Mitt Romney was right when he introduced Paul Ryan as the “next President of the United States” in Norfolk, Va., Aug. 11.
Ryan is not the “next” president, but Romney handed him the keys to the White House in the future. At the very least, Romney likely handed Ryan the Republican nomination for the presidency — unless Ryan doesn’t want it or something totally unpredictable happens. Not all vice presidents become president, but they have the best shot.
Almost one-third – 14 out of 43 U.S. presidents – were vice presidents before they became president.
Vice presidential candidates make little difference in the outcome of an election, but they do make a difference in future elections. For that reason alone, the vice presidential selection is among the most important decisions that all presidential candidates make.
George Washington’s vice president was John Adams, who became the nation’s second president. Adams’ vice president was Thomas Jefferson, the third president. The presidency is like an Olympic relay race.
President Barack Obama, number 44, is the 12th president during my lifetime. There have been 43 individuals who have held the office; the non-consecutive, two-term Grover Cleveland is counted twice. I wasn’t there when Adams and Jefferson rose from vice president to president, but here’s what happened during my life.
1948: Harry Truman, President Franklin Roosevelt’s vice president, was president when I was born. In fact, in 1948, the year before I was born, another of Roosevelt’s former vice presidents, Henry Wallace, ran for president against Truman.
1952: President Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president, Richard Nixon, later became President.
1956: Candidates appear to feign interest in being a vice presidential nominee. John Kennedy understood the importance, was unapologetic and made no secret of his desire to be Adlai Stevenson’s running mate, even while he knew that Eisenhower was going to crush Adlai Stevenson. Kennedy didn’t get the nomination, but his effort catapulted him onto the national stage. Four years later, he won the nomination and the presidency.
1960: Kennedy’s veep, Lyndon Johnson, became president.
1964: Johnson’s vice-president, Hubert Humphrey, became the Democratic nominee in 1968.
1968: Though Humphrey lost his bid for the presidency, his vice presidential running mate, Ed Muskie, was the original front runner for the Democratic nomination in 1972. President Nixon, a former vice president who lost in the 1960 election, won in 1968.
1972: Nixon’s second vice president, Gerald Ford, became president.
1976: Ford’s running mate, Bob Dole, became the Republican nominee two decades later. Jimmy Carter won in 1976 but lost to Ronald Reagan in 1980.
1980: President Reagan selected George H. W. Bush as his vice president. Bush 41 was elected president in 1988.
1984: Carter’s vice president Mondale was the Democratic nominee.
1988: Like Kennedy, Bill Clinton made known his vice presidential interest known in 1988. He didn’t get it, but also like Kennedy, he won the nomination and the presidency four years later. Lloyd Bentsen, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 1988, ran and lost in 1992, but did become Treasury Secretary.
1992: President Clinton’s vice president, Al Gore, was the Democratic Party’s nominee in 2000.
1996: Bob Dole, Ford’s running mate, ran against President Clinton and lost.
2000: President Bush’s vice president, Dan Qualye, ran for president though he could not overcome his legacy as a tongue-tripping vice president. George W. Bush (number 43), never a VP, but the son of a president, defeated Al Gore who had been vice president for eight years. Gore’s running mate, Joe Lieberman, ran for president in 2004.
2004: The Democrats’ losing nominee, John Kerry, tapped John Edwards who became a leading candidate in 2008 until his personal life imploded.
2008: John McCain’s vice presidential pick, Sarah Palin, energized the McCain campaign, electrified the nation and breathed life into the Tea Party. Had she run this year, she may have won the nomination. Palin is still drawing larger crowds and has raised more money for statewide races than Romney has. She may continue to do so.
The vice presidency or vice presidential nominee is undoubtedly the best platform from which to launch a presidential campaign.
Ryan is serious, smart, and young. By tapping him, Romney put him on the front row of the national stage. Within the next decade, Ryan will run for president. He will begin that race as the frontrunner, and the presidency will be Ryan’s to win or lose.