices are Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, and Ohio Senator Rob Portman. According to the Fox News poll, only 5 percent of Republicans prefer Jindal, 2 percent Pawlenty and 3 percent Portman.

Enter RTT’s VEEPstakes Contest!

While modern presidential candidates have traditionally announced their vice presidential picks at the Party conventions, rumors abound that Mitt Romney’s announcement is imminent. Here at the Miller Center, we’ve decided to join the anticipation and indulge your political junkie pleasures with a VEEPstakes contest on the blog. Here are the rules.

Enter the following information in the "Comments" to this post by 5 pm on Thursday, July 19:

  1. Your prediction of who Mitt Romney will select as his vice presidential running mate. And, although it doesn’t matter for the prediction itself, tell us why you think Romney chose this person.
  2. To break any ties, tell us when you think Romney will make the announcement (e.g. during the Olympics, when he returns from Israel, at the Republican Party Convention, etc.).

Winner(s) will receive a coveted Miller Center T-shirt and be featured in a Friday Roundup with the nominal title of RTT “Political Junkie of the Week” (if they so desire).

VEEP 45: The ‘New Democrat’

Bill Clinton Walking with Vice President Al Gore on the South Lawn, August 10, 1993.

Bill Clinton Walking with Vice President Al Gore on the South Lawn, August 10, 1993. Source: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States William J. Clinton: 1993, Book II, Photographic Portfolio.

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.

VEEP 46: The Consequentialist

President George W. Bush talks to reporters Friday, Aug. 18, 2006 in Camp David, Md., Dick Cheney seen in background

President George W. Bush talks to reporters Friday, Aug. 18, 2006 in Camp David, Md., following a meeting with his economic advisors and Vice President Dick Cheney, seen in background. White House photo by David Bohrer.

In April, Richard Cheney gave Mitt Romney this advice: ignore the talking heads and select someone who can govern well. 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 Richard Cheney, one of the most powerful, if not controversial, vice presidents in American history. Previous posts include J. Danforth Quayle and Walter F. Mondale.

Where Are the VEEPs Now? Walter F. Mondale

Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale meet in Cabinet Room

Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale meet in Cabinet Room, December 20, 1978. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

In a series of posts, we will dig into our archives at the Miller Center to examine the contributions of previous vice presidents and explore what they’re doing now. Walter Mondale recently commented that the relationship between a president and vice president “carries a Shakespearean dependency element about it,” and compared the partnership to “a four-year nondivorcable marriage,” though “at least you get to live in different houses.”  In this post we highlight Mondale’s contribution to the vice presidency and his accomplishments since. Our inaugural post in the series on J. Danforth Quayle is here.

Where Are the VEEPs Now? J. Danforth Quayle

President George H.W. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle

President George H. W. Bush walks along the colonnade with Vice President Dan Quayle enroute to the Oval Office in 1992.

Vice President Joe Biden, and his relationship with President Barack Obama, is attracting quite a bit of attention this week. In addition, we’re witnessing a rather remarkably public and early campaign for the selection of the Republican vice presidential candidate this election. Michael Nelson recently wrote on Riding the Tiger that the vice presidency has been an office of real prominence and influence for well over a generation. At the same time, the vice president must also take care to stay within the bounds of the office and play second fiddle to the president and the broader goals of his administration. As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said this week, “Being a vice president is kind of like being a first lady. You are there to support and serve the president. There is no job description.”

In a series of posts, we will dig into our archives at the Miller Center to explore the contributions of previous vice presidents and see what they’re doing now. We begin with J. Danforth Quayle, who served as the 44th Vice President of the United States in the administration of George H. W. Bush. 

JFK Assassination Tapes

Johnson Takes Oath of Office

Lyndon Johnson takes the oath of office aboard Air Force One. He is flanked by his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, left, and Kennedy’s widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, right.

Today Robert A. Caro, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, releases his fourth book in The Years of Lyndon Johnson series. The book, The Passage of Power, chronicles Johnson’s career from 1958 until 1964, and his journey from Senate majority leader to vice president to president of the United States.

In the, Ron Rosenbaum describes a major theme in Caro’s book:

This mortal struggle [between Johnson and Robert Kennedy] explodes into view over RFK’s attempt to deny Johnson the vice presidential nomination. Caro captures the pathos of LBJ’s sudden loss of power as VP, “neutered” and baited by the Kennedy echelon, powerless after so long wielding power. And the sudden reversal of fortune that makes him once again master on November 22, 1963—and suddenly makes Bobby Kennedy the embittered outsider.

The book covers the assassination of JFK and Johnson’s ascent to the presidency. In a fascinating piece in the New Yorker, Caro documented Johnson’s reactions in the moments after the assassination to his taking the oath of office on Air Force One.

The Miller Center has put together an exhibit of some of the highlights of the Presidential Recordings that took place on November 22, 1963, after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. The JFK Assassination Tapes include a selection of calls from Air Force One enroute from Dallas to Washington. The plane was carrying a newly sworn-in President Lyndon B. Johnson along with the slain president's body.

Robert A. Caro’s The Passage of Power

John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, 1961

John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, 1961, photo from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Tomorrow, May 1st, Robert A. Caro's fourth volume on Lyndon B. Johnson will be released. The Passage of Power chronicles Johnson from 1958 until 1964, when he went from being Senate Majority Leader to Vice President to President of the United States. Michael Nelson examines Caro's take on the 1964 vice presidential spot.

In every year divisible by four, the political community spends a good bit of the Winter and Spring speculating on the likelihood of a “brokered convention.” And in every such year in which a president is running for reelection, it (we, to be honest) spends almost as much time speculating about whether he will change his vice presidential running mate—Spiro Agnew in 1972, Dan Quayle in 1992, Richard Cheney in 2004, and even Joseph Biden earlier this year.

More than ‘Warm Spit’: Why VEEP Selection Matters

John Nance Garner, 32nd Vice President of the United States

John Nance Garner, 32nd Vice President of the United States

When it comes to vice presidential nominations, the scholars, journalists, and politicians who know and care the most about the subject know that people vote for president and not vice president. This knowledge is inconvenient. If it doesn’t really matter who the nominees for vice president are, then how can we justify all the time we’re about to spend obsessing over who Mitt Romney will choose as his running mate?