There will never be another Dick Cheney.
For liberals, this is a cause for celebration. For conservatives, let the mourning begin. For those who care about nothing but 1960s pop culture, he does slightly resemble Oswald Cobblepot, also known as “the Penguin” in the original Batman series.
Nevertheless, liberals and conservatives can agree that Dick Cheney has been influential. Nobody will argue about his relevance to world history.
It is for this reason that the Vice Presidency is more relevant than ever before.
America has come a long way since Daniel Webster, a brilliant and respected man who badly wanted to be President, rejected overtures to be Vice President by stating, “I do not wish to be buried until I am dead.” It is no longer the job that the republican party offered to Teddy Roosevelt to get him out of the way and silence him.
While John McCain often jokes that the job of the Vice President is to check on the health of the President on a daily basis, the true job of the second in command is to take the political version of the Hippocratic Oath: Do no harm.
A Vice Presidential choice will normally not win an election, but it can lose elections. Rarely does a Vice Presidential choice bring any significant gains that swing elections. The exception might be JFK choosing LBJ in 1960. That ranks among the best selections. Bill Clinton choosing Al Gore in 1992 was a good selection. They complemented each other well, and at the time, Gore was seen as an ethical counterbalance to Clinton’s checkered past. He would provide integrity to the campaign. The worst choice in recent times might be Geraldine Ferraro in 1984.
Other choices are more complex. 1988 is a prime example of this. Most people would argue that Lloyd Bentsen was a much better choice than Dan Quayle. Bentsen easily won their debate. Yet George HW Bush decisively defeated Michael Dukakis, which prevents Quayle from being considered among the worst. Bentsen was not among the best because he did not help in Texas, the one state where he was supposed to contribute.
So what are the qualities that a Vice President must possess?
First and foremost, they have to be able to take over the top job at a moment’s notice. They have to be immediately ready. They have to have “gravitas.”
Next, they have to be loyal to the boss. Sharp disagreements can take place in private, and they should take place. However, in public, the Vice President should get neck strain from nodding their head up and down in agreement.
Additionally, they should be similar in views to the President. The idea of trying to trick the voters by “balancing” the ticket is insulting. The top dog makes the decisions, and providing a lieutenant to mollify voters wears thin since lieutenants stay just that. Similar views should also include a personal bond of shared values. AGain, JFK and LBJ were the exception. Normally, the top two people should like and trust each other, or failure can abound. John Kerry and John Edwards could not hide their disdan for each other.
Lastly, the Vice Presidential choice should be an asset from a strategic point of view. Strategic does not have to mean geographic. It just has to be a net electoral plus.
So with all of that said, who are the potential Vice Presidents? I will cover the best, worst, and most likely choices, and then regret this column when I am inevitably “mistaken,” to use a Hillary Clinton phrase. After all, you may not believe this, but I am human.
John McCain has several choices.
Among the best would be Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. He is young, which counterbalances McCain’s age. He is a highly popular and respected governor from a state that leans to the left, but has elected hard right candidates and independent former professional wrestlers. He was magnificent during the Minnesota bridge crisis. Additionally, he is tall, and yes, handsome. He resembles John Cusack, and the elderly Jewish women I observed kept trying to introduce him to their daughters and granddaughters. He kept insisting that he was happily married and not Jewish, but the ladies did not care. They adored him. In Pawlenty’s favor is that he endorsed McCain early on, and stayed with him through the rough patches when the campaign almost died. Loyalty is assured.
Rudy Giuliani and McCain have deep respect and admiration for each other. They both see the other one as a hero and a great leader. They are both right. Rudy puts New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania in play, and he has gravitas. Also, the Vice President is an attack dog, and Rudy is a brutally effective campaigner. He would not be afraid of a bare knuckle brawl that allows McCain to stay above the fray. This would almost be a co-presidency. The social conservatives would howl at first, but Rudy has been very respectful of them. Rudy enjoys making millions in the private sector. Being Attorney General or head of Homeland Security might not be enough, but being Vice President would, especially since the republican hierarchy always picks the next man in line to be President.
Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele, Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle, and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin are all rising stars. They are not tokens. They are also not very well known, and none of them provide any geographic help. Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell is beloved by conservatives, but as important as Ohio is, the Ohio republican party is politically toxic due to a corruption scandal. This is not Blackwell’s fault, but again, life is not fair.
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is fabulous on so many levels, but she has repeatedly stated that she has no interest in elective office. A President McCain would keep her in any position she wanted if she wants to stay.
Many are talking about Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who I have also met personally. He is likable, and has very high popularity, yet one wonders if he is coasting on Jeb Bush’s legacy the same way George HW Bush ran as a third Reagan term in 1988. Jeb Bush has a million positives that are weighed down by one negative, that being his last name. Americans do not want dynasties. This is a shame because many conservatives look at Jeb and say that among his family, he is the best of the bunch. His popularity in Florida was sky high, but his brother and father have filled the family quota.
Fred Thompson made many conservatives swoon before he ran for President. He underwhelmed many people, including some of his supporters. His conservative credentials are solid, but the main question is whether he wants the job. Also, Thompson served only one Senate term that was not incredibly distinguished. McCain needs someone with executive experience. Fred could be the Attorney General if Rudy Giuliani is not chosen.
Mitt Romney should not be considered because he and McCain simply do not like each other. Romney has executive experience from governing Massachusetts, and would be a great Treasury Secretary. While Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush did put aside their differences to form a winning team, John Kerry and John Edwards did not. Coming in second does not mean one gets the second spot on the ticket, nor should it.
Mike Huckabee is an absolute nonstarter. The economic conservatives would go insane based on Huckabee’s reputation as a tax raiser while Governor of Arkansas. Also, and with all due respect to the social conservatives, Americans will not elect somebody seen as a “bible thumper.” While this is religious bigotry, life is not fair.
Duncan Hunter is a very respected military man, and his selection would please the border conservatives worried about illegal immigration. However, Hunter is against free trade, which would be unacceptable to the Wall Street Journal Conservatives. He could be Secretary of Defense.
My heart badly wants Rudy Giuliani, but I suspect the choice will be Tim Pawlenty, who I would be very pleased with.
As for the democrats, I will analyze what would win for them, regardless of my disdain for many of them. They should choose Joe Lieberman or Zell Miller. Just kidding.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will not pick each other. The animosity is too deep. Obama could force his way onto Hillary’s ticket, but Obama would never accept Hillary as the Vice President. She would undermine him the whole time, and pretend to be upset as she quietly sabotaged him so that a republican could win, giving her one more shot in 2012. She is about her, and her alone. Just ask Kerry.
Either one must pick somebody that would play down South. One man who would beg, borrow and steal for the job is John Edwards. He has avoided endorsing anybody because he badly wants the job, and would accept it from either candidate. Edwards would be a tough candidate as the top of the ticket, but he simply does not want to play second fiddle. He forced himself onto the 2004 ticket, and spent more time promoting himself then John Kerry. He is not the guy.
Bill Richardson would be a solid choice, but he seems to have burned his last bridge with the Clintons. If they could put aside their rage, he would bring considerable heft, but these are the Clintons. They can’t. He provides Latino support, and has executive experience. He immediately puts New Mexico and other Western states in play, not counting Arizona.
Joe Biden is an adult. He has foreign policy experience, and knows how to get judges confirmed. He does sometimes put his foot in his mouth, but he is not a raving lunatic. He would not frighten anybody. His downside is that he is a Senator, and one from a small state at that. Again, it did not work for Kerry and Edwards, although they did come close against a wartime President.
Some are touting General Wesley Clark, but there are better choices.
Even though an all Senator ticket is not desirable, former Senator Bob Kerrey is well liked and respected by both sides of the aisle. He did commit a gaffe against Barack Obama, but Obama is not thin skinned. He also went after Bill Clinton hard when he ran against him in 1992, and Bill Clinton is that thin skinned. Yet he is a war hero, and unlike John Kerry, does not have a long history of antiwar protesting and baseless accusations against soldiers. He has one wooden leg from combat injuries. He is a moderate to conservative person from Nebraska, although his ability to swing some Midwestern states might be blunted by the perceived liberalism of the top of the ticket.
Senator Jim Webb of Virginia is too new and too abrasive. However, his Bush hatred might be less of a problem among the left wing base than his being a former Reagan administration official.
The democrats have one choice that would be bold, exciting, and unprecedented. No, not New York Governor David Paterson. He has only been on the job about a week, and he has already confessed to illicit sex and drug activities. Then again, I would rather have a physically blind individual that took clear sighted stands on issues than a liberal with 20/20 vision that could not see any issues clearly.
The democrats have a war hero with solid antiwar credentials in their midst. He is a Southerner, and has served in the Senate. He has never been a Governor, but neither was John McCain. He gave the keynote speech for John Kerry, and unlike Kerry, he does not have a reputation for flip flopping on the war. Yes, there are criticisms that his war injury was inadvertently self inflicted, but no sane republican wants to go near that political land mine. He served America, and has a compelling story.
That man is former Georgia Senator Max Cleland. Being in a wheelchair did not stop him from being a Senator, and the politically correct crowd would swoon over the chance to have a “handicapable” leader.
Yes, the sympathy factor would be overwhelming, and yes it would make some conservatives ill for that reason alone. Nevertheless, Max Cleland absolutely has gravitas.
My heart does not pick anybody for the democrats, because none of them appeal to me. Yet Cleland would be a very bold choice. The only downside to Cleland is that he is a white male. Even the wheelchair cannot obscure this fact.
If Obama is forced to take a woman, then Senator Dianne Feinstein is a possibility. She is respected, and seen as a hard worker. If Obama wants to really shock the world, he can cross party lines and go with former republican Governor Christy Todd Whitman. She is liberal on social issues such as abortion, and she likes trees.
If Hillary needs somebody black, and somehow decides to risk the wrath of Obamamania by passing him up, she can make another bold choice, also in Georgia. Congressman John Lewis is an American hero, and his civil rights credentials are unimpeachable. He marched with Dr. King, was beaten by the police, and refused to resort to violence. He is the American dream. John McCain’s book “Courage” even spent several pages praising John Lewis.
I look forward to Vice President Pawlenty, but still hold out hope that President McCain and Vice President Rudy Giuliani take the reins in 2008. They are two people that would aggressively prosecute the War on Terror that President George W. Bush and Vice President Cheney are currently waging.
They will both be out of office in less than a year, with the consolation prize being a place in the ring of honor of great world of leaders that forever changed world history for the better.