It started with a Bob Woodward throwaway line, suggesting in a CNN interview that Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would switch roles in time for the 2012 presidential election, the thought being that it would give Clinton a leg up on the 2016 presidential election, assuming that were her plan. The idea is "on the table," Woodward said.
That was enough for those who write and obsess about politics. And the reaction was completely expected. Sure, everyone rolled their eyes, but they all wrote about how the "chattering class" is obsessing over this. A headline in Politico said, "Clinton Dismisses Running-Mate Speculation," but the subheader was, "Some ex-advisers see idea as a steppingstone to 2016." Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post awarded Biden his "Worst Week in Washington" award because of all the chatter. Of course, by writing about it, we all guaranteed that everyone would obsess over it. That's how these things work.
Speculating about the dumping of a vice president is age-old stuff, and sometimes there's actual merit to it, as I'll point out later. But not this time. The White House called the trial balloon "complete fiction," and it is. But in my travels the past two weeks around the country, in visits to NPR member stations in California and Ohio and Florida, it was among the most asked questions.
The fact is, the 67-year old Biden, health willing, will be President Obama's running mate in 2012. He is a trusted adviser on many issues, especially Iraq and Afghanistan. Whereas Obama has decided to limit his campaign appearances to the states he carried in 2008, Biden has gone — and will go — everywhere and anywhere. He has raised millions of dollars for his party in this cycle. The president, perhaps in response to the chatter, said in a recent campaign visit to Delaware (with the VP) on behalf of Senate candidate Chris Coons that, "The single best decision that I have made was selecting Joe Biden as my running mate."
But, in the event I'm completely wrong about this, and Biden turns out to be a one-termer, then everyone should brush up on their Constitution and the Twenty-fifth Amendment. It states that if there is a vacancy for vice president, the president shall nominate a successor "who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress." That's how Gerald Ford became vice president in 1973, following the resignation of Spiro Agnew, and that's how Nelson Rockefeller became vice president in 1974, when Vice President Ford became President Ford in the wake of President Nixon's resignation.
Speculation about keeping or dumping the vice president, of course, is not new in politics. Henry Wallace, FDR's second vice president, was dumped at the 1944 convention when Southerners, unhappy with some of his views, made it clear that he needed to go. President Roosevelt himself offered a bland endorsement for Wallace but basically left the decision up to the delegates. They in turn chose Missouri Sen. Harry Truman over Wallace on the second ballot. Four years later, a far more radicalized Wallace ran against President Truman on a left-wing, third-party ticket.
Richard Nixon almost didn't make it out of the gate as Dwight Eisenhower's running mate in 1952. It was revealed that he had benefited from a "secret fund" to pay for some of his expenses. It wasn't until he gave a nationally televised address — the famous "Checkers Speech" — that solidified his place on the ticket.
But with Ike having health issues and not everyone convinced he would stand for re-election, some Republicans wanted to dump Nixon from the ticket in 1956, fearful he would become the party's standard bearer, if not the incumbent. Leading that effort was Harold Stassen, the former Minnesota governor and presidential candidate, who said he preferred Massachusetts Gov. Christian Herter as VP. But there is no indication that Eisenhower ever seriously considered changing vice presidents.
The aforementioned Agnew was thought to be in danger of being dumped in 1972, when Nixon was thought to be dreaming of replacing him with Treasury Secretary John Connally. And the aforementioned Rockefeller was indeed dumped by President Ford, who bowed to angry conservatives in 1976 and picked Kansas Sen. Bob Dole as his running mate.