To Hawthorn Friends & Family

This one is for only the true political history “junkies” amongst us . . . seeking an escape from a chaotic week of Trump’s indictment, the arrest of the impeached Texas Attorney General’s best friend, and a spate of GOP presidential announcements . . . not to mention Code Maroon (who knew there was something more extreme than Code Red?) air quality in the Swamp on the Potomac.

Former Vice President Mike Pence formally announced his candidacy for president this week (as did, perhaps more interestingly at least, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie . . . along with some governor of North Dakota, wherever that is and whomever he is) . . . while once-Harvard professor (until he was denied tenure) Cornell West reaffirmed his determination to run as a third-party candidate.

While recent “disruptions” (many of them created by President Trump) in politics seem to make all historic “rules” increasingly irrelevant, considering the candidacy of a former vice president does — for some of us seriously afflicted junkies — prompt a trip down the “memory lanes” of history.

In the 234 years since 1789, America has had 49 vice presidents.  Only six of those 49 vice presidents have been directly elected president without first succeeding to the office on the death or resignation of their predecessor . . . and their subsequent political lives were hardly “golden”:

  • John Adams in 1796 (who then served only one term, losing the office to Jefferson)
  • Thomas Jefferson in 1800 (who chose not to include mention on his tombstone his service as president, focusing instead on the Declaration of Independence, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and the University of Virginia)
  • Martin Van Buren in 1836 (like Adams, also for one unhappy term)
  • Richard Nixon in 1968 (after first losing to JFK in 1960, then forced to resign in 1975)
  • George H. W. Bush in 1988 (for one term, before losing to Bill Clinton in 1992)
  • Joe Biden in 2020 (who passed on the race in 2016 in favor of Hillary Clinton and is now suffering disastrous favorability polling numbers and, like Trump, unwanted as the nominee by a majority of his own party)

And the nine vice presidents who succeeded to the office on death/resignation didn’t have an especially bright political life thereafter, with NONE elected to two terms:

  • John Tyler (failed to win renomination in 1844)
  • Millard Filmore (elected VP as a Know Nothing, he failed to win renomination by the Whigs in 1852)
  • Andrew Johnson (who succeeded Lincoln, was impeached but by one vote not convicted, then lost renomination in 1868)
  • Chester Allen Arthur (defeated for renomination in 1884)
  • Theodore Roosevelt (elected to a full term in 1904 only to lose disastrously as a third-party candidate in 1912)
  • Calvin Coolidge (in 1928, said simply “I choose not to run”)
  • Harry Truman (won an epic election in ’48, but facing nearly certain defeat chose not to run in ’52)
  • Lyndon Johnson (won a big election in ’64, but likewise facing defeat chose not to run in ’68)
  • Gerald Ford (lost his ’76 bid to keep the office he filled on Nixon’s resignation)

And the political failures of other 20th century vice presidents come to mind, in addition to TR’s in ’12 and Nixon’s in ’60:

  • John Nance Garner (lost the nomination fight to FDR in ’32, served two terms as FDR’s VP, then was dropped from the ticket in ’40)
  • Henry Wallace (like Garner, dropped from ticket in 1944 by FDR, Wallace lost his third-party race against Truman in 1948)
  • Hubert Humphrey (lost to Nixon in ’68, then lost Democratic primaries to George McGovern in ’72)
  • Nelson Rockefeller (dropped by Ford from the ticket in 1976 in favor of Bob Dole)
  • Walter Mondale (losing re-election as VP with Carter in ’80, lost election for president in ’84)
  • Dan Quayle (announced but quickly pulled out of the 2000 Republican race in ’99)
  • Al Gore (lost election for President in 2000)

. . . all continuing the earlier tradition set by Jefferson’s VP in 1808, George Clinton, who tried to take on James Madison but was thwarted when they nominated him for VP again and John C. Breckenridge, VP for the disastrous Buchanan, who lost to Lincoln in 1860.

Of course, among the more forgotten vice presidents (including the traitorous, if successful duelist, Aaron Burr), one stands out.  Woodrow Wilson’s vice president Thomas Marshall will always be remembered among cigars smokers for his famous quote,

I’ll tell you what this country really needs.
What this country really needs is a good five-cent cigar.”

Although for this subject, perhaps the best VP quote came from FDR’s first vice president, John Nance Garner, who is reported to have advised his fellow Texan Lyndon Johnson to turn down the 1960 offer of VP from John Kennedy, saying,

Although for this subject, perhaps the best VP quote came from FDR’s first vice president, John Nance Garner, who is reported to have advised his fellow Texan Lyndon Johnson to turn down the 1960 offer of VP from John Kennedy, saying,

Lyndon, the vice presidency isn’t worth a bucket of warm spit.”

While we’re not prepared to forecast yet who will be elected president in 2024, we ARE prepared to predict it will NOT be Mike Pence . . . nor the governor of North Dakota.