Do Running Mates Matter?

Authors Christopher J. Devine and Kyle C. Kopko have focused their careers on studying the Vice Presidency, and have published the first detailed study on what, if any, impact a running mate has in a Presidential election. With Joe Biden set to announce his running mate, we’re happy to share the introduction to Devine and Kopko’s Do Running Mates Matter; The Influence of Vice Presidential Candidates in Presidential Elections.

In January 2015, there were no declared candidates for the next presidential election. It was just too early. Yet the veepstakes already had begun. Rumor had it that Ohio’s senior US senator, Sherrod Brown, was a leading contender for the Democratic vice presidential nomination. On paper, he was the perfect running mate: an experienced, two-term senator from a key battleground state, a vigorous campaigner, and a bona fide progressive who also could appeal to blue-collar swing voters. Many Democrats wanted Brown to run for president, in fact. But, like so many other credible candidates who doubted that Hillary Clinton could be defeated for the party’s nomination, he declined. So, speculation shifted to the next best thing: a slot on the presidential ticket, as Clinton’s running mate. There was one problem: Brown didn’t want it. Not at all. In his words: “I have zero interest in being vice president” (Terris 2015).

Who Wants to be the Vice President?

Brown’s proclaimed disinterest in serving as vice president was not surprising. Throughout US history, the vice presidency has been derided as a dead-end job for ambitious politicians whose talents are spent on helping the presidential candidate to get elected rather than helping the president to govern once in office. In the words of one former vice president, Walter Mondale, “The office is handmade for ridicule and for dismissal. In the nature of it, you always look like a supplicant, a beggar, a person on a string” (Woodward and Broder 1992, 196).

Vice Presidential Power(lessness)

The vice presidency owes its unenviable reputation—notwithstanding many informal expansions of power since the 1970s (see Goldstein 2016)—to its institutional design. Indeed, the US Constitution grants few formal powers to the vice president. These include, first, presiding over the US Senate (a power that Harry Truman’s vice president, Alben Barkley, last exercised with regularity; see Goldstein 2016, 22); second, casting tie-breaking votes in that body (rarely); third, in the presence of the US House and Senate, opening the sealed certificates containing each state’s votes in the Electoral College, and then overseeing the electoral vote count; fourth, and most important, assuming the office of president of the United States upon the president’s death (eight times in US history), resignation (once), removal from office, or incapacitation, and when a presidential election remains unresolved at the time that a new presidential term is scheduled to begin.

Dismissing the Vice Presidency

No one has been more critical of the vice presidency, or so eager to make jokes at its expense, than the vice presidents themselves. Take, for example, John Nance Garner’s dismissal of the vice presidency as being “not worth a bucket of warm spit”—or the favorite tale of several vice presidents, including Thomas Marshall (Milkis and Nelson 2011, 486), Alben Barkley (Smith 2008, 177–178), and Hubert Humphrey (Unger and Unger 1999, 255): “A mother has two sons; one goes off to sea, the other becomes vice president. Neither is heard from again.”

The first vice president, John Adams, famously called it “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.” Lyndon Johnson, who served for nearly three years as John Kennedy’s vice president, said of his tenure: “I detested every minute of it” (Baker 2013, 60). Gerald Ford, who briefly served as Richard Nixon’s vice president, reportedly described this as “the worst eight months of [my] life” (60). And Nelson Rockefeller, who was nominated and confirmed to the office following Ford’s succession to the presidency, often referred to the vice president as mere “standby equipment.” He explained: “I did not want to be Vice President. I’m a doer by nature, an activist. And I always felt, and I told Dick Nixon that in 1960 when he asked me to [be his running mate, allegedly], that it was standby equipment and I just wasn’t cut out for it.” Rockefeller added: “I’ve known all the Vice Presidents since Henry Wallace. They were all frustrated, and some of them were pretty bitter.”8 Dick Cheney, one of Rockefeller’s successors, later would concur: “I’d never met a vice president who was happy.”

Conflicted?

Yet many of the same vice presidents and potential running mates who have dismissed the office as ridiculous at other times have betrayed a more conflicted—or, at least, a more nuanced—view of the vice presidency. In a follow-up interview to the one excerpted earlier, Nelson Rockefeller offered a very different assessment of the office:

“I totally disagree with John Nance Gardner [sic]. I think the office is a very important one, depending on the relation between the President and the Vice President and at least during the first 2/3rds–3/4ths of the time I was Vice President I’ve never been busier—heading commissions, undertaking special projects for the President and traveling at home and abroad. It’s a very useful function in terms of both ceremonial activities that relieve the President and which are interesting and important, plus, depending on the experience of the individual, the opportunity to use that experience to undertake assignments for the President.”

Dick Cheney, who initially resisted entreaties to run alongside George W. Bush in 2000, and bluntly recalled the unhappy fate of previous vice presidents, nonetheless said at the end of his two terms in the office: “I don’t regret it for a minute. It’s been a tremendous experience” (Malcolm 2008).

And then there is John McCain. After failing to win the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 2000, McCain brushed off speculation that he would join the ticket as George W. Bush’s running mate. “The vice president has two duties,” he scoffed. “One is to enquire daily as to the health of the president, and the other is to attend the funerals of third world dictators. And neither of those do I find an enjoyable exercise.” Four years later, amid speculation that John Kerry would ask him to run for vice president on the Democratic ticket, McCain joked: “I spent seven years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, in the dark, fed with scraps. Do you think I want to do that all over again as vice president of the United States?” (Halbfinger 2004).

Yet in 1996, when Bob Dole reportedly weighed selecting him for the Republican ticket, McCain expressed a more sober, reverential view of the vice presidency. “John Nance Garner described the office as not being worth a bucket of warm spit, but I hold the office in higher regard than that,” McCain said. “It is certainly prestigious and would be a wonderful opportunity for some” (Pittman 1996). Then, in 2008, while once more—and this time successfully—seeking the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, McCain said in a debate that “the vice president of the United States is a key and important issue, and must add [sic] in carrying out the responsibilities of the President of the United States.”

Playing the Vice Presidential Game

It is a good indication of the vice presidency’s actual value that—jokes and public disavowals of interest notwithstanding—plenty of qualified individuals are willing to be selected as the running mate and undergo an intensive vetting process for that purpose. In fact, many ambitious politicians actively lobby for their selection, behind the scenes.

Take Dan Quayle, for example. George H. W. Bush’s decision to name Quayle as his running mate in 1988 came as a shock to nearly everyone, including many Bush campaign staffers. But Quayle had been plotting, along with two of his top Senate aides, to secure a slot on the Republican ticket since the day after Bush won New Hampshire’s Republican presidential primary, six months earlier (Woodward and Broder 1992, 15). This “sub rosa campaign” was designed to raise Quayle’s profile nationally, and with Bush in particular. In early 1988, Quayle began delivering more speeches in the Senate, issuing more press releases, and writing more newspaper op-eds, particularly on issues of national defense, than at any point during his previous seven years in office. Quayle also tried to make himself more visible to Bush and his inner circle by increasing contact with senior campaign advisers, more regularly visiting the vice president’s office in the US Senate, and taking a more vocal role at the weekly Senate Republican lunches that Bush attended, as vice president. To anyone witnessing these efforts, Quayle’s intentions were clear. As one Republican Senate colleague, William Cohen of Maine, said: “It looked like there was a game plan to get Bush’s attention because Quayle thought he had a shot [at being chosen as Bush’s running mate].”

Yet Quayle would not readily acknowledge his campaigning for the vice presidential nomination, even four years later while serving as vice president. He did so only reluctantly, after Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and David Broder presented Quayle with irrefutable evidence of his efforts. Why play coy? Because, Quayle acknowledged, “You don’t run for vice president.” Rather, to avoid the stigma of failure if passed over—and, probably, to avoid alienating the presidential candidate by seeming overly ambitious—“you keep expectations down and do things as quietly and subtly as possible” (Woodward and Broder 1992, 15–16).

In fact, Quayle had designs on the vice presidency ever since being elected to Congress in 1976, at the age of twenty-nine. At that time, he explained in a 2002 interview, “Obviously you’re thinking about running for President or Vice President. It’s there.” But, he cautioned, “You don’t do it overtly. It’s something you have in the back of your mind and you set out a path to do it.” Quayle followed that path to the US Senate, from where, he observed, most recent vice presidents had come. He described this as a “stepping-stone” to the vice presidency, and ultimately the presidency. “I was positioning myself to eventually run for President,” Quayle explained. “Now, obviously, the Vice Presidency was a stepping-stone to that. I mean, that’s why people want to be Vice President [emphasis added].”

Joe Lieberman also wanted to be vice president, in 2000—but he, too, could not say so. “You’re not supposed to campaign for the vice presidential nomination,” he explained later. “You can’t even acknowledge that you are under consideration for it” (Lieberman and Lieberman 2003,). When Al Gore’s campaign asked to vet Lieberman for the nomination that year—a process so invasive that Lieberman likened it to “a colonoscopy without anesthesia” —the prospective running mate consented and then, with the help of a close friend, “developed a strategy not simply for surviving the vetting, but for pursuing the nomination.” That strategy included “reach[ing] out, in a very discreet way, to a very few people who we thought might be talking to Gore about this selection,” as well as key constituency groups within the Democratic Party. In all cases, “These contacts were to be made subtly, quietly.”

Lieberman also sought out advice from Chris Dodd, a fellow senator from Connecticut and his most trusted colleague. Dodd counseled, “You should make sure you do everything you can so you will never look back to this time and say, ‘If I had done just one more thing, I might have been the vice presidential nominee.’” But, Dodd acknowledged, “Of course I understand that you can’t go out and campaign for it” (Lieberman and Lieberman 2003, 14).

Even after being selected, Lieberman would disclaim any ambition to the vice presidency. Wondrously, he recalled someone telling him, “This is like the ministry. You’re called to the ministry, you don’t seek it” (Barstow with Seelye 2000). But, of course, Lieberman had sought the vice presidential nomination—enthusiastically and methodically. He wanted to be the vice president. He just could not say so publicly at that time.

Quayle and Lieberman are only two examples, but they illustrate what seems to be a well-known strategy among politicians aspiring to the vice presidency: publicly deny that you are interested—better yet, laugh off the idea as ridiculous—all the while privately working with associates and campaign contacts to cultivate interest in your candidacy. Then, after the selection is made and the election is over, you can publicly admit it: yes, of course, I wanted to be the vice president. I really wanted it, in fact.

And that brings us back to Sherrod Brown.

Zero Interest?

In July 2017, Sherrod Brown gave another interview to Ben Terris, the Washington Post reporter to whom he had protested two-and-a-half years earlier: “I have zero interest in being vice president.” A lot had changed since that time. In the summer of 2016—despite reiterating that April, “I’ve made it clear [that] I don’t really want the job” (Raju and Schleifer 2016)—Brown agreed to be considered for selection as Hillary Clinton’s running mate. He even participated in a vetting process that Connie Schultz—his wife, and a Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist—described as “excruciating.” Brown was a finalist for selection; in fact, according to two highly placed sources, he was the first runner-up to Virginia senator Tim Kaine, whom Clinton selected only after initially favoring Brown (Terris 2017; but see, e.g., Allen and Parnes 2017; Baumgartner 2016). Perhaps the biggest strike against Brown was that, if elected, his replacement in the closely divided US Senate would be appointed by Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich.

For a man who had expressed “zero interest in the vice presidency,” being passed over for the position should have come as a relief. But Brown was disappointed—devastated, in fact. “By the end,” he admitted, “I really wanted it.” Brown wanted it so badly that he envisioned, in Terris’s words, “liv[ing] out of a bus” and barnstorming across the Midwest throughout the fall campaign. Might this have changed the election’s outcome? In Terris’s article—titled “Sherrod Brown Thinks He Could Have Helped Democrats Win in 2016. But What about 2020?”—Brown answered cautiously: “I don’t pretend that my being on the ticket would have made [Clinton] win. I don’t know. I mean, if I had gone to Wisconsin and Michigan a lot, anything would have changed those two states.” But then, perhaps to cover this tracks, he added: “My wife thinks we would have won. She thinks we would have won Ohio.” Of course, Donald Trump won Ohio instead—helping him to become the next president of the United States. And Brown was left to wonder whether he could have made the difference in the Electoral College, apparently haunted by the regret that he did not get that chance.

As it turns out, Sherrod Brown really wanted to be vice president.

A Fundamental Tension

The preceding examples illustrate a fundamental tension in public opinion about the vice presidency as a governing institution. On the one hand, everyone is aware of the office’s institutional weakness and its beleaguered reputation. This makes it easy to dismiss the vice presidency as a joke, and to belittle or reject the prospect of seeking that office. Yet many of the news or opinion articles that repeat those jokes—including, almost invariably, a reference to Garner’s metaphorical “bucket of warm spit” (and, just as invariably, a caveat noting that he probably used more graphic language)14—or report a potential running mate’s lack of interest in auditioning for the role, ironically, if not hypocritically, also engage in fevered speculation about the vice presidential selection process or the running mate’s likely effect on the presidential race.15 And, as we have seen, many of the vice presidents or prospective running mates who have disparaged the office or foresworn interest in seeking it at other times have celebrated its significance or actively campaigned for selection behind the scenes.

We do not argue that every such dismissal of the vice presidency or the prospect of running for it is insincere. Indeed, it is entirely possible that Sherrod Brown’s initial denials of interest in the vice presidency were genuine, and that later he had a change of heart—or that, in Terris’s (2017) words, “Sherrod Brown never wanted to be vice president, until one day he did.” Nor do we contend that a vice president plainly contradicts himself when he is quoted both lamenting and praising his experiences in that office. For example, Nelson Rockefeller truly might have felt like “standby equipment” at some times and like someone serving “a very useful function” at others. Such inconsistency, we argue, is indicative not of insincerity but of a pervasive conflict—or a “fundamental tension”—in attitudes toward the vice presidency, among political elites and within the mass public generally. In short, the vice presidency’s public image—truth be told—is not that of an inconsequential institution or an immensely powerful one (at least by its design); rather, it is an institution characterized by obvious strengths and weaknesses, the relative weight of which is difficult to calculate and often context-dependent.

John Adams provided perhaps the most profound articulation of this truth when he said: “I am vice president. In this I am nothing, but I may be everything” (Milkis and Nelson 2011, 486). Here he was referring to the possibility of succession to the presidency. In the era of the “modern vice presidency” (Goldstein 2016), when the power of that institution remains constitutionally stagnant but informally expansive, the tension between viewing the vice presidency as powerless and powerful is that much greater.

Who Cares About the Running Mate?

This book is about vice presidential candidates, not vice presidents. But the two roles are intertwined—and not just because, barring extraordinary circumstances, serving as the former is a prerequisite to serving as the latter. It is also because the (perceived) weakness of the vice presidency, as a governing institution, has shaped perceptions of the vice presidential candidate, as an electoral institution. Given the vice president’s limited constitutional powers, and the remote possibility of presidential succession, running mates traditionally have been selected (by party conventions and then, starting in the 1940s, by presidential candidates) on the basis of electoral considerations, typically in order to provide geographic, demographic, or ideological “ticket balancing” (Baumgartner 2012; Baumgartner with Crumblin 2015; Goldstein 2016). Even so, most voters have had little incentive to weigh the running mate’s credentials when voting in presidential elections, at least not to the extent of casting a vote on that basis, since only the president is guaranteed to exercise substantial power once in office. Recent expansions of vice presidential power might have altered that equation somewhat, but—as indicated by the evidence presented earlier, and by the predominant caricature of vice presidents in popular culture as buffoonish incompetents—for the most part, the office’s unenviable reputation is engrained and enduring.

A Fundamental Tension (Continued)

It is, therefore, no mystery that the same fundamental tension that characterizes attitudes toward the vice presidency also extends to vice presidential candidates. On the one hand, political observers and practitioners recognize the limited powers of the vice presidency, and so they are duly cautious about overstating the running mate’s (likely) influence on presidential voting. Often, they do so by repeating well-worn aphorisms to downplay veepstakes speculation—referring to it merely as a “parlor game,” for instance. Or they cite the conventional wisdom that “Vice presidential candidates can’t help you, they can only hurt you,” and that “People don’t vote for a vice president, they vote for a president.” We do not argue that such folk wisdom is wrong, necessarily; in fact, some of the empirical evidence that we present in this book would tend to support these claims. Nor do we contend that expressing such skepticism is insincere or contradictory, on its face. But it is important to recognize that these sentiments often exist in tension with other statements or behaviors that directly express or clearly imply a perception that running mates are electorally significant and potentially helpful—even decisive. In chapters 1 and 2, we provide evidence of such tension in the attitudes expressed by presidential candidates and voters, respectively. For now, consider one prominent and consequential example.

When asked to describe his criteria for selecting a running mate in July 2008, Republican presidential nominee John McCain said: “First, you want to make sure you have a candidate that’s not going to hurt the ticket” (J. Mason 2008). In 1996, when discussing then-Republican nominee Bob Dole’s selection of a running mate, McCain expressed essentially the same view by saying that the selection process sometimes “brings you the person who might not necessarily help you the most, but hurt you the least” (Pittman 1996). At the same time, he indicated that a running mate might confer significant electoral benefits by suggesting that Dole select someone who appealed not only to Republican voters but also “to those that make the difference between winning and losing campaigns”—presumably, Independents.

Yet, when it came time to select his running mate, in 2008, McCain passed over the quintessential “do no harm” candidate, in Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty (the runner-up), and instead accepted his campaign advisers’ recommendation to choose a risky but potentially “game-changing” vice presidential candidate, in Sarah Palin. McCain made this choice after meeting the Alaska governor only for the second time, and following a rushed seventy-two-hour vetting process (see chapter 1). This hardly fulfilled his top criterion: “mak[ing] sure you have a candidate that’s not going to hurt the ticket.” In fact, following her rocky vice presidential campaign, Palin was widely perceived as hurting the ticket in exactly the way that McCain previously had warned against—a perception validated by subsequent empirical analyses (e.g., Court and Lynch 2015; Elis, Hillygus, and Nie 2010; Knuckey 2012).

McCain illustrates the fundamental tension apparent in many people’s—including presidential candidates’—expressed views regarding running mates’ electoral significance. He repeatedly stated, and he genuinely might have believed, that the overriding principle of vice presidential selection is “First, do no harm.” But, as is the case with matters of public opinion more generally (Zaller 1992), McCain’s judgments on the matter seem to have drawn on a mix of considerations. Thus, when pressured by campaign advisers to adopt an alternative approach, he sampled from those conflicting considerations to arrive at a decision fundamentally opposed to his oft-stated conviction. In other words, no matter how confidently McCain stated this conviction in public, and when discussing vice presidential selection in the abstract, to some extent he also believed that it was possible—maybe just in these special circumstances—that a running mate could yield transformative electoral benefits, and that the chances of this happening in 2008 were good enough to justify picking Sarah Palin.

What to Believe?

It is ironic that McCain, of all people, would stand out as the presidential candidate who most obviously threw a “Hail Mary” pass, with his choice of a running mate, in order to win an election. Yet, because he at least entertained principles directly in conflict with his oft-stated, and quite possibly genuine, philosophy of vice presidential selection, we suspect that McCain is not a hypocritical outlier but an exemplar of the fundamental tension that characterizes much of public discourse regarding vice presidential candidates and their electoral significance.

Indeed, McCain’s is the same type of conflicted opinion that we see in the journalist (Chris Cillizza) who declares that “the vice presidential pick—viewed through the lens of history—has almost no broad influence on the fate of the ticket and, to the extent the VP choice has mattered, it’s been in a negative way”—yet, when ranking veepstakes contenders, regularly dangles the prospect of a decisive home state advantage (Devine and Kopko 2016, 14). Or the scholar (Stuart Rothenberg) who scorns veepstakes speculation as “a game” to be played at “cocktail parties or around the kitchen table” before condescending to remind readers that this year’s election actually is between two presidential candidates—yet in other writings, indeed in the same year, plays precisely that game by rating contenders largely on the basis of their ability to deliver swing states or the party’s base (13). Or the presidential candidate (George W. Bush) who writes, “I believe voters base their decision on the presidential candidate, not the VP”—yet also speculates that several other vice presidential finalists on his list might have delivered their home state in the general election (see chapter 1).

Like McCain, these actors state their convictions about running mates’ electoral effects definitively—with little, if any, hint of nuance. And, like McCain, it is entirely possible that they have expressed their convictions sincerely. (Bush, for example, did choose a running mate with little electoral appeal and no prospect of delivering a swing state.) But there is also good reason to believe that they, like many other actors in the electoral process that we analyze in later chapters, are more conflicted about running mates’ electoral significance than they let on. In reality, they probably entertain a mixture of views and therefore, under a particular set of circumstances (e.g., a close election, a popular governor, a divided party), might draw on considerations that conflict with their prevailing philosophy to determine that a (potential) running mate really could make a difference in the election—maybe this one time.

That is why one must be careful not to take the conventional wisdom about vice presidential candidates at face value, no matter how frequently or confidently it is publicly pronounced. As is true of the vice presidency itself, evaluations of the running mate’s electoral significance are complex, and often they reveal, on close inspection, quite a bit of internal conflict, especially when moving from the abstract to the particular.

In this book, we take nothing about running mates’ electoral significance for granted. Whatever our preconceptions about their effects on presidential voting—and it would be fair to describe us as skeptics—our commitment is to let the empirical data speak for themselves.

Do Running Mates Matter?

Recognizing the fundamental tension in public attitudes toward vice presidential candidates, described earlier, in this book we ask: Do running mates matter? That is to say, do they influence voting in presidential elections? And, if so, how? Do running mates influence voters, in general, or only targeted subsets of the electorate? Do they, in fact, “deliver” their home state or region? Affiliated demographic groups? Ideological allies? And, to the extent that running mates influence elections, is this because voters actually cast votes for (or against) a vice presidential candidate? Or is it because running mates help to shape voters’ perceptions of the presidential candidate who selected them, thereby exerting an indirect effect on vote choice?

To emphasize the practical significance of this research, and the manner in which we present it, our fundamental research question may be reformulated as follows: Do running mates do what people—namely, presidential candidates and voters—think they do, electorally speaking? Our objective is to answer this question, by testing perceptions of the running mate’s (potential) electoral significance against the relevant empirical data. To do this, we divide our research into two essential and integrally related parts. In the following, we briefly describe each chapter’s methods of analysis and its empirical results.

Part I: Perceptions of Running Mate Effects

Part I (comprising chapters 1 and 2) analyzes perceptions of the running mate’s electoral significance. In particular, we evaluate, first, whether, and to what extent, presidential candidates and voters believe that running mates influence vote choice in presidential elections; and, second, what criteria—particularly in terms of electoral versus governing considerations—they use to evaluate (potential) vice presidential candidates. The purpose of this analysis is to set the agenda for the empirical analyses that follow in part II. In other words, we seek to establish—based on systematic evidence, rather than mere assumption—that it is relevant to ask whether running mates matter in the first place. Moreover, we seek to identify the nature of these perceived electoral effects. Having done so, in part II we can test whether running mates matter in the way that people—particularly, those who select and elect them—think they do.

Chapter 1: (Why) Do Presidential Candidates Think That Running Mates Matter?
In this chapter, we use qualitative evidence from the 1976–2016 elections (i.e., the era of the modern vice presidency) to evaluate presidential candidates’ perceptions of running mate effects. In particular, we seek to determine whether, and why, presidential candidates think that running mates have the potential to influence election outcomes. We have gathered evidence for this analysis from a diverse range of sources, including public speeches and interviews, media coverage, personal memoirs, oral histories, and archival materials from presidential or other public libraries.

Our analysis indicates that most presidential candidates perceive vice presidential candidates to be electorally consequential—and, in some cases, determinative—but in public they downplay or deny such considerations, so as to focus on governing qualifications. In fact, presidential candidates in nearly all recent elections have publicly communicated a remarkably consistent set of selection criteria: that running mates must be qualified to serve as (vice) president, first and foremost; next, they must be personally and politically compatible with the presidential candidate; finally, as something of a bonus, they may provide a modest electoral advantage. But privately, or in subsequent public comments, many presidential candidates emphasize electoral considerations quite a bit more, and governing considerations less, than they do in public during the campaign.

While we cannot generalize across all selection processes, it is fair to say that most presidential candidates think that running mates matter, electorally speaking, and might even prove decisive in a close race. Such perceptions have the potential to influence the actual selection of a vice presidential candidate—and, in turn, who serves in office as vice president.

Chapter 2: (Why) Do Voters Think That Running Mates Matter?
In this chapter, we analyze public polling data on vice presidential selection, mostly from the 2000–2016 presidential elections. The purpose of this analysis is to determine, first, whether voters think that running mates influence their votes, or election outcomes more generally, and second, what criteria voters use to evaluate (potential) running mates, such that we might characterize the nature of their electoral appeal.

Our analysis indicates that voters have mixed, or conflicted, perceptions of running mate effects. Generally, survey respondents affirm the importance of vice presidential selection, in the abstract, and in many cases they report being more or less likely to vote for a given presidential candidate based on his or her choice of a running mate. Yet, at the same time, respondents rate vice presidential selection as less important than nearly all other electoral considerations; fewer than one in ten respondents say that a running mate ever has changed their presidential vote; and when given the opportunity to explain, in their own words, why they support or oppose a particular presidential candidate, few, if any, respondents cite the candidate’s choice of a running mate.

Also, voters seem not to have fixed criteria in mind when evaluating (potential) vice presidential candidates. However, they do prefer running mates who balance a given ticket by compensating for the presidential candidate’s perceived deficiencies. This is evident with respect to attributes of professional experience, in particular, but not demographic characteristics. Indeed, voters seem to value the running mate’s qualifications very highly, and for the most part they do not give credence to electoral considerations.

Part II: Evidence of Running Mate Effects

Part II (comprising chapters 3–5) tests perceptions of the running mate’s influence, as established in part I, against the relevant empirical evidence. Essentially, our objective in these chapters is to evaluate whether running mates matter in the way that relevant political actors think they matter. Each chapter examines a distinct—but not mutually exclusive—process whereby running mate effects might occur: first, by directly influencing vote choice among voters, in general (chapter 3); second, by directly influencing vote choice among targeted subsets of voters (chapter 4); third, by indirect means—that is, by influencing voters’ evaluations of the presidential candidates, which, in turn, directly influence vote choice (chapter 5). For this analysis, we use a diverse range of data sources and research methods. Indeed, the depth and breadth of our analysis of vice presidential candidates’ electoral influence are unprecedented in the political science literature.

Chapter 3: Direct Effects

In this chapter, we evaluate the running mate’s direct effect on voting, generally. First, we do so by providing descriptive statistics on presidential versus vice presidential candidate preferences, based on data from the 1968–2016 American National Election Studies (ANES). Next, using the same data, we estimate the relative influence of vice presidential versus presidential candidate evaluations on vote choice, via logistic regression analyses. Finally, and for the first time in the literature, we test the causal effects of dynamic changes in running mate evaluations (i.e., favorability ratings) on intended vote choice, as well as presidential candidate evaluations, over the course of a campaign. We do so using time series (i.e., rolling cross-sectional) data from the 2000 and 2004 National Annenberg Election Survey (NAES).

Our analyses indicate that running mates do, in fact, directly influence vote choice, but only to a limited extent. Indeed, vice presidential candidate evaluations have much less influence on vote choice than do presidential candidate evaluations. Furthermore, our vector autoregression analysis indicates that while running mates can influence intended vote choice during a campaign, in most cases their effects last only for a few days. This analysis also indicates that presidential and vice presidential candidate evaluations are interdependent (or endogenous) over time. Such direct evidence of interdependent intraparty candidate evaluations is important because it shows that running mates are not just shadows of the presidential candidate. Rather, voters view vice presidential candidates, in part, as a reflection on the presidential candidate—such that reevaluating the former may cause them to reevaluate the latter.

Chapter 4: Targeted Effects

Perhaps, then, running mates are most effective at influencing vote choice among particular groups of voters that presidential campaigns may wish to “target” in order to win an election. To evaluate this possibility, in chapter 4 we examine running mates’ “targeted effects” on vote choice among groups of voters with whom they share a salient geographic (i.e., home state or region), demographic (i.e., gender, religious), or ideological (i.e., liberal, conservative) identity. For example, we assess whether women were more likely than in other years to vote for the Democratic ticket in 1984 or the Republican ticket in 2008, both of which featured a woman running mate (Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin, respectively). Our analysis draws on three distinct, high-quality data sources—the American National Election Studies (1952–2016), the National Annenberg Election Studies (2000–2008), and The American Panel Survey (2012–2016)—and estimates running mate effects by using a multimethod approach that includes linear or logistic regression analyses, for cross-sectional data, and an adaptation of Lenz’s (2012) three-wave test, for panel data.

We find little evidence of targeted running mate effects. For instance, cross-sectional data indicate that Catholics were no more likely to vote for the Democratic Party in 2016, when Tim Kaine was the vice presidential nominee, than in previous elections. And panel data indicate that the effect of Catholic identification on intended vote choice did not change from the period before versus after Kaine’s selection. Likewise, we observe no significant change in women’s voting behavior in response to the Ferraro or Palin selections. The only clear evidence of a targeted effect comes from 2012, when conservative support for the Republican ticket significantly increased following Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate, and ultimately influenced vote choice. In all other cases, we see no such effects at any point during the campaign, or, at best, a temporary increase in support that fades away by Election Day.

Chapter 5: Indirect Effects

In chapter 5, we expand the scope of our analysis to include indirect running mate effects—or the effects of vice presidential candidate evaluations on presidential candidate evaluations, which, subsequently, influence vote choice. This, we argue, is the most realistic conception of running mate effects. Yet indirect effects have gone almost entirely unexplored in the scholarly literature, to date (two exceptions are found in Kenski, Hardy, and Jamieson [2010] and Romero [2001]; but see chapter 5, note 6). In this chapter, we provide an unprecedented analysis of indirect running mate effects, using data from the ANES (1968–2016), NAES (2000–2008), and Knowledge Networks (2008), and a multimethod approach comprising logistic regression analyses and structural equation models (cross-sectional data), vector autoregression (rolling cross-sectional data), and an adaptation of Lenz’s (2012) three-wave test (panel data). Moreover, we evaluate indirect effects based on a diverse range of candidate evaluations, including ones pertaining to ideology, experience, and various professional or personal attributes, as well as general favorability.

Our analysis of more than two hundred statistical models provides overwhelming evidence that running mates influence voters’ perceptions of the presidential candidate who selected him or her. We also present structural equation models demonstrating that running mate evaluations indirectly influence vote choice. In other words, running mates have indirect, as well as direct, effects on voting—although the former appear to be much stronger than the latter. To provide one example of such an effect, in 2008 respondents were significantly more likely to approve of John McCain’s judgment if they believed that his choice of a running mate, Sarah Palin, was ready to be president. Specifically, respondents who rated Palin as “extremely” ready to be president, versus “not at all,” rated McCain’s judgment 2.2 points higher on a scale of 0 to 10. This, in turn, decreased the respondent’s likelihood of voting for the Democratic ticket by 7 percentage points, according to our structural equation models. Nor are these effects limited to perceptions of judgment. Indeed, we find strong and consistent evidence that respondents’ perceptions of the presidential candidate—across a wide range of attributes relating to leadership skills, trustworthiness, and competence—are shaped by their evaluation of the running mate, in terms of overall favorability or experience.

Chapter 6: Why Does This Matter?
This book’s final chapter emphasizes the practical implications of our research findings by discussing several key takeaway points that may help to better inform future deliberations over vice presidential selection among political practitioners, journalists, and the public at large. We present these takeaway points as five recommendations to presidential candidates and their campaigns, when engaging in vice presidential selection. Our recommendations are as follows:
1. Pick someone who can be a good vice president.
2. Don’t just say it; mean it.
3. Ask whether the running mate will matter enough.
4. Don’t expect the running mate to “deliver” a key voting bloc.
5. Don’t just take our word for it.
In each case, we summarize the research findings that inform our recommendation and discuss their implications for vice presidential selection, presidential campaign strategy, and presidential administration. In the course of this discussion, we also consider the limitations of the present research, opportunities for future research, and the role that vice presidential candidates may play in the 2020 election.

So, What if Running Mates Matter?

To be sure, we are not the first scholars to analyze the electoral significance of vice presidential candidates. The existing literature on “running mate effects,” in fact, attests to the importance of a subject that easily can be mistaken as insignificant or even frivolous. And this literature provides valuable perspective—in terms of theory, methodology, and substantive conclusions—that helps to guide our research, while also raising questions that we hope to answer, with a greater measure of clarity, in the pages that follow.

Scholarly Literature
Numerous studies examine running mates’ effects on elections generally (e.g., Adkison 1982; Burmila and Ryan 2013; Devine and Kopko 2016, chap. 8; Grofman and Kline 2010; Ulbig 2010; Wattenberg 1984, 1995; Wattenberg and Grofman 1993), and with respect to specific considerations such as party identification (Court and Lynch 2015), ideology (Court 2012; Krumel and Enami 2017), demography (Jelen 2018), and geography (J. Campbell 1992; J. Campbell, Ali, and Jalalzai 2006; Devine and Kopko 2011, 2013, 2016, 2019; Dudley and Rapoport 1989; Garand 1988; Heersink and Peterson 2016; Holbrook 1991; Kahane 2009; Mixon and Tyrone 2004; Morini 2015; Rosenstone 1983; Schultz 2016; Tubbesing 1973). We review these literatures in the relevant chapters to follow. Also, many studies examine secondary matters that we reference in this book, including media coverage of vice presidential candidates (e.g., Ulbig 2010, 2013) and the vice presidential selection process (e.g., Baumgartner 2012, 2016; Hiller and Kriner 2008; Sigelman and Wahlbeck 1997). But the existing literature has two significant limitations.

First, many of these studies narrowly focus on one aspect of running mate effects, such as geography (e.g., Devine and Kopko 2016) or media coverage (e.g., Ulbig 2013). Second, other more comprehensive studies analyze vice presidential candidates, as an electoral institution, within the broader context of the vice presidency, as a governing institution, and with a predominant focus on the latter (e.g., Baumgartner with Crumblin 2015; Goldstein 2016). Such studies represent tremendous contributions to scholars’ understanding of the vice presidency, which we make no attempt to challenge or to significantly revise here. However, these studies do not provide a comprehensive, empirically driven analysis of running mates’ electoral effects, along the lines of what we present in this book.

In fact, no book to date has been devoted exclusively to the subject of vice presidential candidates’ effects on presidential voting, in general or along several dimensions at a time, such as ideology, geography, and demographics. Also, ours is the first study to systematically examine voters’ perceptions of vice presidential candidates’ electoral influence and their criteria for vice presidential selection (chapter 2). Finally, ours is the first study to analyze how voters’ perceptions of a vice presidential candidate’s characteristics (e.g., readiness to be president) influence their perceptions of the presidential candidate’s characteristics (e.g., judgment), as well as how these perceptions may influence vote choice (chapter 5).

Running Mates and the Vice Presidency

A clarification of terms is in order, also, before proceeding with this analysis. The title of this book, and our central research question, asks: Do running mates matter? We are not asking whether vice presidents matter. Goldstein (2016), in particular, has answered that question rather definitively, and in the affirmative. Although vice presidents have little constitutional power, since the inception of the “modern vice presidency,” under Jimmy Carter, they have wielded significant and growing power as a result of informal institutional changes. In particular, as Goldstein explains, this power comes from serving as a senior adviser to, and troubleshooter for, the president, with the support of extensive personal access and in-house resources. Indeed, many of the most recent vice presidents—including Al Gore, Dick Cheney, and Joe Biden—have played a major role in shaping administration policy on foreign and domestic matters, and in advancing the president’s agenda through their work with Congress and foreign leaders.

Unfortunately, we think, it is all too common—particularly among journalists—to treat the terms “vice president” and “vice presidential candidate” interchangeably. Needless to say (but we will, anyway), the two roles are different, and they coincide only when an incumbent vice president is seeking reelection. In fact, we see the study of vice presidential candidates, as an electoral institution, as quite distinct from the study of vice presidents, as a governing institution (although there is good reason to draw relevant connections between the two at times, in the same way that, say, studying judicial nomination and confirmation processes is connected to, but distinct from, studying judicial behavior). That is why, as noted previously, we explicitly characterize our work as a study of vice presidential candidates, not vice presidents. And it is why, in hopes of limiting confusion about our subject matter and research objectives, we emphasize that distinction by framing our title, research question, and much of the language to follow in terms of “running mates.”

This discussion also provides a useful reminder as to why it is important to know whether, and in what ways, running mates matter. Regardless of their electoral influence, running mates ultimately matter because, if successful, they become vice presidents. And, as the research cited earlier demonstrates, vice presidents are highly, and increasingly, influential actors in American government. If it is the case that presidential candidates (at least sometimes) misjudge the nature of running mates’ effects on presidential voting—perhaps by overestimating their ability to “deliver” a home state or an affiliated demographic group—then they might select someone who is unqualified, or at least less qualified than other credible alternatives, to serve as a partner in government and next in the line of presidential succession, simply because an electoral consideration tipped the scales. This may seem like a remote possibility, but—perhaps depending on one’s political views—it is not difficult to think of a time when it nearly happened or actually did (e.g., Dan Quayle, John Edwards, Sarah Palin).

To the extent that our research validates some perceptions of running mate effects, perhaps it will help to inform presidential candidates, their campaigns, and members of the news media when gaming out viable electoral strategies. But, to the extent that our research challenges errant or oversimplified perceptions of running mate effects, then perhaps it will help to divert attention away from illusions of electoral advantage and redirect it toward efforts to identify the person best qualified to serve as vice president.

About the Author

Christopher J. Devine is assistant professor of political science at the University of Dayton. Kyle C. Kopko is associate professor of political science, associate dean, and director of the legal studies major at Elizabethtown College.

Minneapolis, Politics and the Police… The Election of 1969

An excerpt from The Conservative Heartland; A Political History of the Postwar American Midwest.

“The Little Guy for the Little Guy; 1969 Minneapolis and the White Working-Class Revolt

by Jeffrey Bloodworth

A political novice before his 1969 mayoral race, Charles Stenvig was not an utter unknown in the Twin Cities. Three years before his mayoral run, he was elected president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis. In standard times, the head of a public union would earn intermittent media attention. The mid-to-late 1960s was no normal era, especially for cops and crime. Indeed, by 1969, a gumbo of urban riots, antiwar protests, and rising crime rates caused law and order to supersede economic concerns with working-class voters. More than any other public figure in Minneapolis, Stenvig capitalized on this turnabout.

As the colorful head of a 770-member union, Stenvig honed a populist brand of leadership that infused the Police Officers Federation with greater “militancy” and grabbed headlines. In a 1967 winter protest for higher wages, for example, he had police and firefighters form a human barrier to stop fuel deliveries to city hall. Personally blocking the fuel plug and in full view of the press, he barked at the fuel delivery driver, “You are going to get your head knocked.” Weeks later, he resumed the protest outside the newly constructed $16 million Minneapolis Auditorium. While Mayor Arthur Naftalin and other political elites sauntered into the posh facility to watch Henry Mancini conduct the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, police and firemen carried banners stating, “Council okays $16,000,000 for Auditorium. Fire and Police Protection?” A savvy organizer, Stenvig understood the optics and where working-class sympathies would lie.

In ordinary times, Stenvig’s advocacy for police might tire the public. But for many Minneapolitans, especially the white working class, the late 1960s had spawned significant empathy for police. Rising crime, urban riots, student protests, and increased scrutiny of police tactics had made a cop’s job more difficult. Though hardly a hotbed of violent crime, Minneapolis was not immune to these trends. Along with every other city, Minneapolis witnessed sustained increases in crime. In 1968, for instance, the city endured a sharp 16 percent surge in lawbreaking from the year before. Though criminality dropped in 1969, the accumulated increases in years prior and public perception cemented a public opinion that lawbreakers were running rampant.

Flourishing crime near white working-class neighborhoods caused the issue of law and order to resonate especially strongly with those voters. The heart of the city’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) voters lived in the Ninth and Twelfth Wards, an area adjacent to the crime-ridden south Minneapolis. Comprising only 6 percent of the city’s land area and 12 percent of the population, south Minneapolis featured a swell in significant violent felonies. In a 1969 two-month sample, the area was home to 26 percent of the city’s overall street crimes. When a city journalist rode with a south Minneapolis patrol team during one typical summer evening in 1969, the reporter witnessed police investigate two burglaries, make one arrest for public drunkenness, interview an armed teen, locate a pack of youths dropping stones onto cars from an overpass, and engage in a high-speed car chase. For the working-class homeowners of the Ninth and Twelfth Wards, south Minneapolis’s crime represented a significant bodily threat and a financial hazard to home values.

In the midst of a national and citywide crime wave and a swell in public disorder, Stenvig earned headlines as the Twin City’s chief proponent of the police. Engaging in continual public spats over pay, sick leave, disability, and boycotts, he became so controversial that most Minneapolis police refused public comment on their union chief. Even if many cops winced when their union boss bawled, “I believe there is police brutality—brutality against the police, that is,” many voters appreciated the sentiment.

Star Tribune photo

High on Stenvig’s list of “brutalities” perpetrated against the police were Warren Court rulings that buttressed the rights of the accused. To him, the rulings confirmed that police had become “the scapegoat for politicians.” By 1969, a clear majority of voters concurred with Stenvig. Gallup Polls, for instance, revealed an extraordinary national change in public attitudes toward “crime and lawlessness.” In November 1967, 60 percent of Americans polled had named pocketbook concerns the “Most Urgent Problem Facing Family.” Less than two years later, “Crime and Lawlessness,” which had not even rated as a top-ten issue in 1967, had leaped to second place. This shift in attitudes could be found in the Twin

Cities. One Minneapolis mailman captured this swing in sentiment by saying, “I think at one time the police were a little bit arrogant, but I don’t think it’s that way anymore.” Bemoaning “young people’s” disrespect for the police, he and other Minneapolitans wanted to empower the police and respected cops for having a “tough job.”

Making matters more combustible was that public attitudes toward law and order were swinging to the right at the very moment that New Politics liberals backed protections for the accused. To many voters, these “trivial detail[s]” had enabled violent offenders to escape punishment and pushed the spike in crime. In Minneapolis, the city’s iconic four-term mayor, Arthur Naftalin, had created two such bodies, the Human Rights Commission and a civil rights department, dedicated to the very “trivial details” that typified, in the estimation of some, liberal permissiveness toward law and order. Charged with investigating allegations of police misconduct and brutality, they investigated Minneapolis police for violating the rights of the accused.

As police union president, Stenvig battled Naftalin’s Human Rights Commission.

In what would become his trademark populist bravado, he urged officers to simply refuse to appear before the committee or offer written or oral testimony regarding any “racial disturbance.” In 1968, the commission chair, Raymond Plank, a local liberal business magnate, accused Stenvig of blocking two white officers’ testimony. In response, Stenvig challenged Plank to a televised debate. Possibly looking to the 1969 mayoral race, Stenvig defied the Twin Cities liberal powerbroker. Though the debate never materialized, the pugnacious police union head clearly demonstrated an understanding of political theatrics.

In early 1969, “Charlie” or “Chuck”—never Charles—hit the campaign trail. Punctuating the end of a sentence with the aphorism “isn’t that right”—as in “the mayor is the Police Commissioner of Minneapolis, isn’t that right?”—Stenvig promised, “The mayor’s main job is being the head of the police department.” Using class resentment to his advantage, Stenvig accused business elites, both major newspapers, and the city’s leading law firms of badmouthing his candidacy, because they were “afraid they’ll have a working man as mayor.” Doubling down on this sentiment, he declared, “People are sick and tired of politicians and intellectuals . . . they [the people] want an average workingman from the community to represent them—and that’s me.”

Lacking clear qualifications for the job, Stenvig utterly understood the electorate’s mood. On the eve of the election, one Minneapolitan correctly predicted that “Stenvig will be elected, certainly not because he is a better candidate with better qualifications, but because voters are sick and tired of endless endorsements and other tactics used by the Establishment.” For that voter and Stenvig, the “Establishment” meant perceived liberal permissiveness of crime, urban riots, protests, and social tumult. This charge possessed some merit. In the face of rising fear of and disgust with crime, liberal elites often dismissed crime statistics as unreliable. When that failed, US attorney general Nicholas Katzenbach scorned fears of sexual assault by telling women, “The odd[s] of that happening may be about the same as those of being hit by lightning.” While many liberals stuck their heads in the sand, an actual and verifiable crime wave metastasized.

In conjunction with crime were urban riots. In the mid-to-late 1960s, nearly every major American city witnessed urban disorders centered upon racial issues. These demonstrations reached a crescendo in the summer of 1967, during which bloody race riots erupted in Detroit and Newark. In that same summer, Minneapolitans experienced the largest racial disturbance in their city’s history. By the 1960s, the city’s historically tiny African American population had grown and comprised 4.5 percent of the overall population. They also endured the very same indignities, housing and employment discrimination, and police brutality that had become hallmarks of the black experience in the urban North.

On a warm July night, north Minneapolis exploded in violence following two racial incidents with white authorities. Over the course of two nights, black youth rioted and set fire to the area’s main commercial thoroughfare. Once the riot emerged, participants roamed the district, chucked rocks at police, and set fire to area businesses. When firemen arrived to battle the blazes, rioters pelted them with debris. As an eight-block stretch of Plymouth Avenue businesses burned, firemen refused to return.

In response to the melee, Minnesota’s governor, Harold LeVander, sent six hundred national guardsmen to the area with orders to “shoot looters on sight.” Quite small in comparison to those in Detroit or Watts, the race riot nevertheless rocked white Minnesota. Indeed, for years, Walter Mondale had bragged to his senate colleagues, “No such thing could happen in Minnesota.” Humbled, Mondale realized race relations were not as convivial as he imagined, which for many liberals of the senator’s bent prompted further gestures at racial reconciliation. The senator’s white working-class constituents, however, had opposite reactions: they sought law and order.

A scant seventeen months later, in January 1969, the University of Minnesota witnessed a violent student protest with a significant racial component. Just as the mayoral primary race commenced, approximately sixty to seventy students turned an afternoon meeting with university president Malcolm Moos into a twenty-four-hour occupation of the campus administration building.47 Led by the Afro-American Action Committee (AAAC) and supported by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), protesters barricaded themselves into the Morrill Hall offices, soaked university records with water, and debated the merits of torching the building. The next morning, hundreds of white counterprotesters gathered outside Morrill Hall to hurl rocks and ice at the building. Fearing for their safety, AAAC and SDS members armed themselves with fire extinguishers, broom handles, and fire hoses. With the incident threatening to spin out of control, Moos offered concessions that ended the standoff and refused to sanction the protesters. This conclusion sparked significant controversy among whites in Minneapolis.

It was in the midst of this environment that the contest to replace Mayor Naftalin commenced. Though few observers gave Stenvig much of a chance, the rabble-rousing populist policeman fit the bill for an angry electorate. Stunning the Minneapolis political world, Stenvig captured nearly 50 percent of the primary vote by carrying nine of the city’s thirteen wards, including DFL strongholds. The only real contest was over second place, where Republican Dan Cohen defeated the DFL nominee, Gerard Hegstrom, who finished a distant third. Adding to the ignominy, Hegstrom failed to carry his own neighborhood working-class ward. The two wards he did carry almost exclusively comprised, in predictable New Politics liberal fashion, university students and professors.

 

Jeffrey Bloodworth an associate professor of history at Gannon University

 

The Road to the Trump Presidency

by Stephen Knott, author of The Lost Soul of the American Presidency; The Decline into Demagoguery and the Prospects for Renewal / Opinions expressed here are entirely his own.

Donald Trump is everything critics of a populist presidency, particularly Alexander Hamilton, warned about—a demagogue who practices the “little arts of popularity” for purposes of firing up his base, a man lacking the attributes of a magnanimous soul, a purveyor of conspiracy theories, and a president incapable of distinguishing between himself and the office he temporarily holds.

Yet Hamilton’s fear of a demagogic, populist presidency, was realized long before the election of Donald Trump. In fact, the seeds were first planted by Thomas Jefferson in his “Revolution of 1800.” The Sage of Monticello launched the presidency on a populist course that, in the long run, undermined the intentions of the framers of the Constitution. While many members of the founding generation were worried that a demagogue manipulating public passions would destroy the republic, Jefferson argued that public opinion served as the “best criterion of what is best,” and that enlisting and engaging that opinion would “give strength to the government.” As the nation’s only nationally elected figure, Jefferson’s executive was rooted in popular support and thus uniquely situated to serve as a spokesman for and implementer of the majority’s wishes.

Jefferson turned his rival Alexander Hamilton’s arguments on their head, arguing that popular opinion conferred constitutional legitimacy. Jefferson made this abundantly clear in a letter he wrote to James Madison in 1787: “after all, it is my principle that the will of the Majority should always prevail.” In essence, the majority would govern, not the Constitution.

The “Revolution of 1800” paved the way for the populist presidency of Andrew Jackson who held that the fundamental principle of the American government was majority rule. While the American framers believed in government by consent, they did not believe in government by the majority, believing instead in a system of representation and other “filtering” elements including judicial review, indirect election of Senators, and the Electoral College. Jackson believed that checks on majority rule, including the Electoral College, represented a perversion of the principle that “as few impediments as possible should exist to the free operation of the public will.”

As all demagogues are inclined to do, Andrew Jackson played upon fears to mobilize his base. No one understood this better than John Quincy Adams, a target of Jackson’s wrath and a champion of the rights of other frequent targets of those resentments, including abolitionists, free Blacks, and Native Americans. Unpopular minorities bear the brunt of the populist presidency, and Adams was one of the last of a dying breed who understood the threat this presented to the American body politic. According to Adams, Jackson was “a man governed by passion rather than reason, a demagogue.”

With Jackson’s election to the presidency, and with the wider success of his movement at the state and local level, the American republic moved from a system designed to check majority tyranny to one where an unfettered majority governed, using its power at the state level to disenfranchise an unpopular minority (free blacks) and to press for the expansion of slavery, and leveraging its powers at the state and the federal levels to remove a different but equally unpopular minority from its midst, Native Americans.

The coalition Jackson assembled was, at bottom, a cauldron of boiling partisan, racial, and class resentments, and in Jackson’s case, all of those elements, plus decades of personal resentments thrown into the mix. Thirty years later, Jackson’s fellow Tennessean, Andrew Johnson, who considered Jackson his beau ideal of a president, stirred the same populist pot on his path to power, rising to prominence as the nineteenth century’s version of Donald Trump.

The refounded presidency of Jefferson and Jackson was embraced by many twentieth century progressives. While Jefferson and Jackson did not believe in an activist federal government, these progressives did. But having unmoored the presidency from the Constitution and grounded it in public opinion, it was a small step for Jefferson’s and Jackson’s heirs to claim that the president spoke for the majority and was uniquely situated to view the whole, and that the people demanded a federal government that could be as big as it wanted to be, led by a president who was as big a man as he wanted to be.

Progressive politicians, Franklin Roosevelt in particular, along with historians such as Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Henry Steele Commager, considered Andrew Jackson to be a precursor to Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. The age of Jackson and the age of Roosevelt may have been a century apart, but both men fought the elites of their day and considered themselves the tribune of the people. As with Jackson, FDR was a genius at firing up his base by labeling his opponents as un-American evil doers.

Sadly, Donald Trump represents the apotheosis of those who sought a more responsive, unrestrained presidency, rooted in public opinion. This refounded presidency placed the office on a dangerous and unsustainable path, a path of heightened expectations that encourages a contemptuous view of checks and balances. It also diminished the important unifying role the president was expected to play as head of state, forcing him to become a party leader and policy formulator—in short, a perpetual partisan lightning rod. All of this has contributed to an erosion of respect for the office.

The United States would be well served to return to the constitutional presidency envisioned by George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. They designed a presidency of “sober expectations,” one that did not pander to or manipulate the public, one that was averse to the notion that it was the president’s job to provide “visionary leadership,” and one that was less inclined to implement the majority will at the expense of political, racial, and economic minorities.

The prospects for a renewal of the office are slim, but not impossible. A recovery of the constitutional presidency, one respectful of the rule of law and appreciative of the role of the president as head of state, rather than full-time rabble rouser, is within our reach. It would require, however, a renewed appreciation for the limits of the office and the limits of politics, along with an understanding that history is littered with examples of leaders who, as Alexander Hamilton put it, “overturned the liberties of republics.” These demagogues began their careers “by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.”

Stephen F. Knott (@publius57) is professor of national security affairs at the United States Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. His many books include Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth and Rush to Judgment: George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and His Critics, both from Kansas, and Secret and Sanctioned: Covert Operations and the American Presidency.

The 2018 Election – A Tale of Two Elections

Throughout 2018, Dick Simpson and Betty O’Shaughnessy, veteran political scientists and authors of Winning Elections in the 21st Century, have written about the mid-term election. This latest post is their end cap on the coverage. You can read their previous pieces here:

Following the 2018 Election – A Preview

Following the 2018 Election – Why Elections Matter

Following the 2018 Election – Why Money Matters

The Shape of the 2018 Election – New Volunteers, New Movements?

The Shape of the 2018 Election – The Blue Wave in 2018

The 2018 Election – A Tale of Two Elections by Dick Simpson and Betty O’Shaughnessy

The Blue Wave came, especially in many Midwest states, but it did not sweep away Trump or Trumpian Republicanism. When the dust settled, the Republicans still controlled the Senate and the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives.

The Democrats made gains most importantly in the suburbs. Republicans became ever more entrenched in the rural areas.

The youth vote grew almost exponentially and the Latino vote expanded dramatically. Still many of the elections turned on the persona of the candidates and issues that mattered to different local constituents. As Speaker Tip O’Neal famously said, “All politics is local.” And that was true of the 2018 elections. It wasn’t a one-size-fits-all election despite issues discussed nationally such as pre-existing conditions in health care, the caravan approaching the border, or immigration more generally.

It was the most expensive mid-term election in history. In the most expensive gubernatorial campaign in the nation’s history; in winning the governorship of Illinois, Democrat J. B. Pritzker donated over $170 million to his campaign and Republican Bruce Rauner spent almost $70 million of his own money. That meant that Pritzker paid $79.20 a vote.  Most congressional candidates who defeated incumbents spent over $4 million each.

Beyond the huge amounts of money, the candidates who won their races in 2018 mostly followed the fundamentals of campaigns set forth in our book, Winning Elections in the 21st Century: A clear theme or message distinguishing themselves from their opponent; a strong “free media” campaign; a paid media campaign; direct mail and phone campaign; sufficient volunteers to work key precincts guided by voter analytics; and a sophisticated social media effort. This assumes that the candidate was attractive and had clear issue positions on those questions that most concerned the voters in their district.

There were some clear trends in the election. Republicans retained most of their U.S. Senate seats even as Democrats won at least 30 House seats, giving them at least a majority of 225-200 with 10 seats still undecided as of November 10.

One of the biggest changes came in gubernatorial elections. Democrats lost high-profile gubernatorial races in Iowa and Ohio. But they were able to flip Republican gubernatorial seats in seven states — Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico and Wisconsin. The Florida race is close enough for a recount. This diminishes the GOP’s previous control of state governments to now 26-23 with the Georgia gubernatorial election also still to be decided. Democrats also flipped seven state legislative chambers and gained a veto-proof majority in Illinois.

In addition to results favoring Democrats, this election may well be noted as one that began more active participation in politics from nontraditional political actors. One important development was how women, nonwhite, and LGTB candidates ran for office across the nation, changing the political landscape. For the first time, Hispanic voters matched their share of eligible voting population and nationwide, 69% voted for Democrats. Women became more active in politics not simply as supporters, but as candidates on all levels.

Overall, the women’s vote was equally divided 49-49, but minority and youth turnout was higher (both groups favoring Democrats), giving women Democratic candidates an edge nationwide. In the U.S. House, at least 102 women were elected (6 races still undecided in which women are running). Twelve women were elected to the Senate (with one race still undecided) and nine women were victors in gubernatorial races (with one undecided). Many women and minorities of both sexes decided to run as Democrats for suburban and other local offices that had previously gone unopposed, often tapping into the power of the grassroots organizations generated after Trump’s election. Many of these candidates won, changing the geopolitics of suburban America and providing a base of experienced Democratic candidates for future races.

All of this sets up the 2020 Presidential election year as a critical election to decide the future direction of the nation and the two political parties. President Trump remains hugely popular with his base but they are a minority of the population now and will be even more so in 2020. Yet, the Democrats have to prove they can play a positive role in the national governing and in the states where they made gains.  If they can continue to run effective, well-funded campaigns, they have the advantage. But there can be wars, economic collapse, further trade wars, and national disasters between now and then. What remains constant is the need to run effective campaigns based upon the new rules of the game at the end of the second decade in the 21st century.

Dick Simpson is professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the co-editor with Dennis Judd of The City, Revisited: Urban Theory from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York.

Betty O’Shaughnessy is a visiting lecturer in political science, University of Illinois at Chicago and coauthor of The Struggle for Power and Influence in Cities and States.

Following the 2018 Election – A Preview

by Betty O’Shaughnessy and Dick Simpson, authors of Winning Elections in the 21st Century.

Two major events of January 20 set the stage for the 2018 election: the massive second Women’s March represented a nationwide upwelling of grassroots activism; and the partial government shutdown affirmed a dysfunctional government in Washington. Both portend a showdown at the polls in 2018.

The 2018 party primary elections begin in March. As set forth in our University Press of Kansas book, Winning Elections in the 21st Century, the first key to the outcome of any election, including these primaries, is money. The 2018 election will be the most expensive off-year elections in American history. Already billionaire candidates for Illinois governor are on track to spend over $50 million each. All congressional candidates will have to raise more than $2 million to be competitive.

Although money is most important, what candidates do with it and how they campaign is also vital. Contenders must have a message that resonates with voters, and a well-organized campaign successfully using both traditional and tech-savvy methods to find and contact potential supporters in person and get them to the polls on Election Day.

U.S. Senate:

The election of a Democrat, Doug Jones from Alabama in a special election victory has already realigned the balance of power in the Senate. Republicans now hold a 51-49 majority; John McCain’s illness makes the margin even closer. With 26 Democratic senators up for re-election and only eight Republicans, the Democrats would have to retain all their seats and pick up Republican seats in Nevada and Arizona. It is unlikely that they can achieve that unless there is truly a massive “anti-Trump” groundswell.

U.S. House:

As with most midterm elections, pundits are predicting that the party out of power (this year the Democratic) is likely to gain seats in Congress. At present, House Republicans have a 241-194 majority in the House, which means that the Democrats need to gain 24 seats to retake the Speakership. Open seats are the easiest to capture, and as of late January, there are 14 Democratic House seats and 27 Republican seats in which the incumbent is not running (not including three vacant or soon-to-be-vacant Republican seats).

Races to Watch in March:

During March, only Texas and Illinois are holding primaries. Some key congressional races in both states will shed light on possible trends in the rest of the country in November.

Texas:

A true “battleground” district in Texas is the 23rd. In 2016, Republican Will Hurd narrowly defeated Democrat Peter Gallego. At present, five democratic candidates are running in the primary. Of these, Jay Hulings and Gina Jones have the largest campaign chests and are considered strong candidates to defeat Hurd in November.

Although at present the 7th Texas Congressional District race is considered “likely Republican,” The Hill, Mother Jones, Politico and several news outlets consider this election as one of the top 10 House races to watch; Republican incumbent John Culberson was reelected in 2016, Hillary Clinton carried his district. The Hill identifies Alex Triantaphyllis and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher as the top Democratic contenders.

There are seven open House seats in Texas, five of which are “red.” Only the 21st District seems vulnerable to Democrats. Both parties are running a field of candidates here, with businessman and Army veteran Democrat Joe Kopser and former US Congressman Republican Francisco Canseco raising the most money.

Because Texas has been such a strong Republican state, the ability of viable Democratic candidates to win their primaries and knock out some Texas Republican Congressmen in the 2018 November general election will be a harbinger of whether or not the grassroots groundswell of support will change the balance of power in Washington.

Illinois:

Illinois is the opposite of Texas. Despite having a Republican governor who is up for reelection, it is a “blue” state. Several districts currently held by Republicans face strong challenges from Democrats and none of the currently Democratic seats seem likely to be lost.

The Illinois 6th District is marked by Politico as a “race to watch.” Democrats like to say that suburban DuPage County, long considered a stronghold of Republican politics, is turning “blue.” Despite changing public opinion in parts of his district, Republican Peter Roskam generally voted Trump’s position and could be facing a serious challenge. Among the many Democrats running in the primary, the top contenders, fund-wise, are Emily’s List-endorsed Kelly Mazeski and environmental scientist and businessman Sean Casten. If the Democrats elect a strong candidate in the primary, they may defeat Roskam in an upset.

Many observers believe Southern Illinois’ 12th District is the most likely to flip from “red” to “blue.”  St. Clair County State’s Attorney and Navy veteran Brendan Kelly is challenging Republican incumbent Mike Bost and has outraised him by $100,000 for the first quarter. Although President Trump won the district by 58% of the vote in 2016, Democrats see this race as winnable, as U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth won by 8% and Obama won this district twice.

Yet in the end, these critical races and the control of Congress depend on turnout. In off-year elections like 2018, turnout is generally only 25-30%, with Millennials voting even less. To defeat enough Republicans to regain Congress, the anti-Trump voters will have to turn out in much higher numbers. The primary elections will provide the first indication of whether that will happen.

Dick Simpson is professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the co-editor with Dennis Judd of The City, Revisited: Urban Theory from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York.

Betty O’Shaughnessy is a visiting lecturer in political science, University of Illinois at Chicago and coauthor of The Struggle for Power and Influence in Cities and States.

2016 Elections: A Guide for the Perplexed

9780700622764By Dick Simpson and Betty O’Shaughnessy, Authors of Winning Elections in the 21st Century

Trump triumphed. Since he will become President of the United States, his victory matters. If he carries out his platform promises, he will create major changes in tax policy, immigration, foreign policy, Supreme Court appointments and, therefore, in social policies like abortion and gay rights. There will be broad resistance to those Trump policies but by executive orders and the momentum of the first hundred days of his presidency in Congress, he will get his way in changing the country’s direction in the beginning.

In Trump’s victory charisma and anger won over a less charismatic candidate following a careful game plan.

After this election, the Republicans will have a narrower margin in the Senate of probably 52-48 with Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth’s win in Illinois and a Democrat leading in New Hampshire. But to block any measures President Trump proposes, like destroying Obamacare, would require some moderate Republicans to join with the Democrats.

In the House of Representatives Democrats will probably hold 195 seats to Republican’s 240, too few to block Trump proposals. As a result, the Republicans will be firmly in control under Speaker Paul Ryan, but he may not be lock-step with Trump on all issues.

There were other lessons. Every election seems to be more expensive than the last. 2016 was one the most expensive elections in American. At least $1.3 billion was spent by Presidential candidates, $1 billion by candidates for the House of Representative, and $700 million on the U.S. Senate contests. Contested congressional election candidates spent at least from $2 million each and many spent much more. U.S. Senate races often cost $20-$40 million or more depending on outside PAC spending. In states like Illinois, a half-dozen state legislative districts spent more than $2 million on each of the opposing candidates which is a new record in Illinois. In the most expensive race for Illinois State Legislature, the candidates spent from $106 – $133 for each of the 20,000 votes they each received.   We desperately need real public funding of campaigns or “Small D Democracy” as advocates call it.

After 2014 there were 20 women in the U.S. Senate and 84 in the House of Representatives. Having Hillary Clinton as a major party Presidential nominee was a breakthrough for women this year, but women still have a hard time gaining parity with men at all levels of government. These 2016 elections only slightly improved situation as women hold only 20% of all elected offices. This needs to change, just as more Latino and Asian-Americans need to be able to run strong campaigns and get elected if our government is to look more like the U.S. population.

There were several reform experiments in the 2014 and 2016 election cycles. In many states, voters can register or change their registration online. Early voting has been extended brought to some college campuses. More people voted early than ever before. Absentee voting can now happen without giving any reasons in most states. And voters were still allowed to register in many precinct polling places even on Election Day. However, Automatic Voter Registration has not yet been widely adopted even though it would allow more people to participate and vote without artificial barriers.

Much of this year’s elections happened behind the scenes at both the national and local elections. Our book Winning Elections in the 21st Century decodes how voter analytics, social media, and old-fashioned door-to-door campaign work proceeded out of the spotlight. It also provides a handbook for those who are dissatisfied with candidates who were elected from local school board member to the President to win with popular participation in the elections of 2018 and beyond.

So what is next? Those who support President Trump will work to help him to have a successful first 100 days in office. Those who oppose President Trump and his policies will work to build resistance as many did when they opposed Reagan’s economic policies back in the 1980s. But the opposition must present a clear alternative and sell it to American voters if they are to win future elections.

In the end, this was an election in which the majority of American voted no against the elites and the status quo. There have been more than 4.4 million home foreclosures since the Great Recession began in 2008. There have been no real salary increases for the working and middle class. Unemployment, especially in ghetto areas and among young adults, remains too high. Americans were mad as hell and by their vote they signaled they aren’t going to take it anymore.

Seriously, What Would Hoover Do?

9780700623051By Matthew Cecil

FBI Director James Comey’s decision to release an ambiguous and ill-timed update on the Bureau’s investigation into Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s email server situation has drawn significant public criticism. Former Justice Department officials have noted that Comey violated longstanding Justice Department policies against election season disclosures. Political critics, including many Democrats and even some Republicans have accused Comey of everything from political naiveté to Machiavellian genius for the timing and nature of his announcement.

One name that has not been evoked in the discussion is that of longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Perhaps it is not surprising. After all, “What would Hoover do?” is a question that likely only comes up in his namesake building as a warning: “Let’s be sure not to do whatever Hoover would have done.”

It is worth considering, though, how Hoover handled election-year politics during his 48-year tenure as director of the FBI. Would Hoover have acted as Comey did in this instance? My immediate reaction, having read hundreds of thousands of FBI documents from the Hoover era is: Probably not, at least not in a presidential campaign.

9780700619467Generally speaking, Hoover was exceedingly careful about allowing himself to be drawn into election year politics. Most often, efforts to drag  Hoover’s name into campaigns, usually by his friends in Congress as evidence of their anti-communist credentials, were spurned by the FBI through its public relations officials. I can think of one specific instance, however, where Hoover allowed his political capital to be used in an election campaign.

Stalwart GOP Senator Karl E. Mundt of South Dakota faced a difficult reelection campaign in 1960 against popular Democratic U.S. Rep. George McGovern. One early 1960 poll showed McGovern with a 20-point lead over the venerable Mundt, then seeking his third term in the Senate. Mundt, who had been member of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, was about as anti-communist as one could be and was considered a “personal friend” of Hoover. In the summer of 1960, an FBI memorandum urged agents to keep a close watch on the race for any efforts by Mundt’s campaign to invoke Hoover’s name. It was left to a friend of the Bureau, newspaper editor, Fred C. Christopherson of the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus Leader to orchestrate a Hoover “endorsement” of Mundt. Christopherson wrote to Hoover in October 1960 asking him to name “the most experienced members of Congress with knowledge of the communistic threat and legislative know-how to handle the situation in our national legislature today.”

Hoover, in a letter written by his politically savvy public relations aide Deke DeLoach (see my book, Branding Hoover’s FBI, for more about DeLoach’s political machinations), named Mundt and three others while lamely qualifying the response by stating there were many others in Congress who were experienced in anti-communist matters. Hoover’s response was repackaged by the Argus Leader and by Mundt’s campaign in a newspaper advertisement, as an “endorsement” of Mundt. The Argus Leader published Hoover’s letter in full, including the qualifying statement. Mundt’s advertisement left that part out. Did Hoover understand he was assisting Mundt’s re-election? Probably, although my reading of thousands of FBI files has convinced me that Hoover was often unaware of basic context of the memoranda he read and letters he signed. The impact of DeLoach’s carefully-worded letter was certainly enhanced by the way it was interpreted and packaged by a helpful newspaper editor and by Mundt’s campaign.

9780700623242Hoover was very cautious about public relations matters, and he was subjected to some criticism after the pro-Mundt ad ran, criticism the FBI did not take lightly. I wish there was more clarity in the files. The Mundt file includes one memorandum suggesting that the FBI (DeLoach, anyway) was aware that Mundt was facing a difficult re-election campaign. Hoover certainly couldn’t have been surprised that his quote was used in a Mundt campaign advertisement. But there’s no indication that the Bureau orchestrated the “endorsement,” or that it knew Mundt would use the quote in an advertisement. Mundt won reelection in 1960 by a mere 15,000 votes and ultimately retired in 1973, although he suffered a stroke in 1969 and did not attend any Senate sessions during his last several years in office.

The many FBI files I have seen suggest that Hoover, for the most part, stayed out of political campaigns, at least publicly. Bureau public relations officials, in most cases, discouraged efforts to use Hoover’s image or words in campaigns. And in the case of Mundt’s campaign, the careful wording of the Bureau’s response to Christopherson’s letter demonstrates how cautious the Director was on those rare occasions when he did intervene publicly in election-year politics.

So what does this all mean for James Comey? I’m afraid Comey comes out looking bad no matter how one evaluates the precedent set by Hoover. If Comey was merely acting as Hoover sometimes did to influence elections, he was parroting the actions of the most discredited figure in FBI history. If he was acting beyond the cautious precedent set by Hoover, Comey was exceeding even the discredited Hoover’s Machiavellian tendencies. Either way, history provides little help for James Comey, whose enduring legacy will likely be shaped by the interpretation of this one event.

Dr. Matthew Cecil is the Dean of the College of Arts & Humanities at Minnesota State University – Mankato. He has published three books with the University Press of Kansas, The Ballad of Ben and Stella Mae, Branding Hoover’s FBI and Hoover’s FBI and the Fourth Estate.

Intellectual Conservatism Cannot Save the Mainstream American Right

Dr. George Hawley, author of Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism, has been busy. Of course, when you start this election year publishing a book about the troubles plaguing the American Conservative movement, it’s hard to stay silent. Dr. Hawley has been closely monitoring the presidential campaign and possible fallout from the Republican’s internal bickering…

By Dr. George Hawley

9780700621934As Donald Trump rampaged through the already fragile infrastructure of the American conservative movement, we saw justified panic on the mainstream right and Schadenfreude on the left. Superficially, at least, the Trump campaign seemed to undermine what little intellectual respectability the right possessed, returning us the days when Lionel Trilling could reasonably state that conservatives do not “express themselves in ideas but only in action or in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.” It makes sense that those laboring to foster and maintain a high-brow, literate conservatism would distance themselves from Trump’s brash, populist nationalism. Unfortunately for the #NeverTrump conservatives, the intellectual wing of the American conservative movement is simply not a plausible alternative to Trumpism.

donald-trump-supporter-yells-sieg-heil-nazi-salute-at-las-vegas-rallyConservatives are always quick to declare that “ideas have consequences” – a rallying cry taken from the title of Richard Weaver’s most important book. They argue that, although the left is a collection of interest groups expressing a litany of grievances, conservatism is based on principles. Conservatism officially rejects identity politics; as Ramesh Ponnuru once wrote in National Review, conservatives “hoist their ideas on flagpoles and see who salutes.”  Trump, in contrast, is a pure identity politics candidate, and one with little interest in abstract principles.

Progressives may roll their eyes at the suggestion that conservatives are deeply invested in political theory or that the conservative movement has a long history of rejecting identity politics. But intellectually serious conservatives do view political and economic theory as important, and they try to frame their arguments using universal principles rather than the language of interest-groups.

More so than liberals, conservatives are deeply concerned about their own movement’s intellectual pedigree. This has been true since Russell Kirk wrote The Conservative Mind. Scouring the internet, it is easy to find lists of sites explaining which books all conservatives should read. Conservatives believe reading books by the founding conservatives is more than important; it is indispensable. As conservatives shudder at Trump’s position at the top of the GOP ticket, they regularly declare that the conservative movement has lost its way, that is must return to its roots, to the conservatism of William F. Buckley and Frank Meyer and the other icons of the right. Just re-read back issues of National Review, the thinking goes; they will tell you what you need to know. Columnist Matt Lewis made an argument like this in his new book, Too Dumb to Fail.

When looking for a usable model for the American right, conservatives point to their own movement’s canon – those books written between the mid-1940s and the early 1960s. From The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek to The Conscience of a Conservative by Barry Goldwater, a small number of books forged the heart of America’s post-war conservative political philosophy. For a discussion of the importance of these books and their authors, I recommend Michael Lee’s excellent work, Creating Conservatism. Among these books written by the founding fathers of conservatism, we can find flashes of genuine brilliance. Today’s conservatives are right to admire what was produced by Weaver, Kirk, Meyer, Hayek, Friedman, Burnham and the other journalists and scholars that created the intellectual foundation for the conservative movement.

Unfortunately for conservatives, the intellectual wing of the conservative movement is not actually an alternative to the populist nationalism represented by Donald Trump. Aside from a few stale talking points, these conservatives have little to offer 21st century America. The arguments made in the conservative classics are completely disconnected from contemporary problems and can provide little guidance for today’s policymakers. For all their virtues (and they had many), Russell Kirk, Whitaker Chambers, and Richard Weaver are now largely irrelevant. A policymaker formulating solutions to growing economic inequality, terrorism, a broken immigration system, and all the other salient issues of 2016 will find little guidance from the conservative canon.

Many of the most important works from the early conservative movement were focused almost single-mindedly on the Cold War or on the folly of planned economies. Yet those battles are over. On these issues, the conservatives won, and won decisively. The Soviet Union is not coming back, and the mainstream left has lost interest in state-directed economics. Conservatives can justifiably boast about this victory, but the conversation has since moved on. Contemporary conservatives that insist their future leaders understand the problems with central planning would be equivalent to 1887 Republicans demanding their leaders study the case against slavery. They are building up an arsenal for a battle that is already won.

The left is no longer fighting to nationalize industries; for the most part, the left is fighting to strengthen the social safety net and increase economic equity within a capitalist framework. The mainstream left made peace with free enterprise long ago. When the debate is framed in these terms, a strong knowledge of the errors of socialism is not particularly helpful. If the debate has transitioned from being about ownership of the means of production to questions about the role of government in guaranteeing some minimal level of economic welfare for all, certain aspects of the canon may actually be harmful to the conservative cause. In The Road to Serfdom, Hayek actually expresses positive sentiments toward welfare policies, stating, for example, that “there is no reason why in a society which has reached the general level of wealth which ours has attained the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom.”

Although conservatives could justifiably crow about the end of the Cold War, on other issues, the conservatives lost – and lost badly. Unfortunately, the conservative canon does not show a way forward after the left triumphs. Much of the conservative canon was written by authors that viewed the United States as a conservative country, arguing that diligent effort could keep it a conservative country. National Review promised in its first issue to “stand athwart history, yelling stop.” Yet history did not stop in 1955. On multiple issues, especially cultural issues, the left was victorious. If history came to a halt right now, it would simply calcify societal developments that conservatives opposed.

Conservatives love to point to Edmund Burke as their inspiration, especially Russell Kirk’s interpretation of Burke. Yet this brand of Burkeanism is similarly futile for conservatives in 2016 America. Many of the left’s most resounding victories on issues of culture and economics occurred a generation or more in the past. To an important degree, progressive egalitarianism, supported and promoted by a large central state, is now an American tradition. Reversing these liberal victories in any substantive way would require revolutionary changes at this point. Where does that leave the traditionalist working from a Burkean framework? According to Russell Kirk, “Conservatism is never more admirable than when it accepts changes that it disapproves, with good grace, for the sake of a general conciliation; and the impetuous Burke, of all men, did most to establish this principle.” This brand of conservatism can only lead to a society that moves like a ratchet in a more liberal direction. At most, it can slow the rate of change. Perhaps this is the ideal role for conservatism. But this kind of conservatism surely does not offering an inspiring vision. Who would sign up for such a movement?

It is true that the founding fathers of the post-war American conservative movement were deeper thinkers than the most prominent conservative voices of today. But even the most brilliant conservatives of the 1950s have few valuable insights for current activists and policymakers. This is not a criticism of their work; they were dealing with ephemeral issues of their day, and often discussed them cogently and persuasively. But the world is now very different.

Besides the end of the Cold War, 2016 differs from the 1950s in other important ways that undermine basic conservative assumptions. There may have been a time when big business and cultural traditionalists were natural allies; mainstream conservatism is largely dependent on such an alliance. Is there such alliance today, or even shared interests? Are there any cultural issues where traditionalists can count on support from major industries? The answer is clearly no.

For the most part, big business is not concerned with issues like gay marriage, affirmative action, and abortion. In fact, major corporations frequently align with liberals on these issues. Even corporations that are widely despised by progressives often align themselves with progressive social causes. Walmart, for example, played an important role in killing or weakening religious freedom laws that would have protected businesses that discriminated against the LGBT community. The recent examples of major corporations that fought for more traditional values on questions such as homosexuality and contraception – such as Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby – are notable precisely because they are so rare. If conservatism is based on a presumed alliance between cultural traditionalists and corporate America, and corporate America actively opposes the traditionalists, what does that say about conservatism?

Conservatives who think Buckley-style conservatism is a legitimate substitute for Trumpism are mistaken. Conservative intellectuals, those who know who Peter Viereck was and subscribe to Modern Age, have failed to generate real, practical solutions to today’s social and economic problems. Keeping the memory of the founding generation of conservatives alive may be a noble undertaking, but it will do nothing to create or sustain a contemporary political movement that both addresses important issues and has a chance at winning.

A few exceptions aside, conservatives stopped generating new ideas long ago, instead focusing on marketing old ones. Unfortunately, the movement is now showing its age. The claim that Trump is killing mainstream American conservatism is mistaken. Mainstream conservatism was already dying.

 

The Vice-Presidential Debate: What’s at Stake?

via Blue Nation Review
via Blue Nation Review

Thursdays from now until the election, we will feature a piece by a UPK author that deals with an aspect of American politics. Today, Joel K. Goldstein, author of The White House Vice Presidency, discuses the importance and possible impact of Tuesday’s vice-presidential debate.

When Senator Tim Kaine and Governor Mike Pence square off in the vice-presidential debate on October 4, 2016 they will be engaging in an institution that is both unique and important in American government. The debate, which will take place at Longwood University in Farmville, Va., will be the tenth vice-presidential debate over the last 40 years.

The unique quality of a vice-presidential debate comes from several features. The major party presidential candidates typically debate two or three times, but Kaine and Pence will have only one vice-presidential debate, a pattern that has been followed in every presidential campaign beginning with 1976 except 1980. Accordingly, the stakes for the vice-presidential candidates are high; they have no chance to redeem a poor performance as, for instance, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama did in their second debates in 1984 and 2012 respectively.

The debate also presents a novel experience for the running mates. After all, presidential candidates have been debating during the primary season; the vice-presidential candidates have not had that opportunity except in the rare instances where they were unsuccessful presidential candidates that year (John Edwards, 2004; Joe Biden, 2008).

Moreover, the vice-presidential candidates are frequently relatively unknown. It is not unusual for 30% to 50% of the electorate to feel it knows too little about the vice-presidential candidates to have a firm opinion about them. Some surveys suggest that is the case this time. Neither Pence nor Kaine has run for president, served in high visibility roles, or attracted extensive attention (as Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin did).

9780700622023Finally, the focus of the vice-presidential debate is not so much on the two candidates on stage but on the two national candidates who are absent that night, the presidential candidates. The vice-presidential candidates therefore must be conversant regarding their record and that of their counterpart but also with the positions and biography of the two presidential candidates.

These features introduce some interesting dynamics into the debate. Because many voters will not have fixed opinions about them, vice-presidential candidates want to make a good impression in this signature campaign event to help shape the initial public perceptions of them. How they are regarded will affect their utility during the remainder of the campaign and the extent to which the public views them as a plausible president. Accordingly, they want to present themselves in an appealing way which may lead them to minimize the extent to which they attack the opposing ticket. On the other hand, their role is largely to support the party standard-bearer, by echoing his or her themes, defending his/her views, actions and qualifications and attacking those of the opposing presidential candidate. If the vice-presidential candidates spend a lot of time talking about themselves or their opponent, they are probably missing their main mark.

Yet even if the vice-presidential candidates are not entirely the focus of the vice-presidential debate, the vice-presidential debate is an important institution. It gives presidential candidates greater reason to choose a running mate who is able and accomplished and who can perform well under the bright lights of a national campaign. It focuses the spotlight on the second candidates, thereby making it easier for voters to consider them in casting their votes. Thus, the vice-presidential debate contributes to the quality of vice-presidential candidates (and vice presidents) and helps make their election more democratic.

And sometimes the vice-presidential debate makes a difference. In the first debate in 1976, Senator Walter F. Mondale helped, and Senator Bob Dole hurt, his cause. Mondale had themes and presented himself in an appealing way; Dole came across as sarcastic and unfocused. The highlight of the debate came when Dole blamed the Democratic party for all of the wars in the 20th century, prompting Mondale’s rebuke that “Senator Dole has richly earned his reputation as a hatchet man tonight, by implying, and stating, that World War II and the Korean War were Democratic wars.” Thereafter, Governor Jimmy Carter routinely cited the Mondale-Dole choice as a reason voters should support him, the Democrats used the vice-presidential choice in campaign ads, and Mondale contributed to Carter’s victory.

Dick Cheney was seen as having bested his rivals in the 2000 and 2004 debates; Senator Joe Lieberman’s unwillingness to attack the Republican ticket vigorously in 2000 was seen as a missed opportunity for the Democrats in a painfully close election.

In 2012, Vice President Joe Biden shifted the momentum in the Democrats’ favor after President Barack Obama had a substandard first debate. Biden ridiculed the positions of Governor Mitt Romney and Representative Paul Ryan and his performance energized the Democratic base.

The Biden-Palin debate outdrew the presidential debates that year, the only time the undercard debate has received such relative prominence. After Palin’s disastrous interview with Katie Couric, many watched the debate anticipating a monumental meltdown. She got through the debate without any such debacle but failed to persuade most Americans that she was qualified to be president. By contrast, Biden provided a masterful performance. Whereas the Pew Research Center found that only 42% thought Palin was qualified to be president (compared to 52% who did not), 77% saw Biden as qualified (as opposed to 16%).

The most famous moment in presidential debate history, of course, occurred in the 1988 vice-presidential debate when Senator Lloyd Bentsen delivered his “Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy” putdown to Senator Dan Quayle after the Indiana senator had compared his congressional experience to that of JFK. Quayle had actually done pretty well in the debate, attacking Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis as a tax-and-spend liberal. But when the panel of reporters persisted in asking Quayle what he would do if he became president, Quayle misinterpreted the questions as challenging his qualifications and ignored his handlers’ admonition to avoid the JFK comparisons and spoiled an otherwise successful evening. The rest, as they say, is history.

Quayle went on to become vice president and contributed in that role to the George H.W. Bush administration. But he never escaped that dramatic moment and we’re reminded of it every four years about this time as it is replayed again and again.

That provides a cautionary tale for Mssrs. Pence and Kaine as they approach this major event in their national political careers. No matter how well they do in presenting themselves and in sounding campaign themes, celebrating their ticket-mate, and criticizing the opposing presidential candidate, one inopportune moment may prove defining. Or a uniformly impressive performance may enhance their stature and their ticket’s prospects.

By Joel K. Goldstein, Vincent C. Immel Professor of Law, Saint Louis University School of Law

Huelskamp’s Defeat: Did Kansas Aggies Get their Revenge?

5726782ca3c5b_previewBy Christopher Bosso

The 1st Kansas is one of the nation’s largest and most rural House districts, stretching from the suburbs of Topeka over 300 miles westward along the Nebraska border to Colorado and curling south another 200 miles to the Oklahoma state line.

The Big First is also Agriculture: vast fields of wheat and grain sorghum interspersed with “concentrated feeding operations” of thousands of head of beef cattle. Not surprisingly, those representing the 1st in Congress, including Representative (later Senator) Robert Dole and Representative (later Senator) Pat Roberts, were devoted to and left indelible fingerprints on agricultural policy – and to making sure that Kansas got its fair share of federal funds.

In 2010 the district’s voters elected state senator Tim Huelskamp to fill a seat left empty when fellow Republican Jerry Moran won the Senate seat vacated when, Sam Brownback, also a Republican, became governor. Huelskamp beat out five other Republicans with 34.5% of the vote in a hotly contested primary, after which he went on to an easy general election victory in a district that voted Democrat only once (1953-1955) in its history.

Huelskamp grew up on a farm in Fowler – 2010 population, 590 – and like many future members of Congress had an early fascination with politics and public policy. He returned to Kansas in 1995 after finishing his doctorate in political science and jumped into politics, getting elected a year later as one of the youngest state senators in decades. He was reelected three times with ease, largely on his conservative values on issues like abortion and same sex marriage as well as his views that government was too big and too expensive. Perhaps reflecting training in a Catholic seminary, or maybe just because he is contrarian by nature, Huelskamp also showed a willingness to criticize fellow Republicans he thought weren’t hewing to those values, to the point that in 2003 he was removed from the key Senate Ways and Means Committee for clashing with party leaders. His reputation with voters for his uncompromising defense of his – and their – beliefs, aided by the support of national conservative groups, enabled Huelskamp to enter Congress in 2010 as part of the “tea party” wave that gave Republicans control of the House.

Huelskamp promptly claimed the district’s “traditional” seat on the House Agriculture Committee. However, anyone who thought that he went to Washington to promote Kansas agriculture were soon disabused. To the surprise of no one who paid attention to his career, Huelskamp fast became a thorn in the side of House Speaker John Boehner and other Republicans leaders. He also refused to compromise on cutting federal spending, even when the all-important Farm Bill was up for reauthorization. In fact, despite pleas by Kansas agricultural groups to support passage, Huelskamp and fellow House conservatives blocked action on the Farm Bill throughout the 112th Congress (2011-2012).

In December 2012 Speaker Boehner, furious at Huelskamp’s obstinacy, booted him from the Budget Committee and, to make the lesson hit closer to home, the Agriculture Committee. The Big First now had no seat on Agriculture for the first time in (recent?) history. Huelskamp, along with the other three members of the Kansas House delegation – the most conservative in the country – also famously voted against the final version of the Agricultural Act of 2014 – the Farm Bill! – despite pleas by Kansas agricultural leaders to support the compromise measure.

All of this should have hurt Huelskamp at home. Boehner certainly hoped that Big First voters would elect a more agreeable Republican. But they didn’t: Huelskamp survived a primary challenge by an underfunded opponent and won easy re-election in 2014. So did his three compatriots, no doubt because they adhered to the set of values on which their supporters sent them to Congress in the first place.

It’s August 2016. Huelskamp again faced a primary challenge. This time he got thumped, losing by 13 points to political novice Roger Marshall. Barring a cataclysm in November, Marshall will be the Big First’s next representative.

Many saw Huelskamp’s ouster as the revenge of Kansas Agriculture. Indeed, former Huelskamp allies at the Kansas Farm Bureau and Kansas Livestock Association supported Marshall, as did the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Association of Wheat Growers. Not surprisingly, Marshall pledges to regain the 1st’s rightful place on the House Agriculture Committee.

Yet Huelskamp’s loss may have more to do with Republican Party politics than with the power of agriculture interests. The primary was like the Spanish Civil War – the warm-up for World War II – with each combatant backed by outside powers using the two as proxies in a bigger fight. Huelskamp had the support of National Right to Life, the National Rifle Association, and conservative groups like Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity. Marshall, no liberal, was backed by what passes these days for Establishment Republicanism – notably the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. These groups poured nearly $3 million into the race, most of it fueling an arms race of television and radio ads. The money mattered: few challengers can beat an incumbent, even one with Huelskamp’s negatives, without it.

While Huelskamp alienated voters, he lost only because he faced a well-funded opponent in a one-on-one race funded by outside groups with their own agendas. Agriculture got its revenge, but only as a result of that larger war within the Republican Party.

Christopher Bosso is professor of public policy at Northeastern University. His areas of interest include food and environmental policy, science and technology policy, and the governance of emerging technologies. His newest book, Framing the Farm Bill: Interests, Ideology, and the Agricultural Act of 2014 will be published by UPK next year.