In the past, choosing a vice president wasn’t always such a big to-do. In fact, prior to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the party conventions just selected a running mate and that was that. The prevailing sentiment in the early years of the vice presidents was more or less, “Who cares what sidekick the President picks? It’s not like he does anything anyway.” Although, modern vice presidents are far busier than ever before. Al Gore, Dick Cheney and Joe Biden have been in charge of a number of presidential tasks from international trips and publicity stunts to working on late-night deals in Congress and making tough foreign policy calls. We must always remember that these men in the shadows are only one bullet, case of pneumonia, accident, or impeachment away from becoming America’s head honcho. In this article, we take a look at a few of the most disastrous choices for VP nominee in history.
A Bad Choice Was Made In 2008…
Historians will argue forever who ranks as the absolute worst VP nominee, but there are many names that come to mind. The most recent disaster was undoubtedly Sarah Palin. One could see why (then) 72-year-old John McCain would choose her. On the Democratic side, the fervor for Hillary Clinton was really heating up in her race against Barack Obama. Why not take advantage of the growing calls for a woman in charge in the White House and show that he’s a true “Maverick” by being one of the few Presidential contenders in history to run alongside a woman? After all, she was super popular in her home state of Alaska and had some good governing experience that would pair nicely with McCain’s largely legislative work. There were a few problems, however. First of all, Palin was more insular in small town Alaska than anyone had thought and her never-ending series of foreign policy gaffes and limited intellectual curiosity became the focus of media scrutiny. Saturday Night Live enjoyed high ratings with Tina Fey’s spot-on impression of Palin. It also didn’t help that the two hardly knew each other and lacked the chemistry needed to make a ticket run smoothly. In essence, McCain took a huge gamble… and lost.
More Awful Choices…
Even though Dan Quayle technically helped George Bush Sr. win his ticket, holding promise as the “Republican JFK,” he wound up as a laughingstock. He was seen as evasive and uncertain in debate performances. Americans painfully watched how Quayle told an elementary school child he had misspelled “potato” by forgetting the “e” at the end. He was ridiculed by the San Diego Union Tribune as an intellectual lightweight and incompetent. He constantly made unbelievable gaffes on very basic common knowledge, saying that Mars was in the same orbit as Earth, or that the holocaust was “an obscene period in our nation’s history.” He garnered more backlash when he attacked Murphy Brown and the idea that single mothers raising children were somehow “mocking the importance of fathers.” Needless to say, he did not help the ticket win re-election after the public got a taste for his buffoonery.
Another terrible VP pick was Senator Thomas Eagleton, who ran alongside George McGovern in 1972. McGovern hastily selected Eagleton after he was shot down by his initial choice, Gaylord Nelson. He failed to run a full background check of the Senator, or else he would have noticed a number of hospitalizations. He was, in fact, on an anti-psychotic called Thorazine and two of his doctors expressed serious concern in his eligibility for office, calling him “manic depressive” and “suicidal.” Shortly after being added to the ticket, he was hospitalized for “nervous exhaustion,” for which he received electroshock treatments. Unbeknownst to McGovern, Eagleton was talking all sorts of smack behind his back. He allegedly told a reporter that, “The people don’t know McGovern is for amnesty, abortion and legalization of pot. Once middle America — Catholic middle America, in particular — finds out, he’s dead.” The reporter named him as an “unnamed Democratic senator” and the truth only came out in 2007, several months after Eagleton passed away. Here is a cool ABC News video about Thomas Eagleton’s troubles back in 1972.
It was an emotional time to see the first Italian-American and the first woman appear on a major party line for national office. Early coverage was very favorable, painting her as a strong woman who was the child of poor immigrants and rose above. On the stump, she was formidable in foreign policy and very critical of Reagan, often overshadowing Walter Mondale himself. Trouble started brewing when the NY Times began digging into her financial records. There was much secrecy surrounding her husband’s finances and he refused to release his financial statements. When the statements were finally made public, it was discovered the couple was worth about $4 million and that they had once paid $53,000 in federal back taxes due to “an accountant’s error.” Even though a press conference put the issue to rest once and for all, she later became embroiled with the Catholic Church when she espoused her belief that abortion was “open to individual interpretation.” A month before they lost in a landslide election, the NY Post published a damaging (but true) report that Ferraro’s father had been arrested for possession of numbers slips from illegal underground gambling.
Ross Perot and James Stockdale met through Perot’s wife’s work with the families of Vietnam POWs. Perot asked Stockdale to be his “provisional” running mate in March and planned to eventually replace him, but he never got around to it. In fact, Perot dropped out of the race in July and returned in the fall, with Stockdale still by his side. A week before the October vice presidential debate, Stockdale received the memo that he was expected to participate. He opened with the famous opening statement, “Who am I? Why am I here?” — which was later mercilessly parodied on Saturday Night Live. His performance went downhill from there with senseless rambling, missing questions because his hearing aid wasn’t turned on, continuously repeating the term “gridlock,” stuttering, wandering around to Gore’s podium, and losing his train of thought.
Who do you think was the worst VEEP nominee in history?
(Let’s hope the Republicans make a better choice this year!)