With the Republican Primaries virtually over, and John McCain as the all-but-official nominee, there is only one remaining question about the Republican ticket: who will be McCain’s running mate? The choice is, by tradition, entirely McCain’s to make, but the biggest and longest-lasting effects of this choice will likely not be felt until after McCain leaves office (should he win), or until after he has left the spotlight (should he lose). That is because, in office, the Vice Presidency is a remarkably powerless position. The Constitution grants the VP only two powers, both of which have only been used on rare occasion. The first is to replace the President in the case of death, and the second is to break a tie in the Senate. But if the powers of the Vice Presidency are a disappointment, the opportunities that are available more than make up for it. Specifically, the Vice President has more access to Washington insiders, other politicians, and powerful people and groups than anyone else – except the President. That gives the VP a head start when the time comes for their party to select a new nominee, and, since three of the last four sitting VPs to run for President have won the popular vote, it gives them, historically, a good shot at the Oval Office.
So, based on that, it sounds like we can expect John McCain’s VP to become our nominee in 2012 or 2016, whenever McCain leaves office, right? Well, yes and no. Although there is strong historical support for that belief, there is another historical trend that has developed in the last thirty years on the Republican side that also deserves consideration. Since 1976, the second-place finisher in the GOP primaries has gone on to become the party’s nominee in the nextopen race every time. The only exceptions? Pat Buchanan, who was second in the 1996 race, but did not seek the nomination in 2000, and VP Dick Cheney, who didn’t seek the nomination in 2008.
Until now, these two trends have been in-line with each other, and no sitting VP has been beaten when they’ve sought the nomination, and no second-place finisher in one primary season has been beaten in the next open primary season, when they’ve sought the nomination. In the case of G.H.W. Bush, he was both the second-place finisher and the sitting VP.
I know its all a little complicated to understand, so I’ll cut to the point: if John McCain does not choose either Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee as his VP (depending on which delegate count you use, either could be considered the second-placer), he will be pitting two strong, well-established trends against each other in the next open GOP race (which I believe will be in 2012). That could create havoc and uncertainty when it comes time to choose our nominee either four or eight years from now. Of course, McCain could lose, or his VP could decide not to run him/herself, but both of those seem unlikely at this point – setting the GOP up for a potentially even MORE interesting race in four years.
Of course no good analysis comes without a prediction, but at this point, I really can’t say who I think would come out ahead in a VP vs. second-placer pairing. A strong case can be made for either: the organizational and endorsement advantage a VP likely has, against the grassroots support a second-placer has, the idea of orderly succession by heir-apparent, against the idea of “his time”. Of course, the last two elections seem to have bucked every political trend known to man, so its also possible that a third candidate could rise to win the nomination, or even force a split convention. There are obvious risks and advantages for either position, meaning that we may have to take a “wait and see” approach to the whole thing.
We should have a clearer idea of the likelihood of the scenario once we know who McCain’s VP is, and an even clear idea after the general election, and I post more analysis after both.
This is definitely something to keep an eye on.