NOVEMBER 5, 2008
HISTORY SUGGESTS PALIN’S POLITICAL FUTURE IS DIM
The losing VP candidate has a mountain to climb for 2012
By JOSHUA SPIVAK
Though Sarah Palin's vice presidential run came to a losing end on Tuesday, many of her supporters are already touting her as a candidate in 2012.
Despite her poor performance in the media and in some polls, Palin, unlike McCain or the other Republican primary candidates, managed to excite the party's conservative base.
But history has a cruel lesson for anyone counting on her presidential aspirations: the losing vice presidential candidate has usually met the end of the line for a national office run.
Based on recent history, this may seem counterintuitive. After all, the winning vice presidential candidate is handed a gilded path to the nomination. Since 1952, seven of 11 vice presidents have gained their parties' presidential nomination in the next election. There is an obvious reason for this -- the vice president is running effectively as incumbent, cloaked under the mantle of the previous president. The vice president has also managed to stay in the public eye for the last four or eight years, gaining invaluable name recognition and respect from the party faithful.
But the losers have a sadder story to tell. Throughout the entirety of American history, only three losing vice presidential candidates have managed to ever come back and win their parties' nomination. And all three have exceptional stories.
The most recent man to do it, the Republican 1996 presidential standard bearer Bob Dole, had previously run as Gerald Ford's second in 1976. By the time Ford tapped him, Dole had already served 16 years in Congress and a term as the head of the Republican National Committee. And yet, the two dates for his national runs say it all. It took Dole 20 years, two failed presidential runs and a long service as the Senate Republican leader before he managed to re-climb the ladder and capture the Republican nomination. Not that it helped. He was easily defeated by Bill Clinton in the presidential race.
The second losing candidate to climb onto the top of the platform was Walter Mondale, but his place comes with a major asterisk. Mondale did lose with Jimmy Carter in 1980, but of course, Mondale had already served four years as a Vice President. By the time 1984 came around, he was the Democratic front runner based on his four years in national office. His Democratic Party triumph was no surprise.
The final name, like Palin did not have a lot of experience in office when tapped for the VP slot, and could provide a slight comfort. But she would have to go all the way back to 1920 to find him, and ignore some critical facts to find hope in his example. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt served as James Cox's running mate on the Democratic ticket. Cox and Roosevelt were trounced by Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge's return to normalcy campaign.
Roosevelt of course managed to return to the national arena. However, it took him 12 years to get back onto the stage. And to do it, he had to serve four years as Governor of New York, by far the largest state in the nation and a real swing state at the time. He also had the benefit of his famous name and deep family connections.
That's it though. None of the other losing VP candidates have ever gotten close to the White House. Many of them have gone on to distinguished careers. Usually though, when they were tapped as running mate, they already held prestigious position of power. That was why they were named to the ticket in the first place. Many, especially the Democrats, were well-known Senators who kept their current elective office, and continued to make a mark in Washington.
But Palin, after a mere two years as Governor of one of the least populated states in the country, may be staring down at a different history. Many of the losing running mates have discovered that the country is not kind to a loser. Some of the failed VPs, like Joe Lieberman, Edmund Muskie and John Edwards, made disappointing bids for the presidency in the next election. Others never succeeded in capturing elective or appointive office again, like Dan Quayle, Jack Kemp or Geraldine Ferraro.
Worse still is the path of William E. Miller, Barry Goldwater's second in his crushing 1964 defeat. Not only did Miller, a little known conservative upstate New York Congressman, never gain public office again, he actually starred in American Express commercials a decade after his losing run, asking "Do You Know Me?" Few did.
Palin may be trying to lay the ground work for 2012, but she should realize history's cruel lesson -- building a campaign based on a losing vice presidential run is a weak place to start.
Joshua Spivak, a public relations executive and attorney, is a research fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Center for Government Reform at Wagner College in New York