You knew it was too good to last:
A tantalizing notion has gained steam around Washington in recent months: President Obama will toss Vice President Biden off the ticket in 2012 and replace him with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The most recent perpetrator of the idea was Bob Woodward, who said in a CNN interview Tuesday that the possibility is “on the table.” The logic, according to Woodward and many others – mainly pundits – is that Obama could energize the Democratic Party in 2012 and install an heir apparent for 2016 if he engineered a job swap between Biden and Clinton, thereby making the most of his former rival’s stratospheric approval ratings.
But there’s a problem with this scenario: Despite all the chatter, no one has offered any evidence to suggest it’s true. The White House, not surprisingly, flat-out denies it.
“There’s absolutely nothing to it,” senior adviser David Axelrod said Tuesday night. “The president is blessed to have a spectacular vice president and an outstanding secretary of state. They’re both doing great work, and he wants to keep them on the job.”
Actually, anyone who has listened to these kinds of rumors for the last 20 years knows that they’re always more about selling papers than serious analysis. Supposedly, George H. W. Bush was going to dump Dan Quayle to revive his flagging re-election fortunes, but didn’t. George W. Bush was going to have Dick Cheney claim health problems to dump him for Condoleezza Rice, a rumor that persisted all the way to the 2004 convention — and at the convention. Neither turned out to be true, and Bush 43 won re-election anyway over John Kerry.
The truth is that few people vote for the Vice-President in any election. The vote is almost entirely about the top of the ticket. There is no upside to dumping a running mate, and plenty of downside. Dumping a sitting VP is such an admission of failure that it has been decades since any President has been tempted to do it. FDR was the last to actually do it, dumping John Nance Gardner — the man who famously said that the office wasn’t worth “a bucket of warm spit” — for Henry Wallace in the 1940 election, and then dumping Wallace for Harry Truman in 1944. Spiro Agnew resigned in office in 1973, but only after Richard Nixon’s re-election and only to avoid getting impeached on matters entirely unrelated to Nixon’s Watergate woes.
Joe Biden may be a joke, but he’s Barack Obama’s joke now. Besides, as a court jester, Biden is rather useful to Obama, as the Washington Examiner points out:
For many Democrats, Biden’s gaffe-prone, lovable-goof routine is a welcome contrast to Obama, whose remote, professorial airs the administration is struggling to counter with backyard and family-style campaign events.
“Everybody kind of accuses Obama of being too cerebral … and lacking empathy,” said Chris Reardon, a University of New Hampshire political scientist and pollster.
No one will accuse Biden of being too cerebral. He makes more of an emotional connection than Obama does, but Biden is useful in other ways, as he proved the last few months. Biden can push ridiculous spin campaigns like “Recovery Summer” while the economy stagnates, and the blowback mainly misses Obama himself. Hillary Clinton is too smart to put herself in that position, and so her usefulness to Obama would be limited.
Update: Chris Renner reminds me that Gerald Ford “dumped” his VP in 1976, but I plead the excuse that Ford didn’t win his office through election, either. Still, he changed from Nelson Rockefeller to Bob Dole for his 1976 bid. As I recall, Rockefeller didn’t want to run for the office, refusing to join Ford in that election.