OK, haha, there was a Bloggingheads three-minute "discussion" of whether President Obama should trade Joe Biden
to the Oakland A's for Hillary Clinton as Vice President in 2012.
This happens every four years like political scientist fantasy clockwork. Someone looks at the incumbent president and goes, "Whoa, hey, what if the VP were somebody else? Like, somebody really cool?" Then, instead of pitching that idea to HBO, where all good fantasy belongs, they mutter it on the Metro and someone in D.C. tweets it and then it gets on cable and it stays there for like 87 days between updates on sharks and hurricanes and who, exactly, is Herman Cain?
Anyway, there's precedent for this mess, and I thought it'd be fun to look it up, and then spew it onto the Internet. So let's look at The History, shall we? Has any incumbent American president ever "dumped" a vice president for purely electoral reasons and won?
Here are the winners:
Thomas Jefferson started with Aaron Burr (really, he had shut Burr out basically upon his election in 1800, after Burr had, oh, you know, almost won the White House in the electoral college, whoops!) but traded for George Clinton in 1804. Political move? Not terribly; this was personal, as was just about everything with Jefferson.
James Madison thought George Clinton was so good at his job that he had him just stay on, which Clinton did until his death in 1812. Madison went without a VP for a year, then picked up Elbridge Gerry… who also died (a year later) and was not replaced, likely because who wants a job with one hundred percent mortality rate? Also, I hear Madison was kind of a jerk.
The next president to have more than one VP was Andrew Jackson. Old Hickory inherited John C. Calhoun from his predecessor, John Quincy Adams. Calhoun served, albeit at a distance and with certain rancor between him and Jackson, for the first four years of Jackson's term. After much fighting (and the ridiculous society drama of the Eaton affair, tra la la), Calhoun ran for the Senate in South Carolina rather than remain as VP. Jackson (well, the party) replaced him with Martin Van Buren for the 1832 election. No VP since has had a nickname even slightly as cool, and MVB had two: "The Little Magician" and the "Red Fox of Kinderhook."
After that, we go forward to -- surprise! -- Abraham Lincoln, whose Team of Rivals didn't include Andrew Johnson until his second term in office. Lincoln ran first with Hannibal Hamlin, a Maine Democrat-turned-abolitionist-Republican. A campaign sign at the time referred to the ticket thus: "Abra/Hamlin/coln." Hamlin, who favored "radical reconstruction" of the South, was dropped from the ticket by the party (and the president) for the 1864 election, when they needed to curry favor among (remaining) Southern Democrats. Andrew Johnson more readily fit the bill. Interesting tidbit: Hamlin, while still the lame-duck Vice-President, served in the Union Army when his Maine unit was called up.
He later stood next to Andrew Johnson in the Rotunda when (spoilers!) Lincoln's body lay in state.
The next president with two VPs was Ulysses S. Grant, who started with Schuyler Colfax. Colfax announced his intention to retire in 1871, turned down Grant's suggestion he switch to the State Department that same year, then decided to run again in 1872. By that time it was too late, and Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson won the nomination at the convention. Though both men were later tainted by the Crédit Moilier scandal, Wilson survived politically; Colfax did not and died -- not kidding! -- on a frozen train platform in Minnesota, where he was recognized only by "the papers in his pockets."
Yikes. Moving on to… more death (spoilers!):
Dear William McKinley somehow managed to fit two vice presidents into one short term: Garret Hobart started the job in 1897 and died in 1899. Teddy Roosevelt stepped in in 1901, only to become president himself six months later when McKinley was shot.
After that, there were a string of one-VP presidents until FDR took to the stage. His first VP, John Nance Garner, stuck with him for two terms and then -- here's fun -- tried to run against FDR in 1940. Roosevelt (spoiler!) won the nomination and selected Henry Agard Wallace, his secretary of Agriculture, as his next VP. After taking an active role in placing Wallace on that ticket, four years later, FDR seemed to step back, saying he would not take an active role in the convention's selection -- leaving the door open for his friends to nominate Harry S Truman for the post. FDR, as a parting gift, made Wallace the Secretary of Commerce. One imagines that, having revolutionized the office of VP, FDR was trying to find a new job to become the single most worthless cabinet position in America.
The final President to change VPs mid-office was Richard Nixon -- who had to select Gerald Ford to replace Spiro Agnew when Agnew resigned during Nixon's second term.
Thus the total tally of incumbent Presidents who dismissed Vice Presidents for political reasons is ~3, unless you count Roosevelt twice. Now, sure, Jefferson, Lincoln, and FDR aren't bad political shoes to follow in, but all three men actually traded down in political clout and knowledge when they chose their second Vice Presidents, not up, as a switch from Biden to Clinton would suggest. Which is to say this: you switch VPs when there's a very certain advantage and no appreciable disadvantage to the new candidate.
What baggage Joe Biden has is largely from goofy gaffes and, I'll grant you, from having been in Washington, D.C. since he was 29. (As I do not consider "experience" as a liability, I think this is a lovely piece to carry on to the ticket, but the current climate says no). Hillary Clinton, a much bolder (and more admirable for it) political figure, comes not only with the same Washington-insider set of luggage, she also brings a plane-load of other matching controversy (baggage code name: Bill Clinton). I mean, to paraphrase, America's met Henry Wallace, Senator Clinton, and you are no Henry "Who is that? I don't know that guy" Wallace.
So, in summary, survey says: It's not a realistic switch. But it is fun to talk about, I guess. I really liked this game best when it was called "Maybe Bush will dump Cheney for Rice in 2004!" That was something to have nightmares about.