When it comes to an assessment of the office of vice president of the United States, no statement is more repeated than John Nance Garner’s observation that “the vice presidency is not worth a bucket of warm spit.” Garner served as vice president under Franklin Delano Roosevelt from 1933 to 1941.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays the lead character in the television series “Veep.” As vice president, she is constantly ignored by the president, left out of key meetings and finds her legislative suggestions dismissed.
The American vice presidency has an illustrious past in American history. Gerald Ford became president in 1974 simply by virtue of being in the right place at the right time. Ford was plucked from the House of Representatives to be Richard Nixon’s vice president, a job he held for about nine months until his elevation to the presidency. The only election he won to get there was by besting Jean McKee in the 1972 race for Michigan’s 6th Congressional District. The 118,027 people who voted for Ford that year had no idea that they were, in effect, choosing the next president.
Ironically, assassinations have lifted vice presidents into the White House by replacing presidents who had little regard for their running mates. James Garfield, assassinated in 1881, selected a political machine power broker from New York, Chester Arthur, who wound up performing a credible job when few people expected him to. William McKinley, assassinated in 1901, chose Theodore Roosevelt, an antitrust advocate and military hero who is today considered one of the country’s greatest presidents. Mark Hanna, a McKinley operative, said of Roosevelt, “Now look! That damn cowboy is now president of the United States.”
John F. Kennedy chose Lyndon Johnson as a running mate after a bruising battle between the two for the 1960 Democratic nomination, even knowing that Kennedy and his inner circle loathed Johnson. Johnson knew Kennedy desperately needed to carry Texas in the election and acceded to the request to run on the ticket. After Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Johnson’s support of civil rights and voting rights legislation led to monumental and historic legal protections for black Americans, although the Vietnam War was an albatross around Johnson’s neck until he chose not to run for a second, elected term as president.
Now, at least 20 men and women are vying for the Democratic Party nomination in 2020. Some of those 20 candidates will eventually be asked to consider the second spot on the presidential ticket.
It is likely that some of those defeated for the nomination will look askance at the offer. Among those who I believe would not accept the vice presidency would include Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. They have not come this far to settle for the No. 2 spot.
Kamala Harris has been deeply committed to her campaign, which has been well-received along racial and gender lines. It appears unlikely she would embrace the opportunity to run for vice president. But it might be difficult for her to resist the pressure from the party and from constituents if called upon.
Other announced candidates, particularly some who are young and may have long political futures ahead, may see the vice presidency as a sound career move. That group includes Pete Buttigieg, the youthful mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and a social media superstar. Julian Castro, a former U.S. secretary of housing and urban development and San Antonio mayor, would bring an intelligent, politically adept Latino from a constituency the Democrats have often had difficulty reaching.
Sen. Cory Booker, from New Jersey, is deeply committed to running for president, but could, like Kamala Harris, be pressured to run to help secure votes from the African American community.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, from New York, has run a hard-charging campaign that was sparked originally by the #MeToo movement. Gillibrand would bring an aggressive campaign style that would complement an older nominee.
A number of candidates have strong geographic identities. If the party needs to reach across the national landscape, some vice presidential possibilities would include John Hickenlooper, a former governor of Colorado, and Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington state.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, from Minnesota, who has seen her presidential candidacy slump somewhat. Is not likely to leave the senate fort the vice presidency but could help return the Upper Midwest to the Democratic column as a party advocate.
Beto O’Rourke, a former U.S. representative from Texas, who has also seen his campaign fire dim somewhat, could make Texas competitive in the national election.
Many people say that no one votes for the vice president. The nation may learn differently in 2020.
Jack Topchik is a retired editor whose passions include Shakespeare, the Frederick Keys and films in which people talk in complete sentences. He writes from Frederick. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.