4 Intriguing Possibilities From Past VP Shortlists
Until Mitt Romney names his running mate, you're going to be hearing a lot about potential vice presidents. Here are four interesting names that came up in VP discussions during past campaigns.
1. Eleanor Roosevelt, with Harry Truman (1948)
Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been elected to four terms when he passed away in 1945 and left the office to Harry Truman. When Truman ran to keep the job a few years later, the public was already clamoring to see if he’d consider the ubiquitous Mrs. Roosevelt as a running mate. “Why of course, of course,” he replied, “What do you expect me to say to that?”
In 1947, the North Dakota State Democratic Central Committee passed a resolution endorsing a Democratic ticket of Truman and Mrs. Roosevelt, but she later denied ever considering the job, saying, “The simple truth is that I have had my fill of public life of the more or less stereotyped kind.” The spot eventually went to 71-year-old Alben Barkley, who was an energetic and rousing speaker despite being the oldest VP. Barkley was armed with an endless supply of folksy quips like this one: “A good story is like fine Kentucky bourbon. It improves with age and, if you don’t use it too much, it will never hurt anyone.”
2. Clint Eastwood, with George H.W. Bush (1988)
As lasting as the Bush legacy turned out to be, Bush Sr.’s 1988 election didn’t always seem so rosy. At one point Bush was 18 points behind, and campaign chairman James Baker (later Secretary of State) knew they needed a shot in the arm. “We were way behind. Honestly, [Clint Eastwood] was suggested in not an altogether unserious – Well, he was a mayor. He was a Republican mayor.”
Indeed, one of Hollywood’s biggest badasses had recently made his foray into politics, quietly presiding over the sleepy art community of Carmel-by-the-Sea. He later said he knew nothing of his brush with Veepdom, but admitted, “I would have said, ‘I want to be the first part of the ticket…why would I want to play a supporting role?’”
3. Former President Gerald Ford, with Ronald Reagan (1980)
When Ronald Reagan started his 1980 bid for the presidency, he really wanted to be taken seriously. One such serious presidential-type decision he’d have to make: who to name as his running mate. After considering expert advice, the Gipper narrowed it down to three veteran politicians: Howard “The Great Conciliator” Baker, George H.W. Bush (SPOILER ALERT), and former President Gerald Ford.
What could be more presidential than a guy who’d already been President? Ford allegedly agreed to run, but only if he would be given such vastly expanded power as vice president that he and Reagan would form a team of de facto “co-presidents.” The idea didn’t sit well with Reagan’s advisers, but Ford had a pretty strong team to make his case. Ford’s representatives in these negotiations included Henry Kissinger, Alan Greenspan, and Dick Cheney, who had been Ford’s White House Chief of Staff. Ford’s team allegedly wanted a heavy say on foreign policy matters; rumors later emerged that Kissinger would have become Secretary of State in the co-presidents’ cabinets.
Excitement about the so-called “dream ticket” spread like pork barrel spending among the political ranks, going so far as to reach Walter Cronkite, who couldn’t resist breaking the story, despite the fact that Reagan was already leaning towards Bush.
4. Donald Rumsfeld, with Gerald Ford (1976)
Though no one can deny the vastness of Donald Rumsfeld’s political clout, there was a time when he was a breath away from being a breath away from being the leader of the free world. In 1974, Gerald Ford had Rumsfeld on his short list for the vice presidential ticket before going with Nelson Rockefeller, son of a powerful Senator and, you know, a Rockefeller. Ford named Rumsfeld chief of staff instead, and he wasted no time proving that his job was more important than that of the uppity Rockefeller.
When Ford ousted Rockefeller for his re-election campaign, Rockefeller blamed Rumsfeld for poisoning the well. Really, Ford was reportedly tired of Rockefeller’s ambitious attempts at a “co-presidency.” The second time around, Rumsfeld was again short-listed and again dropped, this time to the considerably more relatable Senator Bob Dole. (Remember Bob Dole? Bob Dole remembers Bob Dole.) Maybe it was for the best, though; Rummy’s one-time rival, Rockefeller has since been quoted as saying, “I’ve known all the Vice Presidents since Henry Wallace. They were all frustrated, and some were pretty bitter.”
BONUS: 2 Who Actually Joined the Ticket
Gen. Curtis LeMay, with George Wallace (in 1968)
George Wallace’s political career was riddled with disappointment, including but not limited to four unsuccessful bids for the presidency, the last of which ended with an assassination attempt that left him paralyzed.
During the 1968 election, Wallace went a little rogue; he decided to forgo his usual Democratic alignment and run on the American Independent ticket, and chose for his running mate a decorated WWII hero named General Curtis LeMay. LeMay was a notoriously vocal advocate of nuclear armament, and he coined a now familiar phrase within his policy on the Vietnam War: “My solution to the problem [of North Vietnam] would be to tell them frankly that they’ve got to draw in their horns and stop their aggression, or we’re going to bomb them back into the Stone Age.” (He later insisted that he wasn’t advocating they nuke the Vietnamese per se, he just wanted them to know that the U.S. was capable of it.)
Following the release of Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, the media frequently and gleefully compared LeMay to the film’s most inflammatory characters: General Jack T. Ripper (played by Sterling Hayden), a paranoid, cigar-chomping psychopath who sets off a nuclear doomsday machine, and General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) a blindly patriotic, commie-hating hawk who shoots first and asks questions later. The comparisons didn't help LeMay’s political career or the ticket. Wallace/LeMay finished a distant third with 46 electoral votes.
Thomas Eagleton, with George McGovern (1972)
Thomas Eagleton was the first term Missouri Senator who ran alongside George McGovern on the 1972 Democratic ticket for 18 days. Eagleton wasn’t the campaign’s first choice; McGovern had been holding out for Teddy Kennedy, and settled for Eagleton at the last minute when it became clear Kennedy had other plans.
In their haste, campaign advisors took Eagleton’s word for it that he had nothing in his past they should know about. But newspapers soon began to report on his mental health history. He had been thrice hospitalized for depression, and had twice undergone electroshock therapy. In the scramble, McGovern rebutted that he was “1,000 percent for Tom Eagleton,” only to ask Eagleton to withdraw soon after. Nixon cruised to a second term, and the event set a new precedent for the candidate vetting process—all subsequent candidate background questionnaires have included detailed sections on psychiatric care.