Presidential candidates should telegraph VP favorites

We only elect twosomes to the White House. Why not learn sooner, not later, what that combo would look like? Frankly, I don’t see much downside – and distinct benefits.


Why withhold this big deal finale?

Why must voters wait for the winner of the longest nomination slog in human history to name a VP pick? We vote only for “dynamic duos,” so why not specify an actual name or preferred partners in advance? Establishing common ground for a campaign ticket doesn’t prohibit the possibility of delivering a meaningful surprise. Would signaling preferences not advance transparency, co-operation and big picture thinking, especially considering the growing army of Democratic applicants?

Willing candidates don’t have to commit heart and soul but simply telegraph intentions – those who’d not only bolster their chances but propel a necessary Senate takeover. There’s always the chance – notwithstanding the current, grossly corrupt mis-leader – that identifying talented allies and advisors serves national interests. All VP choices – certainly craven defaults to hawkish ideology (Cheney), pandering to evangelicals (Pence) or that weird leap into deranged unfitness (Palin) – broadcast assumptions, mindsets and values. This first big decision reveals more about character and leadership fitness than years of old voting records.

Let’s face it. Aside from VPs Biden and Gore, generally positive figures bereft of scandals or directed disasters, the three most recent Republican VPs fall far short of rectitude, let alone constructive leadership. Interestingly, none of these five took the White House. The list’s first blunder was HW Bush’s choice of Dan Quayle: lightweight, weak campaigner, lousy speller with no appreciable strength but midwest origins. Cheney’s Darth Vader “rectitude” left more wreckage than even Trump so far, commandeering costly, unwinnable calamities like Iraq. That he was stand-in president for Dubya’s first term captured the worst of false advertising – until Trump came along, with that epic gap between the “straight-taking, common folk populist” campaigner vs. the ever-deceptive, anti-democratic, oligarchic authoritarian. Cheney’s ruthless self-selection to be VP, rife with conflicts of interest, combined farce with tragedy.

Pence, crowning the misfits?

Then along came Pence, the most fatuous VP enabler in memory, offering no visible ballast against the worst presidency in history. As if deaf and dumb to the institution-shredding tsunami, he still remains cheerleader-in-chief for a buffoon in suicidal dive mode. To the degree Pence facilitated the worst cabinet in history, add in more colossal debits. Yes, his evangelical zealotry solidified Trump’s most fixated constituency, but name any people-serving strengths or achievements as VP.

Compared to three failures, Gore and Biden come out well, though both maxed out as second in command, lacking the campaign savvy to take the top prize. But they were at least conceivable replacement presidents; not so misfit Republicans. Having missed his chance in ’16, Biden is the ancient mariner whom progressives hope stays on the sidelines, an anchor resisting the healthy, left-leaning shift.

Unlike the GOP trio, a president Gore or Biden had the potential to be national unifiers after disruption or death, even impeachment. Who imagines Cheney the infamous warmonger ever garnering majority backing, let alone getting elected on his own? Not by any poll I recall. Ditto, Quayle and Pence, second-team bench players elevated to prominence but doubtful national winners. One arguable defense for forcing Trump out is sticking the GOP with an unlikable, unelectable nominee.

Good for the Dems

Back to today’s Democratic brigade. For top progressives, why not have Sanders, Warren or Harris identify, even run in tandem with their power soul mates? Isn’t that better than having to take pot shots to distinguish yourself in primaries? If moderates Biden or Booker, Sherrod Brown or Klobuchar end up with similar stances, if not tone and issues, why not pair up? That removes unhealthy competition and informs voters what their “winning ticket” looks like. Or if a moderate and a progressive want to link up, or one from the coasts and another from the Midwest, where’s the downside. Partner up, reconcile policies and positions early, refining what could be the ultimate, strongest package.

We’re talking alliances, first or second dates, testing the waters of shared leadership. What most interests me is whether a candidate has the wisdom, or calculation, to know his or her weaknesses, then seek the best partnerly fit. Biden’s far greater foreign affairs expertise improved Obama’s early days. Gore’s wide-ranging D.C. experience offset Clinton’s provincial shortcomings. In contrast, consider the dire lessons learned about Dubya’s character and limits when allowing his VP “chair” to pick himself. Better to have known in advance. Ditto, did Quayle not expose what emerged as serious HW weaknesses, a failure of imagination and willingness to suffer mediocrity? Consider what we would have learned about Trump’s ruthlessness, if not cynical hypocrisy, were his choice of the woeful Pence known earlier. What did it say about our least religious president to have selected a fundamentalist zealot?

We only elect twosomes to the White House. Why not learn sooner, not later, what that combo would look like? Frankly, I don’t see much downside – and distinct benefits. One’s VP choice informs character and strategy and, with the current huge Dem field, all the more important to delineate clearly. An early VP proposal could also ease pressure on the party front-runner, like sharing chronic fundraising tasks. Think of how relaxed could be the lead candidate who knows early who’s at his or her back. Especially with less experienced, less nationally-recognized contestants, a solid VP pick would bolster confidence and learning curves.

And of course nothing stops the nominal “second pick” from taking the lead, without disturbing the notion of partnership or shared power relationships. What’s wrong with giving voters the choice of picking the most electable personality without major compromises on values or combined expertise?


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