Vice Presidents Collage

Veepstakes 2016 Part 1 (of many): Frameworks not Names

I know what everyone wants. They want me to say who Trump and Hillary will pick as their running mate. I don’t know. I can make some educated guesses, but I’d much rather discuss the framework I use for making the guesses than pretend I have any insider knowledge. I don’t. And the campaigns have not chosen to consult with me – although I am available. (CALL ME!)

What the president wants from his VP (I study the tiny bit in purple)

Matthew Dickinson, a political scientist and expert on the presidency, has a good discussion of why the VP pick matters – it is a lot like what I would have written, only better and faster.

Trump has said he wants someone who can be a governing partner, which is a pretty positive thing. I did my dissertation on the VP as a governing partner and think a lot about. But I have nagging doubts. The graphic from a presentation I gave summarizes the president’s priorities. 

  1. The nominee wants to be elected/re-elected. EVERYTHING else is commentary.
  2. The nominee, knowing that the running mate will be around for the next four years would prefer someone who is loyal and will not make any problems. VPs can’t be fired, so a VP who fails to heed the president’s wishes can be a real embarrassment and general pain. We haven’t really seen that recently, but go look up the Jackson-Calhoun struggles.
  3. Given these two items, it would be great if the VP could also be useful in office.
All of the presidential candidates will say they value their running mate’s advice and will make them a partner in the government. But of course they are going to say that – do you think they’ll say anything else? Would they actually say:

The Constitution makes me pick someone, so it might as well be this guy. He looks pretty good in a suit, and he’ll have to wear one a lot for all the funerals and rubber chicken fundraisers he’s gonna have to go to!

Of course not, but does that make the candidates’ insistence that the VP is qualified and will be a partner, just lip-service? Of course not, it is good politics. The research on how much a VP candidate can help electorally is murky, but a lousy un-presidential pick will hurt – especially for someone like Trump who has so many negatives and questions attached. So there is every incentive to pick someone capable and experienced. Now the VP is going to be right down the hall and coming to a lot of meetings, so they probably will become something of a partner (although presidents can always cut people out – or just ignore them.)

I really can’t judge how serious Trump is about a governing partner. In the same article he said he wanted a seasoned politician he also said, “I think I’ll be absolutely great on the military and military strategy.”

But let’s not kid ourselves, he’s proven he’s smart at politics (or at least electioneering which is a part of politics) so if saying he’ll pick a pro as his running mate is good politics for him – he’ll do it. And if that person is a real pro – they’ll make themselves useful in office.

So what does Trump need? Someone with a good sense of Capitol Hill and DC in general, and maybe also of how the bureaucracies work – and gravitas! Sweet, sweet gravitas…

Look over the list of GOP Senators who have been there a while, but aren’t much over 70. Maybe if they are from a purple state that could help (Rob Portman or Mark Kirk!) If you can think of a Dick Cheney type – someone who has held a number of high-level jobs, elected and appointed, that would work. So there’s your short-list.

Later, Hillary and what Trump actually needs of a VP in office. (Hillary needs nothing from a VP in office, she already has Bill.)

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