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.
Quayle’s selection as running mate prompted Republicans and Democrats alike to express reservations about Bush’s choice. Indeed, George H.W. Bush was forced to respond to concerns about the qualifications and credentials of the junior senator from Indiana during a 1988 presidential debate:
I see a young man that was elected to the Senate twice, to the House of Representatives twice. I see a man who is young and I am putting my confidence in a whole generation of people that are in their 30s and 40s. I see a man that took the leadership in the Job Training Partnership Act…I see a young man who is a knowledgeable—in defense…And he will do very very well. And he has my full confidence... So, judge the man on his record not on the—lot of rumors and innuendo and trying to fool around with his name.
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.
Since losing the 1992 reelection campaign to Clinton and Gore, Quayle has only dabbled in and out of political life, primarily focusing on work in the private sector. In 1996, Quayle considered running for governor of Indiana, and after being mentioned as a candidate, declined to run for governor of Arizona in 2002. He made a bid for the Republican presidential nomination in the 2000 election, but withdrew and supported George W. Bush after finishing eighth in the August 1999 Ames Iowa Straw Poll. His primary interest in politics nowadays is to advise and support the political career of his son, Ben Quayle, who was elected to the House of Representatives from Arizona’s 3rd district in 2010. In December 2011, Quayle endorsed Mitt Romney for president.