There has been quite a bit of coverage lately on whether or not Joe Biden, the long-time Democratic politician and current vice president, will consider throwing his hat into the ring for the party’s presidential nomination. As it currently stands, Biden himself has made no formal declarations about running, but the political news cycle has been awash with speculation (and even some dubious “insider insights”) that Biden and his team of aides are possibly gearing up for a run at the White House, where he has spent the past 7 years as President Obama’s right-hand man.
Long held as the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton has been pushing forward with her campaign under the assumption that Biden would not be running. In fact, one of his close aides is now part of the Clinton camp. This hasn’t stopped the media from jumping at the report that private discussions with friends, family, and staff will yield a decision about Biden’s potential candidacy by September.
In many regards, it’s hard to see what Biden offers to distinguish himself from Mrs. Clinton. He’s no spring chicken; like Clinton, he served as part of the Obama Administration; and most of his policy stances are not materially different from Clinton’s. For Independents, he’s essentially an Obama redux; for Democrats, he lacks the mass demographic appeal that Mrs. Clinton is likely to have with female voters.
Some have argued that a Biden run (and therefore his participation in the debates) will help make Hillary a stronger candidate. Others have suggested that, in the event that Hillary is befallen by some scandal, Biden could be the safety-valve replacement. These political facts notwithstanding, it’s worth looking into the history of sitting vice presidents seeking their party’s presidential nomination, and how successful these veeps have been in general elections.
Vice Presidents Who Ran for President
Al Gore was unsuccessful in his presidential bid in 2000 as the sitting veep for Bill Clinton. The last time a veep followed up their tenure as #2 in the White House with a victorious campaign for president was George H. W. Bush (Bush 41). This was seen as a continuation of the Reagan Administration in a similar way that a Biden presidency would be seen as a continuation of the Obama regime. But before the elder President Bush, how did VPs fare as the leading name on a presidential ticket?
We’ll first exclude all vice presidents who ascended to the Oval Office due to the death of a president while in office. This leaves out John Tyler; Millard Fillmore; Andrew Johnson; Chester Arthur; Theodore Roosevelt; Calvin Coolidge; Harry Truman; Lyndon Johnson; and Gerald Ford.
After serving as Eisenhower’s veep, Richard Nixon ran in the 1960 presidential election, losing to John F. Kennedy. It wasn’t until 1968 that Nixon emerged victorious, a full two terms after his vice presidency had ended.
In fact, the last time you can find a sitting vice president that actually secured his party’s nomination for the national election and won was Martin Van Buren in 1836, after serving as VP for Andrew Jackson. In that light, the prospects aren’t great.
Yet, this trend perhaps signals an evolution of American politics. It used to be far more commonplace for the vice president not only to receive his party’s nomination but to become the next president. After serving as George Washington’s VP, John Adams became the country’s 2nd president. Once again, Adam’s second-in-charge, Thomas Jefferson, subsequently became the 3rd U.S. president. Interestingly, in these early days of the country’s history, the vice president was actually the presidential runner-up, and often represented the president’s greatest political opposition. (It was the equivalent of Mitt Romney serving as Obama’s VP.)
With this track record, one can all but lay to rest the chances of an auspicious Joe Biden presidential run, though that says nothing for whether or not Mr. Biden chooses to try.