If History Repeats, Everyone's VP Guess Is Wrong

If History Repeats, Everyone's VP Guess Is Wrong

By Scott Conroy - June 22, 2012

On July 14, 1996, former New York Congressman Jack Kemp appeared on CNN's "Inside Politics," where he criticized bluntly the campaign being run by Bob Dole, who was failing in his effort to make competitive the general election race against President Clinton.

"We've been on defense -- there's no doubt about it," Kemp said of the Republican nominee’s campaign.

For good measure, he added that “hoping for the collapse of the Clinton administration” was “no way to run for president.”

As a Dole surrogate, Kemp’s comments could scarcely have been more off-message.

Furthermore, Kemp’s history of clashes with the Kansas senator over both policy and personality appeared to eliminate any chance that Dole might consider naming the former football star to the Republican ticket.

The VP possibility seemed so remote at the time of the CNN interview that Wolf Blitzer did not even ask Kemp about it and instead inquired about Colin Powell becoming Dole’s pick and whether Kemp might be interested in a Cabinet position.

No one watching could have predicted the events of less than a month later, when Kemp arrived in Russell, Kan., by chartered jet and accompanied by a Secret Service contingent -- to be introduced to the nation as Bob Dole’s running mate.

The surprising vice-presidential choice in 1996 was far from unique in modern Republican presidential politics.

While every eventual GOP nominee in the last five non-incumbent presidential cycles began the race as a favorite, the same cannot be said of their VP picks, all of whom were initially regarded inside the Beltway echo chamber either as blips on the political radar or not on the screen at all.

After Vice President George H.W. Bush wrapped up the Republican nomination in 1988, his aides quietly circulated a list of running-mate possibilities, which included both Dole and Kemp among the favorites.

According to a Washington Post story in July of that year, former President Richard Nixon had offered Bush some advice: make the “short list” appear to be as long as possible.

"Once you get it down to two or three people," Nixon told him, "see to it that a dozen or so names get out in the press. It'll be a sop to everyone on the list, and it will keep the press off the trail."

The eventual pick that year, Dan Quayle, scarcely got any ink as a serious possibility until just before Bush added him to the ticket on the second day of the Republican National Convention in New Orleans.

Twelve years later and one cycle removed from Dole’s surprise selection of Kemp, Texas Gov. George W. Bush became the latest GOP presidential nominee to go with a running mate who had previously made none of the early lists of supposedly top-tier contenders for the job.

Dick Cheney, who helmed Bush’s vice-presidential search committee, had not been on the national media’s radar as a possibility in his own right until Cheney changed his voter registration from Texas to Wyoming just days before he was selected in late July 2000 -- a move that was understood to have been done for Constitutional considerations. (The 12th Amendment prohibits electors from casting votes for someone from their state for both president and vice president.)

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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