By the time you read this column, Donald Trump will have formally announced his running mate for vice president: Governor Mike Pence. I thought it might be appropriate to give a bit of background on the role of the VP and outline the process for the VP selection and election.
The vice president, as I suspect everyone knows, is the first in the line of succession if the president should die or leave office after resignation, impeachment or illness. The process is in place to ensure an orderly continuation of the presidency. In this context, there have been a number of cases of a VP stepping into the role of president: John Tyler after William Harrison's death in 1842; Millard Fillmore after Zachary Taylor died in 1850; Andrew Johnson after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865; Chester A. Arthur after James Garfield was assassinated in 1881; Theodore Roosevelt after William McKinley was assassinated in 1901; Calvin Coolidge after Warren Harding died in 1923; Harry S. Truman after Franklin D. Roosevelt died in 1945; Lyndon B. Johnson after John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963; and finally Gerald R. Ford after Richard Nixon resigned in 1974.
The occurrences are really not that rare. In fact, nine of 43 presidents have come to power this way so the choice for VP is not inconsequential.
There is also a kind of understanding that the vice president will become the presumptive nominee if the president runs out of his/her term of office or decides not to run for a second term. Four vice presidents have been elected president: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Martin van Buren and George, H.W Bush. In recent memory, Al Gore ran for the presidency after Bill Clinton's two successive terms but Joe Biden decided not to run in this election after the completion of Barack Obama's terms.
Another key responsibility is as president of the senate. This can also be an important role and is described in the Constitution: "The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided." In other words, the VP is the tiebreaker in Senate votes.
In a recent article in the New York Times, Justin S. Vaughn argued that: "[w]hen Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump make their picks in the coming weeks, the running mates will be viewed through two lenses: the impact they will have on the election, and the effect they might have on running the government."
"The news media, [Vaughn says] mostly debates the first, and yet most political-science research finds that vice-presidential selections have negligible effects on elections." Thus Vaughn suggests that: "Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton would be better advised to focus on who would best serve their administrations."
Still, as his article goes on to show, there is wisdom in making sure that the running mate is chosen strategically and the best strategy is to consider where a VP may bolster the hopes of the presidential nominee in a particular state. Many commentators, including Vaughn, point to Ohio as one the key states that could be in play. So far, there is no clear indication whether or not Mike Pence will help Trump in Ohio.
Finally, I should point out that the election of the vice president is kind of an oddity in the sense that the elector is really choosing the team of the president and the VP. It is common to hear the expression "the ticket" in reference to the two candidates. A quick look at a few examples of U.S. election ballots will show you that if a voter chooses the Republican presidential nominee, the voter is also choosing the Republican vice presidential nominee.
It is interesting to see how many internet searches ask the question: "Can the president and the VP be from different parties?" The answer, theoretically, is yes but only if the presidential nominee chooses a person from a different party and, in practice, this is not likely to happen. Although, it is interesting to note that during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln ran the Republican Party under the name The National Union Party and Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, was his VP candidate.
Stay tuned to see who Hilary Clinton names as her running mate.