Vice-presidents have historically made surprisingly little difference to the outcome of presidential elections. The elder Bush picked Dan Quayle in 1988 in hopes of wooing younger voters, much as Walter Mondale had chosen Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, in an effort to mobilize women, and George McGovern had hoped that Sargent Shriver would stanch his losses among Catholics in 1972.
None of these gambits worked. Ms. Ferraro did not deliver women, Mr. Quayle did not deliver youth, and Catholics defected to Nixon in 1972.
Where vice-presidents – and especially Republican vice-presidents – make an enormous difference is after the election.
Since the Second World War, 10 men have received the Republican nomination for vice-president. Three of those men – Richard Nixon, Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush – continued on to win the presidential nomination for themselves, and two actually became president. (A fourth nominee, Thomas Dewey’s 1948 running mate, Earl Warren, rose to arguably even greater power as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. And you could add a fifth case: Gerald Ford went on to the presidency after being appointed vice-president in 1973.)
Should John McCain lose in November, Sarah Palin has just pole-vaulted into front-runner status for 2012. Should Mr. McCain win, her grip on the next Republican nomination will become a lock.
So this is the future of the Republican party you are looking at: a future in which national security has bumped down the list of priorities behind abortion politics, gender politics, and energy politics. Ms. Palin is a bold pick, and probably a shrewd one. It’s not nearly so clear that she is a responsible pick, or a wise one.
The only part of Frum’s analysis I disagree with is his analysis of Palin’s future if the Republican ticket loses this year. Will she be a candidate for President ? Possibly, just like Dan Quayle was a candidate in 1996. Like Quayle, however, I couldn’t see her pole-vaulting, to use Frum’s term, over men like Romney or Huckabee, who have already proven their mettle in Republican primaries, and their ability to attract votes. If McCain/Palin doesn’t win this year, it seems to me that it would be hard for Governor Palin to argue that she is suddenly the front-runner in 2012.
If McCain wins, however, she will be a front-runner in 2016, or perhaps in 2012 should McCain choose not to run for re-election. Not to mention the fact that, beginning on 20 January 2009, she will literally be a heartbeat away from the Presidency.
Like Frum, I’m not entirely sure that is a good thing.