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April 05, 2012 8:00 AM Veepstakes and Experience (A Cautionary Tale)

By Jonathan Bernstein

Josh Kraushaar was getting into it on twitter just now, saying that “Rest assured there will be a lot of veepstakes talk, in large part because the GOP’s VP bench is so deep.” To which I replied that he has the causation wrong; because there will be lots of Veepstakes talk over the next few months, which is caused simply by the vacuum between nomination news and the general election campaign, the Veepstakes talkers will need plenty of people to talk about. And thus a deep bench.

After all, there are always far more plausible VPs than there are plausible presidents (and almost have to be, since all plausible presidents are plausible VPs.

Anyway, Kraushaar also noted, “Striking how many of the VP candidates are part of the class of 2010, back when the GOP got its groove back.” He may be right that Romney will seriously consider one or more of the class of 2010, and he’s certainly right that Veepstakes observers, myself included, will mention one or more of that group, so I have no dispute with that one.

If Romney were asking me, however, I’d certainly be advising extra caution. Extreme extra caution. In the postwar era, only a handful of VP selections had even close to as little experience as most members of the GOP class of 2010 have.

If we combine time in the Senate, House, cabinet position, or as Governor, the least experienced in the postwar era were (not counting Earl Warren, who would be tied for 4th by being in his sixth year but breaks the tie by being re-elected to statewide office…or, you know, include him if you would like):

6. John Edwards, 2004, one almost-full Senate term at that point. Worked out fine that year. Exploded in scandal four years later.

5. Gerry Ferraro, 1984, in her sixth year in the House. Scandal-marred VP run.

4. Richard Nixon, 1952, after two full House terms and in his second year in the Senate. Scandal-marred VP run, very close to getting dumped from the ticket.

3. Tom Eagleton, 1972, in his fourth year in the Senate (previously had held statewide office including Lt. Gov.). Scandal, bounced off the ticket. Wound up, by the way, having a long, well-respected career in the Senate.

Which leaves the two with the least experience:

2. Sarah Palin, 2008, in her second year as Governor. Well, that didn’t work out all that well.

And the champion?

1. Spiro Agnew, 1968, in his second year as Governor — but took office about six weeks after Palin did, so even less experienced on this scale. Did not end up in jail.

That’s the list. Hey, Mitt Romney: don’t say you weren’t warned.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.

Comments

  • TR on April 05, 2012 3:33 PM:

    Spiro Agnew, 1968, in his second year as Governor but took office about six weeks after Palin did, so even less experienced on this scale. Did not end up in jail.

    No jail thanks to a plea bargain, but wound up resigning from the VP spot.

  • Bo on April 05, 2012 3:46 PM:

    I am surprised that Danny Quayle didn't make your list. Maybe he had more experience than those noted . . . but it was all useless. In the end, he was still a dumb little toady.

  • threegoal on April 05, 2012 4:39 PM:

    Please tell me that Dan Quayle was seventh!

  • TR on April 06, 2012 9:50 AM:

    Quayle was certainly the dumbest VP we've ever had, but by the standard of length of political experience, he doesn't crack the top six here.

    Quayle was first elected to the House in 1976, then the Senate in 1980. So by the time he was tapped to run as GHWB's vice president, he had 12 years in Congress -- twice as much as Edwards has at #6.

  • coldhotel on April 06, 2012 2:46 PM:

    This points to one of my persistent probelms with the Presidency: we tend to nominate people who are short on experience and long on compelling personal narrative.

  • Gene O'Grady on April 06, 2012 8:16 PM:

    Even I am not quite old enough to remember, but I think Earl Warren's executive level experience in Alameda County before he became governor should count for something too.

  • Shokai on April 07, 2012 9:41 AM:

    If he picks this guy, he's got the election sealed: http://youtu.be/fXrrDsiSzKA