Veeps Don’t Win Presidencies

Part the millionth.

President Donald Trump visits a fourth grade classroom at Saint Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, Florida, Friday, March 3, 2017. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Michael LaRosa (a former special assistant to President Biden and a former press secretary for Jill Biden) writes in the NYT: The Trump Running Mate Who Threatens the Blue Wall.

That running mate?

Marco Rubio.

The argument?

Pennsylvania has been political ground zero in presidential elections for nearly a quarter-century, and 2024 will be no different. Joe Biden carried his birth state by almost 82,000 votes in 2020, and will need to win it again this year.

As a native Pennsylvanian, I have confidence that he can. But my confidence can be shaken. There is one person on Donald Trump’s reported shortlist of running mates who has the ability to carve a Pennsylvania-shaped slice out of the so-called blue wall of rust belt states that Democratic presidential candidates typically need to win: Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

[…]

there is something Latino voters have in common: their Latin American roots and the pride that comes from casting a vote for someone who looks and talks like them. Mr. Rubio would break a significant cultural barrier as the first Latino on a national ticket. We’ve seen how that feeling of cultural and identity pride can marshal voters and transcend ideological and partisan preferences, and it should never be underestimated.

Look, I understand the notion that in a race that is tight nationally and in states like Pennsylvania every little thing could matter. So in the sense that there are hundreds of variables that could affect a razor-thin result in Pennsylvania (Biden won, as noted above, in 2020 by roughly 80,000 votes), could Rubio make the difference for some voters?

Maybe. But, I am not buying it.

First, it is evergreen for someone (usually multiple someones) to write columns every four years about how choice X or Y will push a ticket over the top.* Not only are these people often not the ones who are chosen, but when they are chosen they rarely deliver what the given columnist promises.

There is just no evidence that vice presidential selection affects electoral outcomes. I am open to an argument that LBJ helped JFK in 1960 more than most, but that was an era in which the tickets were true attempts at intra-party coalition building and, more importantly for this issue, an era in which local machine-based politics was effective, and LBJ had a lot of capacity in parts of rural Texas. Even in that case, it is overly reductive in my view to say that LBJ was the decisive variable (if anything, because JFK would have won the EC without Texas).

Regardless, I see no actual evidence in the La Rosa piece that having Rubio on the ticket would produce the results that he claims it would (which is the basic case for these kinds of columns).


*And to be somewhat self-aware, it is probably evergreen for me to complain about these columns. If only we could harness the energy of the point/counter-point of it all!

FILED UNDER: 2024 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Kingdaddy says:

    The former special assistant to President Biden and a former press secretary for Jill Biden, as well as the New York Times, are missing the obvious:

    Trump is not a normal candidate.
    The GOP is not a normal party.
    This is not a normal election.

    And even if this were a normal candidate, a normal party, and a normal election, VPs don’t matter. But because nothing about this political moment is normal, the NYT is spinning dangerous fantasies by printing nonsense such as this.

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  2. @Kingdaddy: It is, at the barest of minimums, incredibly lazy.

    And I agree: the constant attempts to treat this election as normal are dangerous, but is it almost like they can’t help themselves.

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  3. gVOR10 says:

    Regardless, I see no actual evidence in the La Rosa piece

    This is political punditry, we don’t need no steenking evidence. We got column inches to fill, and “Biden is doomed” draws clicks.

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  4. DK says:

    The New York Times has to fill space. Its contributors need to write something. They can’t just print “This Close Election is Unpredictable” over and over.

    Just have your salt grains in reach when consuming news.

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  5. Kylopod says:

    Even in that case, it is overly reductive in my view to say that LBJ was the decisive variable (if anything, because JFK would have won the EC without Texas).

    Texas wasn’t the only reason LBJ was selected; it was also to help Kennedy in the overall South, where he was vulnerable due to his support for civil rights. (I read an interesting book a while back–Kennedy and King by Steven Levingston–which goes into the careful needle-threading by the Kennedy campaign to court civil rights leaders and the black community while avoiding pissing off the Dixiecrats more than necessary.)

    While it’s obviously true that tickets have often lost the vp’s home state (Dukakis-Bentsen in Texas, Kerry-Edwards in NC, Romney-Ryan in WI), there’s evidence it helps marginally. I think Hillary would have carried VA without Kaine on the ticket, but her 5-point win compared with Obama’s 3-point in the previous cycle, when Hillary did worse than Obama in most other states, suggests Kaine gave her a boost.

    The problem is that it’s hard to predict in advance which of these small effects will matter, and most of the time they aren’t close to being sufficient on their own. Virginia didn’t carry Hillary to victory, but it wasn’t insane for her to think it would given that it was considered one of the key battleground states four years earlier. I’m of the opinion that Gore would have become president if he’d picked Bob Graham of Florida or Jeanne Shaheen of NH as his running mate in 2000. But the circumstances of that election were so unusual that it’s hard to draw any general conclusions about smart electoral strategy. Very few elections come down to a single state; 2000 and 2004 were exceptions.

    I guess the proper conclusion is that a candidate shouldn’t ignore these factors entirely in choosing a running mate, but at best it’s a second- or third-tier concern.

    That said, there’s no magical formula to choosing a running mate. Ticket-balancing is nothing more than tradition. Bill Clinton defied it in 1992. There’s also an extra consideration for a candidate as old as Trump; if he wins there’s a nontrivial possibility the veep will become president before the next term is up.

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  6. Pylon says:

    Rubio isn’t even allowed to be Trump’s VP (unless Trump relocates again).

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  7. DeD says:

    Mr. Rubio would break a significant cultural barrier as the first Latino on a national ticket. We’ve seen how that feeling of cultural and identity pride can marshal voters and transcend ideological and partisan preferences, and it should never be underestimated.

    If that were actually true to any significant extent, we (WE) would have been slobbering all over Tim Scott’s MAGA-adjacent self-hating azz. Hell, we weren’t even that excited about Jesse Jackson back in ’88.

    VPs may not win a presidential election, but they sure can lose them! Hello? Sarah Palin? Are you there?

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  8. Gustopher says:

    @Pylon: I’m sure Rubio would relocate (perhaps to a lesser Trump property, to show complete subservience and loyalty).

    Sure, he’s Senator, but you don’t have to live in a state to be their Senator. Tommy Tuberville doesn’t live in Alabama. Maybe Rubio can move to Alabama to balance Tuberville living in Florida.

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  9. Mister Bluster says:

    United States Constitution
    Article I Section 3
    No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.

    Apparently after a United States Senator is elected to office they are free to live anywhere.

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  10. MarkedMan says:

    @DeD:

    @Mister Bluster:

    Apparently after a United States Senator is elected to office they are free to live anywhere

    Just a guess, but before airplanes, and certainly before railroads, it was generally accepted that Senators and Representatives would relocate to DC or the environs.

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  11. SKI says:

    @Gustopher:

    I’m sure Rubio would relocate (perhaps to a lesser Trump property, to show complete subservience and loyalty).

    Word is he has floated “relocating” to Maryland (at least temporarily during the campaign).

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  12. Sleeping Dog says:

    What’s missing in LaRose’s piece is the acknowledgment that if a subset of Latinos would vote for Felon trump because of Rubio, there is also a subset of white voters that wouldn’t vote for a Latino.

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  13. Michael Cain says:

    My perception from the Latinos I know, who are all of Mexican descent living in western states, is that they would be seriously insulted if you grouped them with the people of Cuban descent in Florida.

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  14. Michael Cain says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Just a guess, but before airplanes, and certainly before railroads, it was generally accepted that Senators and Representatives would relocate to DC or the environs.

    For half the year or so. It used to be generally accepted that Congress would adjourn in May or June and not reconvene until the next January. There are a number of presidential powers that assume that Congress is not going to be available to make decisions for months at a time.

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  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Cain: Lot of that other places, too. While I was in Korea, one of my fellow teachers with a pronounced Eastern European accent used to remind us that he was not a Slav, but pure Polish from Prussia.

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  16. Gavin says:

    Fun side note: Any mention of Trump’s felonies on House floor is currently gagged. That last happened with slavery in the years before the Civil War.

    I, for one, am sure Dick Durbin’s reinstating of the blue slips will solve this problem of a lack of comity and couldn’t possibly just unilaterally disarm the Democrats.

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  17. Zachriel says:

    @Pylon: Rubio isn’t even allowed to be Trump’s VP (unless Trump relocates again).

    Rubio can remain in Florida as Trump’s VP running mate, but he would not be eligible for Florida’s electoral votes. If there were ti be a tie in the electoral college, the Senate would decide. See Article II, Section 1, Clause 3.

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: While I was in Korea, one of my fellow teachers with a pronounced Eastern European accent used to remind us that he was not a Slav, but pure Polish from Prussia.

    Ethnic Poles are West Slavs, as supported by linguistics, and by genetics which indicates a common male ancestry in Central Asia.

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