Can’t do it. Impossible. It’s too late now. Those are some of the responses to the question of the week: Will President Barack Obama dump Vice President Joe Biden?
All Washington was abuzz with this question. When Fox News’ Ed Henry asked White House spokesman Jay Carney about it, Carney batted down the very idea. That is usually what happens when reporters get too close to a moving story. It’s rather like when John Edwards — one of the vice presidential candidates who ought to have been dumped — denied, denied, denied right up until the minute he said [gulp!] yup.
Veeps have been dumped before. Granted, it doesn’t happen often. Vice President Dick Cheney told President George W. Bush he was willing to go over the side for the team early in 2004. He acknowledged he had become the Darth Vader of the administration, a lightning rod for liberal media strikes. W. must have been tempted. It sure would have proved that he was not the ventriloquist’s dummy of liberal pundits’ imagination. And Cheney could always have cited his heart condition as a valid reason. W. kept the team intact and eked out a re-election victory in 2004, thanks to Ohio. After the 2000 election squeaker, the 2004 “eker” felt almost comfortable.
President Jerry Ford responded to conservative rumblings in 1976 by asking Vice President Nelson Rockefeller to walk the plank. He tapped Kansas Sen. Bob Dole as his running mate. It shows how far we’ve come that in 1976, Bob Dole was named to quiet the conservatives. The Ford-Dole ticket was 30 points down to Carter-Mondale that year, but the president battled back bravely and might have pulled it off had he not let First Lady Betty Ford pop off about her pro-choice views (in opposition to the Republican platform). Or, if the president had not made an incredible gaffe in the only foreign policy debate that year. Ford said that Eastern Europe “is not under Soviet domination.” No, the country yelled back: Eastern Europe is under Soviet tanks!
But veep-dumping has an honorable history. Franklin D. Roosevelt was the all-time champion of candidates — four presidential nominations, four smashing victories. In 1940, already challenging the two-term tradition, Roosevelt decided to dump his vice president, two-termer John Nance Garner of Texas. “Cactus Jack” had earned the president’s ire by not backing his court-packing scheme of 1937. Garner was on the winning side in that one, but he was soon sent packing — back to Uvalde, Texas. Roosevelt cruised to a third-term victory — even carrying Texas with ease.
FDR dumped his veep again, in 1944. This time it was Democratic pols who forced the change. Big-city Democratic bosses saw the president’s pallid skin — his face was the color of parchment — and knew he would not survive a fourth term. They pressed to put Missouri’s Sen. Harry Truman on the ticket. They couldn’t bear the thought of the dreamy Vice President Henry Wallace — a pawn of the communists — succeeding when Roosevelt died.
Abraham Lincoln didn’t want to dump Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, but in 1864 the Republicans’ election prospects looked grim. Party leaders meeting in convention in Baltimore decided they needed a pro-Union Southerner on the ticket to carry the Border States. They chose Andrew Johnson of Tennessee. After the fall of Atlanta and Sherman’s famous March to the Sea, Lincoln won a very comfortable victory in November. Harper’s Weekly published a famous cartoon, “Long Abraham Lincoln a Little Longer.” Tragically, it would only be a little longer as the deplorable, racist Johnson took office in the wake of Lincoln’s assassination.
Perhaps the champion veep-dumper of all time was Thomas Jefferson. The wily New Yorker Aaron Burr, the Jeffersonians’ candidate for vice president, refused to bow out definitively in the disputed election of 1800, and thus gave currency to the rumors he was angling to slip into the White House past the party’s presidential nominee, Jefferson. Thus, Vice President Burr was a lame duck before he entered office. President Jefferson completely shut Burr out of everything — including party patronage in the Empire State.
When Burr was dumped in 1804, and even defeated for governor of his home state, he blamed fellow New Yorker Alexander Hamilton. Vice President Burr killed Hamilton in a duel that summer. Soon, as a former vice president, he was involved in a plot to detach the western states from the Union. President Jefferson had him brought to trial in Richmond, Virginia, a Jeffersonian bastion. Burr escaped the hangman’s noose when Chief Justice John Marshall demanded, and the president resolutely refused to produce, secret executive branch documents. Jefferson cited separation of powers. As soon as Burr was acquitted, however, the White House published the incriminating evidence in newspapers. Burr’s treason was shown to all. Now that’s one hard way to dump your veep!
So it’s not too late. As a candidate in 2008, the president was known as “No Drama Obama.” But the Democrats’ 2012 convention in Charlotte needs some drama. Imagine if Hillary could be summoned from whatever international conference she’s headed to. Envision her State Department jet being re-routed in mid-air for her to appear on the platform next to her one-time rival, just in time to let hubby Bill announce the new Obama-Clinton ticket to the world. Joe Biden could be put back on that State Department jet as the newly minted secretary of state. Not a bad shown-the-door prize for the man who is forever stepping on rakes. Now, in all candor, we have already gone on record calling Hillary America’s worst secretary of state. But she couldn’t be our worst vice president. As long as Joe Biden’s around, that title is safe.
Ken Blackwell on faculty of the Liberty University School of Law. Bob Morrison is a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard.