These days, everyone is dishing out advice to presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney regarding how he should tackle the task of selecting a running mate. Most pundits suggest he follow the conventional method of selecting a running mate based on her/his ability to deliver a critical state or vital demographic. However, in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Karl Rove, former senior advisor to President George W. Bush, advises Mitt Romney to forgo the traditional strategy and “choose the best person for the job.”
As Rove writes, the process of selecting a running mate is “one best made by asking about the skills, philosophy, outlook, work ethic and chemistry of a prospective running mate.” He further asks, “Do they have good judgment? Can they be counted on to give their unvarnished opinion? Are they loyal? Who can best help the president govern? In other words, set aside politics. Put governing first.”
Former Vice President Dick Cheney offered similar advice when he said “the single most important criteria has to be the capacity to be president.”
While I agree with the sage advice of both these men, I can’t help but ask why we even bother to offer any in the first place. For that matter, why do we elect the vice president these days anyway? Okay, yes, it’s in the Constitution. But the Constitution also says that the president and vice president are to be chosen separately. In practice, this is not the case.
Don’t get me wrong. I recognize why a presidential candidate’s selection of the VP is important to voters … in theory. As Rove and Cheney both note, it represents the candidate’s first presidential decision. It offers voters a small glimpse into the candidate’s judgment of character, and by extension, his ability to govern. But if that were really the case, why stop at the VP? If the electorate really wants better insight into the person it is choosing to lead the most powerful country in the world, why not demand the full cabinet, or at the very least, the candidate’s choice for secretary of state? I would argue, the holder of this office has far more responsibilities and duties than the acting vice president and still possesses a pretty decent spot in the line of succession.
Originally, the vice presidency was filled by the guy who came in second. Could it really be all that important if the Framers were willing to give it to the loser of the general election? I don’t mean to seem so dismissive of the vice presidency. I know that in the event of death or a resignation, the vice president is the one to take over the reins, and while such an event has only happened nine times in this nation’s history, there have been moments when having a capable leader assume the role was vitally important given certain events at the time (looking at you Truman). So naturally, we expect our president to be able to fill this position with a competent and qualified individual.
But still, at the end of the day, why do we get ourselves so worked up over the selection for an office that John Nance Garner, FDR’s first vice president, once described as "not worth a bucket of warm piss?"