Monday, February 8, 2010

Losing the Vice Presidency: A Bad Career Move

Sarah Palin has recently made overtures about a 2012 Presidential run. To many people, probably most people, this should come as not the slightest bit of surprise. And I allow her that prerogative. I would not vote for her to be dog catcher let alone President, but that's not the issue at hand. As far as I'm concerned, it should be as easy as possible to claim a spot on a ballot. I will and have gleefully signed a petition to place a candidate on the ballot that I will spend the rest of the election just as gleefully campaigning against.


Before ex-Governor Palin makes a final decision to abandon a presumably safe, cushy post at Fox News to take a run at Barack Obama, she might want to consider the daunting history she's up against.

No, not the no-woman-President thing. Palin and Hillary Clinton may not have broken that barrier, but together they put up enough of a high-profile showing that they might as well have broken it. Women are in play. The only problem now is finding a winner.

Being a winner is Palin's problem. Her current lot in history is her adversary.

Sarah Palin is a defeated candidate for Vice President.

Vice Presidential nominees are not chosen by the voters. They are chosen originally by the party establishment, and in modern times by the candidate. The 'veepstakes' begins in earnest after the Presidential nominee has the race locked up and no sooner. After all, some of those veepstakes participants might be running for the Presidential nomination themselves. As a non-voter-elected candidate, the voters may feel emphatically different about the VP nominee than the Presidential nominee or party leadership does.

In addition, anyone that loses a race will lose political face. They lost. The voters rejected them personally. Many measures of political approval are soft and mushy to varying degrees- protests, approval ratings, town halls, campaign rally audience size, the tone of mail received by the politician from constituents and potential constituents. An actual vote, however, is hard data. Claim fraud and turnout and such all you like, but at the end of the day, the voters gave you a concrete approval or rejection. A win is a win; a loss is a loss.

Combine a losing candidate with a candidate not put forward by the voters, and it's not a pretty recipe.

Now, one can't really count the first two elections, as there was no 'losing Vice Presidential candidate' early on; in the earliest elections, the winner became President and second place became Vice President. There were no running mates in George Washington's two elections; John Adams came in second and was thus placed into the Vice Presidency.

Since then, however, running mates existed. Here are the losing ones from 1796 to today, and remember that what happened before the loss is not relevant here; it's what happened afterwards:

1796- Aaron Burr, New York
Would later serve as VP under Thomas Jefferson, but during that term he would challenge Alexander Hamilton to a duel. You might have heard about it. Burr's career went splat.

1800- Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, South Carolina
Would go on to be the Presidential nominee twice. Would go on to lose twice, and be relegated to a role as president of the Society of the Cincinnati.

1804, 1808- Rufus King, New York
Would go on to serve as Senator from 1813-1825, though it should be noted this was an era when Senators were elected by the state legislature. 1816 would be a bad year: he lost a gubernatorial race, get nominated as President (without voter input), and then lose that race too.

1812- Jared Ingersoll, Pennsylvania
Would go back to his job as attorney general of Pennsylvania until 1817, and for a brief period from 1811-1812 would preside over a district court in Philadelphia.

1816- John Eager Howard, Maryland
Back into the oblivion from whence you came. Next.

1820, 1824- There was no campaign in 1820; people were so content with James Monroe that he ran effectively unopposed. John C. Calhoun of South Carolina was the running mate of both candidates in 1824. He doesn't count.

1828- Richard Rush, Pennsylvania
Would spend his post-loss career as a reasonably successful, though unheralded, European diplomat and negotiator. I'll be nice and call it a success.

1832- John Sergeant, Pennsylvania
Retreated for a while, then would serve two terms in the House of Representatives. He was offered a Cabinet post afterwards, but he declined and faded into private life.

1836- John Tyler, Virginia
Would ascend to the Presidency in 1841 after William Henry Harrison's death, the first President to gain power in that fashion. It didn't work out. There was not yet a hard-and-fast rule in place to determine succession, and Tyler's now-accepted assertion that he was fully President upon Harrison's death did not sit well. He would receive correspondence to the 'Vice President' or 'Acting President' and return it unopened. When he turned out to have a different agenda than Harrison as well, he found himself opposed by both parties, and would spend the rest of his time as an essential lame duck. Tyler would be the first President to have his veto overridden, and the first to endure an impeachment attempt. He was not renominated, obviously.

1840- Richard Mentor Johnson, Kentucky
Only technically. Johnson, the incumbent VP, was already damaged goods by this point in his career and the VP vote was split three ways. He would spend the next decade trying to re-enter the political arena, finding a home in the Kentucky state legislature in 1850. He would serve for a whopping two weeks before he died.

1844- Theodore Frelinghuysen, New York
Would serve as president or vice president to a long string of small organizations.

1848- William O. Butler, Kentucky
Would turn down the Nebraska territorial governorship in 1855, and would head the 1861 peace conference called as a last resort to head off the Civil War. Anyone want to guess how that turned out? Audience?

1852- William Alexander Graham, North Carolina
Would go on to 12 years in the state legislature, two of which would also be spent in the Confederate Congress. He was elected to the Senate in 1866 (without voter input), but did not serve because North Carolina had not been readmitted yet. He would then spend eight years on the board of the Peabody Fund, providing postwar education assistance.

1856- William L. Dayton, New Jersey
Would go on to be Minister (ambassador) to France, where he would convince the French to not recognize the Confederacy as a sovereign state. He would die in 1864 in this role. We'll call it a success, though, given the ramifications of that accomplishment.

1860- Joseph Lane, Oregon
He was a pro-slavery candidate. Oregon didn't think much of him after that. Into oblivion he went.

1864- George Hunt Pendleton, Ohio
Would go on to lose a election for the House of Representatives, and then lose a governor's race. The state legislature put him through to one term in the Senate. During that time, he sponsored the Pendleton Act, which ended the spoils system for many government jobs. But a sponsorship does not necessarily mean effort put forward in a fight, and those two losses to the voters keep me from calling him a success.

1868- Francis Preston Blair Jr., Missouri
In 1871 was elected (without voter input) to the Senate, where he would suffer a debilitating case of paralysis. He would die from a fall in 1875.

1872- Benjamin Gratz Brown, Missouri
The loss was it for him; he went into private life. Next.

1876- Thomas Andrews Hendricks, Indiana
Would go on to decline the 1880 Presidential nomination, but would be Grover Cleveland's Vice President in 1884. He wouldn't last long before his death. Cleveland never bothered to replace him.

1880- William Hayden English, Indiana
Oblivion with you, good sir. Next.

1884- John A. Logan, Illinois
Would finish his term as Senator- well, most of the rest of his term- and then write some military books on the Civil War.

1888- Allen G. Thurman, Ohio
Oblivion. Drink. Next.

1892- Whitelaw Reid, New York
Would take a quiet eight-year stint as ambassador to the United Kingdom.

1896- Arthur Sewall, Maine
Was plucked from shipbuilding to run on the ticket. Went back to it. Next.

1900- Adlai E. Stevenson I, Illinois
Not that Adlai Stevenson. He would lose a governor's race in 1908 and then go into private life.

1904- Henry G. Davis, West Virginia
Served as chairman of a railway committee.

1908- John Worth Kern, Indiana
Would serve one term in the Senate without voter input, but would champion the concept of electing Senators with voter input. He was not renominated with non-voter input. He would also help out in a spot of trust-busting, as well as helping the 16th Amendment (the income tax amendment) through the Senate. I'm comfortable calling this a success.

1912- Hiram Johnson, California
Won re-election as governor, then won a Texas Senate seat that he would hold from 1917-1945 (with voter input, something he helped put in place prior to his run). The man who said "The first casualty when war comes is truth." Would make a run at a Presidential nomination, but lost to Warren Harding. Supported the New Deal, but wavered when FDR started his attempt at court-packing. A success.

1916- Charles W. Fairbanks, Indiana
Into oblivion he went, though he was hauled out of oblivion to have Fairbanks, Alaska named after him.

1920- Franklin D. Roosevelt, New York
Enough said here. Success.

1924- Charles W. Bryan, Nebraska
Gave up the governorship to make his run; would get it back from 1831-1835, then serve two years as mayor of Lincoln.

1928- Joseph Taylor Robinson, Arkansas
Would go back to what he was doing- serving as senator- and would claim the title of Majority Leader from 1933 until his death in 1837. He was... something all right. His face would get red, he'd pound on the table, scream, yell. According to a period press gallery attendant, "When [Robinson] would go into one of his rages, it took little imagination to see fire and smoke rolling out of his mouth like some fierce dragon. Even when he kidded me, he spoke in loud gasps while puffing his cigar. Robinson could make senators and everyone in his presence quake by the burning fire of his eyes, the baring of his teeth as he ground out the words, and the clenching of his mighty fists as he beat on the desk before him." He was FDR's chief man in the Senate for his court-packing plan; when he died, it died with him. This one's a judgment call.

1932- Charles Curtis, Kansas
Assumed a legal career in DC, died a few years later.

1936- Frank Knox, Illinois
Would become FDR's Secretary of the Navy from 1940 until his death in 1944. Obviously, he worked his butt off. We'll call him a success.

1940- Charles L. McNary, Oregon
Returned to being Senate Minority leader and died there in 1944.

1944- John W. Bricker, Ohio
Would go on to being a two-term senator, known for an attempted amendment to limit the President's powers in treaty-making, and was blindsided in the race for a third term for his endorsement of an unpopular right-to-work amendment to the state constitution. That loss ended him.

1948- Earl Warren, California
Would go on to the Supreme Court in 1953, and become one of its greatest justices. An unqualified success.

1952- John Sparkman, Alabama
Would return to his Senate seat that he would hold until 1979. Signed the Southern Manifesto, costing him the 1956 VP nomination.

1956- Estes Kefauver, Tennessee
Would return to his Senate seat that he would hold until his death in 1963, the 1960 run hampered somewhat by his refusal to sign the Southern Manifesto. Somewhat. Architect of the Kefauver-Harris Drug Control Act of 1962, requiring drug manufacturers to disclose side effects, allowing drugs to be sold as generic, and be able to prove on demand that the drugs work and work safely. Success.

1960- Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., Massachusetts
Served as ambassador to South Vietnam, where he largely determined that local government sucked. He was dragged into the 1964 Presidential race, winning the New Hampshire primary as a write-in. He ran, sort of. He lost. Back to diplomacy.

1964- William E. Miller, New York
Appeared in an American Express commercial. Do you know me? No, Miller. No, we don't know you.

1968- Edmund Muskie, Maine
Ran for the nomination in 1972. Lost it. Maybe it was the part where he ran into some Gay Liberationists and told his staff "Goddam it, if I've got to be nice to a bunch of sodomites to be elected President, then fuck it!" Was Secretary of State for eight or nine months. These were the last months of the Carter Administration. Those were not proud moments for that office.

1972- Sargent Shriver, Maryland (the original candidate, Thomas Eagleton of Missouri, imploded during the campaign and that was basically the end of him Presidency-wise, though he would recover to hang on to his Senate seat for two additional terms, helping the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts through)
Made a brief, abortive run for President in 1976. Retreated to private life, including heading the Special Olympics and investing in the Baltimore Orioles. Eagleton you could call a success, Shriver not so much.

1976- Bob Dole, Kansas
Returned to his Senate seat. Would make a run at the nomination in 1980, lost the primary. Tried again in 1988. Lost the primary there too. Surrendered the Senate seat for third shot. Lost, becoming the only man to be a Democratic or Republican VP and Presidential nominee and win neither. Moved on to Viagra ads.

1980- Walter Mondale, Minnesota

1984- Geraldine Ferraro, New York
Made two front-runner bids for the Senate. Primaried out both times. Appointed to the UN Commission on Human Rights by Bill Clinton. Generally thought to have lost her mind during the 2008 campaign in support of Hillary Clinton.

1988- Lloyd Bentsen, Texas
During the campaign, responsible for "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." Went back to his Senate seat until tapped for a two-year stint as Secretary of the Treasury, helping Clinton's first budget through. He did okay.

1992- Dan Quayle, Indiana
The victim of "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy". He was a large part of the reason Bush 41 lost to Bill Clinton- Bush was told he'd get a huge jump in the polls if he'd dump Quayle, Bush said no, and so did the voters. Quayle's reputation has preceded him ever since.

1996- Jack Kemp, New York
Went into private life. Next.

2000- Joe Lieberman, Connecticut
Returned to his Senate seat, which he still holds but most of Connecticut will tell you he's a lame duck who doesn't realize it yet. Lost a primary, won the general after the Republicans abandoned their own candidate, and since then has made progressively more obvious moves towards a party switch which in all likelihood will not save him.

2004- John Edwards, North Carolina
Tried and failed to win the Presidential nomination in 2008, and then the baby-daddy thing happened.


By my count, there are nine outright successes on this list:
1828- Richard Rush, Pennsylvania
1856- William L. Dayton, New Jersey
1908- John Worth Kern, Indiana
1912- Hiram Johnson, California
1920- Franklin D. Roosevelt, New York
1936- Frank Knox, Illinois
1948- Earl Warren, California
1956- Estes Kefauver, Tennessee
1972- Thomas Eagleton, Missouri

And three iffy calls:
1864- George Hunt Pendleton, Ohio
1928- Joseph Taylor Robinson, Arkansas
1988- Lloyd Bentsen, Texas

After that it gets ugly in a hurry.

So, it's not impossible to build off of a failed Vice Presidential bid. It has been done. One must usually lower their standards off of how to build off a run for the second-most-powerful position in America, and even then it's still not all that likely, but allowing some reasonable leeway, it's possible.

However, it's a long, hard road to hoe from a loss like that, especially if your aim is the Presidency, as is the goal seemingly set by Palin. The Presidential win-loss record of losing VP candidates after their loss is 4-12, and all four wins came from FDR. Pinckney lost twice in the general election, King lost in the general, Johnson was primaried, Lodge was primaried, Muskie was primaried, Shriver never got anything going, Dole lost three times, Mondale lost in legendary fashion, Edwards was primaried.

Sarah Palin, do you like those odds?

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