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MARGARET WARNER: The Republicans have chosen their Presidential nominee, Sen. Robert Dole, far earlier than usual for the out-of-power party, and that has caused speculation about his possible running mate to start far earlier as well.
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: I’m so confident I’m going to declare right now that I am the nominee.
MARGARET WARNER: Even before Majority Leader Dole sewed up his party’s nomination last month, party prognosticators were speculating that retired Gen. Colin Powell would be an ideal vice presidential choice.
GEN. COLIN POWELL: I will remain in private life and seek other ways to serve.
MARGARET WARNER: But Powell declared he’s no more interested in running for vice president this year than he was in running for president. Another favorite of the pundits, New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, said she didn’t want the job either. Two weeks ago, Whitman telephoned Dole to say she’d rather remain governor for now. But Sen. Dole has many other options and categories to choose from. There are former rivals for the nomination like Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander. There are fellow Senators like Arizona Republican John McCain. The hottest speculation, however, centers on four popular Midwestern governors. They’ve all made names for themselves on education and welfare reform, and they’ve all won reelection by large margins. They are: Governor Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, Governor John Engler of Michigan, Ohio Governor George Voinovich, and Illinois Governor Jim Edgar. Senator Dole isn’t saying anything, not publicly at least. He hasn’t said what he’s looking for in a vice president. He hasn’t even said how he’ll go about choosing his running mate. Will he make his short list public, as Democrat Walter Mondale did in a series of candidate interviews in the summer of 1984? Or will he spring his choice on his advisers and the voters on the eve of the convention, as George Bush did in 1988? Here to talk about the history of selecting vice presidents are three NewsHour regulars: Presidential Historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Michael Beschloss, and Journalist and Author Haynes Johnson. They are joined tonight by Bill Kristol. He was chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle and is now editor and publisher of the “Weekly Standard.” Welcome, all of you. Michael, how traditionally historically have vice presidents been chosen?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, Presidential Historian: Well, originally the Constitution at the very beginning said that the vice president is the person who gets the second largest number of electoral votes. That was terrific with George Washington and John Adams, but as time went on, they began to see that this could cause some real problems. For instance, in our century, you could have had George McGovern serving as Richard Nixon’s vice president or George Bush serving as vice president to Bill Clinton, which is an experience, I think, he would not have enjoyed, so, therefore, in 1804, you had the 12th Amendment to the Constitution that said that you have separate ballots and parties began nominating tickets, but in a way it didn’t quite correct the problem because even inside a party you would have a presidential candidate choosing a vice-presidential candidate to unite the party perhaps of a different ideology and that would create situations such as 1850, Zachary Taylor died, his vice president, Millard Fillmore, succeeded, Fillmore was anti-slavery, and that caused the course of history to change and the death of Taylor was able to change the fate of the nation in a way that the founders I think would not have liked to see.
MARGARET WARNER: So when did the Presidential candidates, Haynes, start really hand-picking their own vice presidential running mates?
HAYNES JOHNSON, Journalist/Author: They’ve been doing it all this century. As a matter of fact, if you look back at the process, it is now, from what Michael says, it is now balancing the ticket. And supposedly, the office doesn’t mean much, which is not true. Nine times out of forty- one men who sat in the White House, we’ve had successions in the presidency, four killed and so forth. So it does matter who is picked, and the classic example, I think, in recent times is Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. You balance a ticket. You have strong rivals. You have Massachusetts, and you need the Southern state, in this case Texas. Kennedy would not have won had he not chosen in that smoke-filled room up in the hotel with Sam Rayburn and got the call that he picked Lyndon Johnson, who was his strongest rival, and they were bitter enemies too, but it balanced the ticket, and it made electoral politics work.
MARGARET WARNER: Doris, FDR, Franklin Roosevelt, wasn’t it 1940 that he really took a strong hand, himself, in choosing his own running mate? How did that happen?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, Presidential Historian: That’s right. In fact, up until 1940, even though the Presidents had a say in who their vice president would be, party leaders were so much more dominant that they could really choose how to balance a presidential and a vice- presidential ticket. For example, in ’32, they picked Garner as a balance for Roosevelt, but in 1940, Roosevelt absolutely wanted Henry Wallace as his vice president. The party leader absolutely did not want him, and Roosevelt was so clear about it that he said he would not accept the Presidential nomination unless Wallace were made vice president. So he forced that choice on the convention. And from that point on, that was really a President taking complete control of the process. It has been hand picked. And I agree with Haynes. I think the one huge example of where we can’t say the vice presidency doesn’t matter is Lyndon Johnson in 1960. He had that great whistle stop tour through Dixie where he had “Yellow Rose of Texas” blaring from the end of the train and it was called by the reporters the “Corn Pone Special.” But it made a difference. In fact, when I knew Johnson, he used to love to replay the videos of his train trip through the South and say, “I won that election for John F. Kennedy.”
HAYNES JOHNSON: He did.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: That he did.
MARGARET WARNER: Bill Kristol, are there other examples where the vice presidential choice made a difference positively or negatively?
WILLIAM KRISTOL, The Weekly Standard: Well, there may be at some point in this century. I, I actually think 1960 is the exception that proves the rule that the vice presidential choice does not actually matter much usually in an election. I mean, I have an interest in promoting the importance of the vice presidency. I worked for a vice president for, for four years, but, you know, Dan Quayle ran a miserable vice presidential campaign in 1988, and was the subject perhaps also of some bad luck and all that. Bush won easily. Quayle ran a pretty good vice presidential campaign in ’92; Bush lost badly. It’s pretty hard to make the case if the vice president made a difference I think in the fate of the ticket, with the probable exception in 1960.
MARGARET WARNER: Michael.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: I think another exception might be 1976. Gerald Ford lost that election very narrowly, but if you talk to Ford today, he makes the point that Bob Dole helped him in farm states in which Gerald Ford was weak, and I think if Ford had won that year and it was very close, we might look back, oddly enough, at 1976 as a case where the vice president might have made a difference.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think, though, it made a difference any other way, Haynes? Do you think, as some believe, Dole actually hurt Ford?
HAYNES JOHNSON: Yes, I do think so. I remember, Doris was recalling her experience with Lyndon Johnson, and I remember being on a debate with Vice Presidential Candidate Dole when he got very bitter and talked about Democratic wars, and I think that really hurt, and, and it created an impression that lasts to this day that he is trying to disamuse himself with, too angry, too hot, bitter.
BILL KRISTOL: Democrat wars.
HAYNES JOHNSON: Democrat, oh, yes.
BILL KRISTOL: Bob Dole never says Democratic.
HAYNES JOHNSON: Forgive me, please.
MARGARET WARNER: That was a mistake, right?
BILL KRISTOL: He uses that line–particularly effective–
HAYNES JOHNSON: Excuse me. They were Democrat wars.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Although Ford insists today that he helped him so much in the farm states that that even outweighed that.
MARGARET WARNER: Really? So, Doris, what historically again have been the criteria by which these Presidential candidates choose them, and are they changing? Have they changed at all?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, I think historically always the Presidents are going to say the main criteria I look at is someone who can succeed me in the Presidency, I want someone qualified to step into this office on day one. They always say that, and they hardly ever mean it. The main thing they’re looking for is who’s going to help me get elected, and I think that has shifted somewhat over time. In the past, region, ideology, sort of factional parts of the party were the things that were most important, and I think in today’s media age, that’s less important. You never would have had a small state candidate like Muskie chosen as vice president until the media made him a national figure, so you could afford to have that kind of choice, and now with so much attention on the character of the Presidency, it seems that we look for qualities, does this person have foreign policy experience, does this person have patriotic appeal, is this person a hero, and how will he balance out the sort of missing parts of the character of the Presidency because of the way we hone in on that? So I think it’s always going to be what that candidate thinks is going to make him win the election, and then he’ll worry about who’s going to succeed him after he’s dead, he’s buried. He doesn’t have to worry about it.
MARGARET WARNER: You’re nodding, Haynes.
HAYNES JOHNSON: Well, no, I was thinking the other side of this, we haven’t talked about it, and that’s the attempt to reach out, have a breathtakingly different kind of choice, that the public say wow, that’s great. Geraldine Ferraro was an example of that. The expectation cynically or internally was that this would solidify the “woman” vote, as if there is a monolithic vote, which there is not, and, and it didn’t work, so that doesn’t always play. You had the same thing with Mr. Powell, Gen. Powell this year. Bill can speak to that very well, that a black man could unify America, and maybe that’s right, but we’ll see.
MARGARET WARNER: We never got a chance to see.
BILL KRISTOL: Well, we may get a chance to see. Who knows? But Powell is very unusual in the sense that he actually in polls moves 4, or 5, 6 percentage points from Clinton to Dole apparently. Now, maybe that won’t hold up in a real campaign, but it’s the only instance I know of where any person added to a ticket moves any significant number of national votes.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, do you think the criteria have shifted significantly, and what–as Doris was saying? I mean, the television age, it’s changed the criteria.
BILL KRISTOL: Well, it has, though there may be a mistake in a way. The Presidents– Presidential candidates may be over-thinking this, because when you really look hard at data, this–the implications are that the one thing a vice-presidential candidate can do is perhaps bring you a state. Johnson helped not because he was some wonderful national figure, but because he brought Texas, and maybe he helped in the South in general. And obviously, Dole is going to be thinking hard about that this year. There’s a case for someone like John McCain, because he’s a war hero, and it gives you a character issue against Clinton and all that, but I think most political pros at least would say, well, that’s all very nice in theory, but there’s really no evidence that the VP candidate moves votes nationally. What you can do is perhaps get a governor who’s popular in his state and move a couple of percentage points in a big swing state. So I think for all the talk, I mean, Muskie was a sort of good pick, the press loved it, didn’t help in 1968 much. In fact, all the kind of unusual picks, Ferraro in ’84, it didn’t help at all, and there really is a case for making a more conventional pick, I suspect.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: In fact, if I could add, I remember Lyndon Johnson analyzing that ’68 election, and he said if Humphrey had chosen somebody from a big state, given how close the election was, he might have won the election, that it was a mistake to go for someone without that electoral pull. On the other hand, Earl Warren, the most popular governor of California in 1948 was chosen by Dewey, and they still didn’t win. So you can never really be sure the guy’s going to carry your state.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, if you look at 1992, Bill Clinton, small state Southern governor, chose Al Gore, same age, same region, same gender, same race. I mean, how do you explain that, Michael?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: It strengthened Clinton in the–it showed that he was willing to pick someone who was of similar stature in his party and I think brought more stature to that ticket than if he had chosen perhaps some much more junior figure. I think another thing of the Clinton-Gore– that Clinton’s selection of Gore suggests is, is that Presidents are a little bit more sensitive nowadays to the fact that many vice presidents become President, and they’re very sensitive to the fact, I think, that if you have a vice president who disagrees a lot with the Presidential candidate, that can suggest that you can have a situation like 1850, or as Doris was suggesting 1944. If Henry Wallace had been renominated for vice president and been elected in ’44, Wallace would have been President at the beginning of the Cold War. Wallace was not terribly anti-Soviet. The whole history of the world could have been very different. That’s one reason why a President or Presidential candidate should pay an awful lot of attention to the fact that if his vice president succeeds, there should be some consistency in policy.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, it’s often said that this choice is the first big choice that the country watches the Presidential candidate make, but Haynes, doesn’t it–I mean, historically, hasn’t it revealed a lot, do you think, who, whom they choose, has it revealed a lot about the Presidential candidates, or not?
HAYNES JOHNSON: As we said here, the choice usually doesn’t matter that much in terms of the election. It certainly matters in terms of history. Harry Truman as President is a historic figure now. The fact that he happened to be picked the way he was made a difference. Lyndon Johnson certainly made a difference in terms of for better or worse in that terrible decade of the ’60s, for great and other terrible reasons. So I think it can, but it doesn’t really matter for the electorate, as much as maybe it should.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: But on the other hand, I think you do see the way a person makes a choice. For example, when McGovern chose Eagleton and then the whole problem came out with Eagleton having submitted to shock tests and then McGovern said I’d back him 1000 percent and then he said, well, no, I guess he’s not going to be my vice-presidential choice, that first big decision that McGovern made as potential President was incoherent, was chaotic, and then was indecisive, and I think it showed that you had to be worried about him, not only about his vice-presidential choice.
HAYNES JOHNSON: Let me just–
BILL KRISTOL: Doris is right on that. I think in ’84 Mondale was hurt badly by the appearance of tailoring to all the interest groups and then picking–
HAYNES JOHNSON: That’s right.
BILL KRISTOL: –Ferraro, and I think one thing that helped Clinton a lot in ’92, and I remember this since I was working for Quayle at the time, it was less the pick of Gore, although he was regarded as a substantial guy and all that, but the way it was done. It was rolled out beautifully the Thursday before the convention, very nice photos. They went into the convention with some momentum, some press interest. It was just, it was sort of well managed, and one had the sense, especially after Clinton’s incredibly rocky primary campaign, that this was sort of a professional, mature operation. And I do think that sort of spills over in a hard to define way into people’s image of the candidate, himself.
MARGARET WARNER: That’s interesting. So if you were following that sort of model or blueprint just in terms of what it says about the candidate, how should Bob Dole handle this, not who should he choose, but how do you think he should handle it?
BILL KRISTOL: Well, I just think you have a pretty good model in 1992. It seems to work well to not let it go till the actual convention and the chaos of the convention, which was the Bush- Quayle choice in ’88, or the McGovern-Eagleton, you know, et cetera, choice, Sgt. Shriver– choice in ’72. I think you do want to do it ahead of the convention. I think the choice Dole faces, given that he may be sort of dead in the water for the next three months, no news, messy legislative agenda that he’s stuck with on Capitol Hill, will he want to make the choice even earlier than a week before the convention to try to frame the general election debate even earlier, but I do think the one thing we learned probably from ’88 is don’t want till the actual convention week.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: I might say we have even on the NewsHour lamented a lot this very front- loaded primary system, and it had a lot of defects. One very good thing is that we may for the first time have this great breathing space in which a Presidential candidate, Bob Dole, can take the proper amount of time to do this in the kind of way that Bill is suggesting.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, you know, the interesting thing is that in the past it seems that the Democrats learned from the Eagleton fiasco that they would make the selection a rather open process. From every point there on the Democrats have had extensive background checks. They’ve had the candidates come in for public interviews with the nominee of the Presidency, whereas, the Republicans have said and Bush himself said it’s a demeaning thing to do that, I don’t want to bring people to see me in Kennebunkport, and then have to turn them away if I don’t choose them. But I think Dole would be well advised to, to listen to what had happened to the Democrats. And I hear what Bill’s saying, and I think it’ll just show a more professional and a willingness to say this is a really critical decision.
HAYNES JOHNSON: Yeah. And I think the public–I think what Doris and Bill are both saying makes a difference in the impression that the public forms about how this person is presiding over his responsibility of being President of the United States, and that, that’s an impression, and it’s the way it’s done. You shouldn’t play games with it. I think that’s the lesson.
BILL KRISTOL: Well, and with Dole not to be, you know, to put one’s finger on a sore point there, he is 72, will soon be 73 years old, and I–
HAYNES JOHNSON: Right.
BILL KRISTOL: –do think, therefore, the attention–normally it’s just a courtesy, oh, he may succeed the President, and, of course, terrible things happen, assassinations, what not, but most of the time one assumes, no, that won’t happen. One obviously hopes if Dole is elected, he’ll serve out his one or two terms, and the odds are that he will, but I think with a 73 year old running for President, there really will be an interest in the vice-presidential selection different than there was in all the previous cases we’ve discussed.
MARGARET WARNER: Great. Thank you all very much.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Thank you.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Thank you.