Confessions of an Electorate: When VP Picks Matter

When VP Picks Matter

In 1980, Ronald Reagan selected George H.W. Bush as his running mate.  The electorate yawned.  In 1988, George H.W. Bush selected Dan Quayle as his running mate.  Again, the electorate was unmoved.  In 2000, when George W. Bush selected Dick Cheney as his running mate, there was some discussion about the importance of Cheney, but most shrugged and went on.  In 1996, and again in 2008, but also now in 2012, everybody was really excited about the running mate selections.  In 1996, Bob Dole’s pick of Jack Kemp was going to rescue the Kansas Senator’s campaign.  In 2008, John McCain wisely chose a woman who had the ability to move the base, though his own staff seemed to sabotage him.  This bit of historical truth should be considered carefully as the Republican party faithful prepare to descend on Tampa for their Presidential nominating convention.  In 2012, Mitt Romney has chosen Paul Ryan in an attempt to ignite the base, but I’d like you to consider the nature of the picks and their relative importance to their respective campaigns, and what they confess to the electorate about their candidates:  Only when the party’s nominee is a weak candidate does the Vice Presidential pick matter much at all.

The elder Bush could have won having picked Mickey Mouse when running against Michael Dukakis in 1988, and Ronald Reagan could have picked Caspar Milquetoast in 1980(and in fact, some say he did.)  The salient point to take away from the excitement about the Vice Presidential pick by Mitt Romney isn’t that he chose Paul Ryan, so much as it is the fact that it matters who he picked.  Think about it:  Vice Presidential picks only matter when the Presidential candidate is desperately weak.  It’s why Biden doesn’t matter.  What this entire episode should tell you is what most conservatives will have known already:  Just as in 2008, we have a weak presidential candidate, and the importance of the Vice Presidential pick has grown only by way of compensation.

Consider the pressure brought to bear on Sarah Palin in 2008.  She had the unenviable chore of trying to excite a base that was mostly disgusted with John McCain.  The truth of the matter is that without Gov. Palin on the ticket, McCain would have lost by larger margins.  His own campaign’s staff, primarily Steve Schmidt, concocted a notion to suspend the campaign to deal with the financial crisis.  This action sank McCain, but Palin, being the fighter and champion of all things America refused to yield and almost rescued McCain from his own staff.  Almost.  The problem is that Sarah Palin shouldn’t have mattered so much.  The only reason she did is because McCain himself was such a terrible candidate.  There will be those who become angered with me for stating it this bluntly, but if Sarah Palin mattered so much, it meant also that McCain himself mattered too little.

Observe the hysteria of Saturday morning after it went out via the Romney-app that Paul Ryan would be the pick.  Consider that there had been such an application for smart-phones at all.  What does this tell you about the relative importance of the Romney VP pick?  It was crucial.  It’s Romney’s last big push to bring resistant conservatives along, and this matters.  It doesn’t matter, however, because it’s a good choice or bad choice, but only because the fact that it matters at all reflects the weakness of the top of the ticket.  I would ask my conservative and Republican friends, preparing to head to Tampa, Florida in body or spirit for the RNC convention:  If the VP pick matters this much, isn’t there still time to pick a new ticket?  The truth is that there is time, but the problem is that few will think outside of the box Romney has constructed for them.  Most will accept this Vice Presidential pick with unthinking adulation, but we conservatives really must elevate our game if we are going to rescue the country.

The importance of the VP selection in some elections signifies a sort of confession, not only by the campaign, but also by the electorate, about their general assessment of the candidate in question.  Mitt Romney’s VP pick matters only because there are so many lingering, long-held doubts about Romney himself.  The same was true of McCain in 2008, and we shouldn’t expect a different result.  When you consider the Republican presidential nominees of the last thirty-two years, the only time a Vice Presidential pick mattered to any great degree had been instances when the party’s nominee was desperately weak vis-à-vis the competition.  In each of those cases, Republicans lost the election.  In 2000, when Cheney had mattered more than a little, and Lieberman had mattered also, it was predictable that we would see a campaign fought out between two inferior candidates, with the victor being the candidate whose VP pick mattered least.  Advantage Bush.

This should give conservatives and Republicans a moment of pause.  History’s formula is clear:  If the VP pick matters, it is only because the Presidential nominee is weak, and weak nominees generally beget defeat.  Jack Kemp was a great guy, and Sarah Palin really is a phenomenon, and Paul Ryan seems to be a decent politician, so this isn’t really about them, as the bottom of their respective tickets.  It’s about the top of the ticket, and the problem is the same in all three cases.  When there comes to be this much focus on who the Vice Presidential candidate will be, it is as good as a confession by the campaign and also by the electorate on the weakness of the top of the ticket.  Republicans may go to Tampa with their heads in the clouds if they like, buoyed by the selection of Paul Ryan, but if you’re serious about winning, you’ll take the time to confess at least to yourself what all of this chatter of the importance of the VP pick really means.  It isn’t good.


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9 Responses to Confessions of an Electorate: When VP Picks Matter

  1. stillgoing says:

    Great post Mark, I wish we were ready to escape the box, but we are not, to many believe nothing can be done, that we must except reality, they say, it is what it is, let’s try to make the best of it and lets stop talking about Tampa. Giants will always look to big, until….. and then outside the box they will come. By the way, do you plan on going to Tampa? Thanks for all you share, it inspires me.

  2. mainelysteve says:

    As usual Mark, you’ve hit the nail on the head. To be blunt, if numb-nuts really wanted to win he would have re-picked Palin. Oh well, we knew he didn’t have the balls to do it!

  3. the unit says:

    P or VP, party of now or party of maybe next…O told us loud and clear with the action in Libya,  it was sanctioned by U.N. and international partners, no need to do more than advise Congress.  Think we have a nation state anymore?  Also Egypt write off, and none action in Iran freedom movement a couple years ago.  Did you see that beautiful girl shot on the street.  No comment for freedom, just  silence for subjection.  Obvisously…nobody answers to the electorate, just answers to whatever you call government of the world today.  Local…run for office and be black conservative, video you beat up white women, as per Allen West. 

  4. Kathie says:

    Newt/Palin–the Obama campaign would have to scramble.

  5. Jeff1000 says:

    Romney and Ryan haven’t even been elected, and according to Mark, they’re already failures. I bet you talked crap about Ronald Reagan too while he was running too. Geesh.

    • Kathie says:

       Are you comparing Romney to Ronald Reagan? Where do you see the similarity?

      • Jeff1000 says:

        Both men love(d) America, and understand American freedom and exceptionalism, but the Romney story hasn’t even been written yet. You can’t condemn a man even before he’s been elected. Romney has grown as a conservative and he will continue to grow with our help (instead of our condemnation).


  6. the unit says:

    Echo heard on every mountain top and mole hill, sounds from the wilderness…ABOooooooooo… You know about echos…ABOoooooooo, ABOooooooooo. Listen now ABOoooooooo. Don’t let it fade away. Nobody’s perfect…but keep the chance to next time vote for another nobody if necessary, and not more haunting echos of BOooooooo, Pelosioooooo, Bidenoooooo, Reidooooooo, Neopolitianooooooo, Sebaliousooooo, Geithnerooooooo, Holderoooooooo,Holdrenoooooo, and etc.oooooooos.It’s not about nipping in the bud any more…it’s excavating the roots and the contaminated soil  .Burn at the dump. And then filter the air with a shot of carbon dioxide to exterminate the vermin. The air we breathe be 20% oxygen, 100% pure freedom and liberty, and build it we must ourselves.