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The Perils of Being Trump's Vice President

The Hill

Several Republicans are vying to be Donald Trump’s vice presidential running mate. The office of vice president has long been perceived as a political-career booster, making the veep a strong contender for the party’s next presidential nomination.

In reality, becoming the vice president may be a political-career ender, especially when the president is Trump. Just ask former Vice President Mike Pence. 

It’s understandable why the veep slot would be attractive to ambitious politicians. There’s greatly increased name recognition, lots of media attention and easy access to the party’s major donors and political action committees. And a vice president who advocates for certain special interest groups can turn to them for future political support. Yet, it doesn’t appear that all of those benefits have actually helped many vice presidents win the presidency. 

Since 1900 only one vice president has won the presidency when the sitting president left office: George H.W. Bush (R) in 1988. In addition, two former vice presidents eventually won the presidency: Richard Nixon (R) in 1968 and Joe Biden in 2020. 

The list of sitting vice presidents who won their party’s presidential nomination but failed to win the White House is a little longer: Nixon in 1960, Hubert Humphrey (D) in 1968, and Al Gore (D) in 2000. In addition, former Vice President Walter Mondale (1977-1981) was the Democratic presidential nominee in 1984 but lost in the general election.  

It’s more common for the vice president to become president after the death of the president. Since 1900 Teddy Roosevelt (R), Calvin Coolidge (R), Harry S. Truman (D) and Lyndon Johnson (D) all did so. (Republican Gerald Ford moved up when Nixon resigned.) Age is an important factor in the upcoming election, given the ages of Trump (77) and President Joe Biden (81). 

Even so, being Trump’s vice president may actually hurt a politician’s hope of eventually winning the Oval Office. 

When a sitting vice president runs for president, the media immediately want to know how that person will differentiate themselves from their boss, the president. That’s tricky, because every president makes mistakes and controversial political decisions. So, the vice president must explain why he or she supported the president rather than opposing their actions. 

But that challenge is even bigger with Trump because he frequently makes over-the-top, often derogatory or false assertions—as does Biden. The difference is that the media immediately ask Republicans if they agree with Trump. Disagreeing with or criticizing Trump’s statements can lead to alienation and even retribution. And that will apply double for Trump’s next vice president should Trump win the election.  

Trump demands loyalty above all else. Disagreeing with him gets a person branded a traitor, as happened to Pence when he correctly determined he did not have the constitutional authority to refuse to certify the 2020 election results.  

Will Trump ask his next vice president to do things that are unethical, unlawful or unconstitutional? No one knows, but there is a history here. 

Trump’s longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, served 100 days in jail for dodging taxes on company perks. And he was just sentenced to five more months in jail for perjury. He has loyally refused to testify against Trump. As the Associated Press puts it, “In pleading guilty, Weisselberg found himself caught again between the law and his loyalty to Trump, whose family employed him for nearly 50 years.” And Trump’s longtime lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen went to jail because of actions taken at Trump’s behest. 

If Trump’s future vice president refuses to take questionable steps demanded by Trump, he or she could end up in the doghouse. If he does do it, he could end up in the Big House.  

Finally, most of Trump’s followers are loyal to him and him alone—not party, not people, not policies, not principles. Being his vice president doesn’t necessarily mean Trump’s supporters will shift their allegiance when Trump leaves office because the vice president isn’t Trump. 

So, while several politicians hope to be Trump’s vice-presidential pick, they may want to rethink that. It may not be the boost to their political career they’re looking for. Indeed, it may be an end to it.