Ten Miles Square


January 03, 2012 8:38 AM A Great Year to be the GOP Vice-Presidential Candidate

By Keith Humphreys

The Economist describes the current GOP field (save Huntsman) as a “rum list” of candidates. Typical of a left-wing rag to be so partisan, but who could argue? This situation will however make the VP spot on the Republican ticket much more attractive to rising GOP stars and the race for the veep candidacy that much more interesting.

The Republican presidential candidates (again, other than Huntsman) benefit from comparisons only to the second-tier and third-tier politicians against whom they are currently running for the nomination. Since Huntsman is not going to win, that means whoever gets the Republican VP slot will instantly become the un-Dan Quayle, i.e., the VP candidate who looks more substantive, mature and impressive than the fellow with whom he shares the ticket. If you are Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rob Portman, John Thune, Mitch Daniels or any of the other A-listers who took a pass this year, the VP slot provides an opportunity to raise your national profile while inevitably making many people in the party mutter “How I wish we could flip the order on this thing”.

In the role of VP candidate who outshines the presidential candidate, losing is almost as good as winning. People don’t typically blame the VP candidate for an election loss, so presuming even modestly competent performance, the GOP veep candidate who loses in 2012 is in excellent position to run for the top slot in 2016. And if you win, you win. You have to be vice-president for 4 or 8 years, but public service always involves sacrifice, and you are still well positioned for a future presidential run.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine.


  • rayspace on January 04, 2012 12:21 AM:

    Keith, your comment cries out for data. What you're arguing is that a losing non-incumbent V.P. candidate will become a viable presidential candidate in '16.

    Let's choose 1960 as our starting point. That's 13 presidential elections and 13 losing V.P. candidates. Let's eliminate the V.Ps. who lost re-election, since they were likely to run for the presidency whether they won or lost. That takes out 2 (Mondale and Quayle).

    Of the 11 remaining non-incumbent V.P. nominees who lost, only 5 have run in the next election for President (Muskie, Shriver, Dole, Lieberman, and Edwards). The other 6 (Lodge, Miller, Ferraro, Bentsen, Kemp, and Palin) opted out. The chances that a losing GOP V.P. candidate in 2012 runs in 2016 is actually closer to a coin flip, rather than a certainty.

  • Anonymous on January 04, 2012 7:49 AM:

    Hello Rayspace,

    Thanks for the comment. You are falling prey to the "base rate" problem by arguing that a 5 in 11 shot at a serious presidential run is a poor chance -- in fact it is an amazing one if you specify any basis of comparison, see below



  • Okie on January 04, 2012 10:48 AM:

    Being a losing VP candidate definitely gives someone a leg up for the next presidential nomination.

    Take Sarah Palin - please!

  • Rich on January 04, 2012 11:59 AM:

    VP candidacy may provide a leg-up, but they still have to prove themselves. Palin is a good example of someone who failed the test. Moreover, it seems like her time as a bankable reality star may be dimming (ditto ex-son-in-law Levi).

    Keith---The 5/11 = no better than a coin toss is probably a less fallacious base rate prediction than the ones you identify in your link, which rely on much rarer events and easily affirm the null. the vice presidency is less of a particularist occurrence than being from a particular state.

    Historically, we've had a lot of hackish GOP VP candidates from Indiana, which would give the nod to Mitch Daniels.

  • TCinLA on January 04, 2012 12:33 PM:

    Once again, your "analysis" proves the worthiness of academic tenure, since that is the only thing that that stands between you and life in a cardboard box under a freeway overpass. What an idiot you are, but then "psychology" is usually where the otherwise-unemployables end up in Acadamania. How the Washington Monthly keeps wasting kilobytes on your ignorance is beyond me.

    If your thesis held any water at all, you would see those "top tier" VP candidates making themselves available. There will not be anyone who would have any viability in 2016 who would want any part of the trainwreck of 2012. This is the same reason no real "top-tier Republican" (assuming there are any left in the Party of Publick Nitwittery) are running for President in 2012.

    Go back to analyzing why people suck their thumbs, it's what you're good at.

  • aznew on January 04, 2012 4:19 PM:

    Also, assuming rayspace's data is correct, of the total 13 losing VP candidates (including Mondale and Quale), precisely, uh, zero have become president.

    In fact, only 2 (Mondale and Dole) have even won their party's nomination, and both got crushed in the general.

    Given that, I am not sure where this assessment comes from: "[T]he GOP veep candidate who loses in 2012 is in excellent position to run for the top slot in 2016." He would seem to be in anything but.

    Actually being VP is a decent platform from which to run for President (GHW Bush in 1988, Gore in 2000, who won the election but lost the SCOTUS case, and even Nixon in 1960, who came ever so close), but why on Earth would any candidate who wants a future in national politics want a slot on a losing ticket?

  • Wyatt on January 05, 2012 1:30 AM:

    Despite your unnecessarily vitriolic style I feel compelled to address your point. The reason that Daniels, Rubio, Christie et al aren't clamoring for the nomination is that it's a very unseemly thing to be witnessed doing. Have you ever watched a politician publicly opine that they would make a great VP? I urge you to find a video recording of any non-VP ever actually expressing a desire to be VP--or Vice Anything, for that matter.