The Race for Second Place
February 4, 2008
Now is when it gets interesting. Now we get to see who was really running for President, and who was actually running for Vice-President in this race.
Presidential candidates have often chosen their running mates from among the people who were vying for the nomination themselves. That's why running for your party's nomination is a delicate balancing act. You need to be tough enough on your opponents to be show you can fight, and to garner as many votes in the primaries as possible. But you also have to be careful not to permanently alienate the guy who might become your boss.
(I realize I should have said "the person" instead of "the guy" since we have a woman running for the first time. But Hillary is busy trying to prove that she's one of the guys - and just as tough as any of them - so I'm sure she won't mind.)
In this race (as in many in the past) we have had guys running who didn't have a shot at the top slot. They have been in a race for second place. (And yes, this time "guys" is correct. Hillary isn't in the race for second place; she actually believes she can win the Oval Office. In fact, she believes she DESERVES to be elected, or perhaps coronated.)
Let's look at the Dems first. Of the hundred or so candidates (who can count them?), some just wanted to get noticed. If you run for president often enough, somebody might remember your name, and it might be worth something someday. Some had big enough egos that they thought they could overcome the fact that they were small people, unknown politicos. But a number of them hoped that they could get enough attention that their endorsement might matter to a real candidate. They hoped they could barter their way onto the ticket in this manner.
The chief of this last group is John Edwards. I know some people believe that he was really running for the most important job in the world. But you can't convince me of that. Unless he is a lot dumber than he appears, he must have realized that he was hopelessly tainted by his association with Al Bore. And when his former running mate, John "Scary" Kerry wouldn't endorse Edwards, it was clear to everyone except his wife and kids that he had no chance.
So why did he run? Why did he promise to stay in the race until the convention? And, most important, why did he drop out before Super Tuesday? With delegates from over twenty states up for grabs, if he really believed he had a prayer, he should have kept his promise and hung in through the biggest primary day of the race.
I think it's pretty clear. He got enough attention in the primaries where he did run that his endorsement might mean something to Obama or Hillary. Both of them appeal far more to Northern liberals than to Southerners, so he might be of some help in the South. And he does have a great smile.
But he whines far too much. He really looked pitiful in the debate where Hillary and Obama were smashing each other back and forth and ignoring him totally. He finally spoke up, but instead of asserting himself like a man, he whined, "Aren't there supposed to be three people in this debate?" And that's just one of the many whineisms he has uttered in his campaign.
His only coherent campaign promise was that he would save all the poor people. He apparently thinks of himself as a sort of southern messiah. Never mind that he is an extremely wealthy trial lawyer who worked for huge tobacco companies and other "evil" corporations. Never mind that he didn't do pro bono work for poor people. (How do I know this? If he had done so, he would certainly have bragged about it throughout his campaign.)
The fact is that everyone with good sense realizes that in order to do what he has promised, he would have to institute the largest tax increase of all time. Democrats are fine with taxing the "rich", but they failed to vote for Edwards because they had enough sense to know what he doesn't seem to understand: There aren't enough "rich" people to pay for his false promises even if he taxed them at 90% of their income. The middle class would have to pay more taxes. And the Dems can't handle the thought of that.
As I watched the debates it was clear that he was in the race for second place. He took jabs at both the leading candidates, but was careful not to offend them too much. He didn't know to which of them he might be playing second banana.
On the Republican side, Fred Thompson ended up running for second place. He may have started out thinking he had a serious chance at the top job, but somehow I doubt it. I was one of those who wanted him to get into the race. He sounded like he could turn out to be a real conservative.
But it was a classic case of too little, too late. He waited far too long to get in the race. At any time, but particularly when the nation is on a war footing, America wants a president who is decisive. If he has a hard time deciding if he wants to be president, then how decisive will he be if he becomes president?
When he did finally throw his hat in the ring, it seemed like he was sleep walking. There was no energy, no enthusiasm. He seemed to be just going through the motions. It was clear, at least to me, that Thompson didn't have a strong desire to be President.
The presidency is without doubt the hardest job in the world. It has taken a lot out of every man who has had that tremendous responsibility, even if they only served for one term. A man has to want the job with every fiber of his being to withstand the pressure that goes with the job.
The Vice-President, on the other hand, only has to sit around and wait for the President to die. Oh, sure, there are ribbons to cut, foreign officials to meet, and luxurious paid vacations to endure. Fred has shown just about that level of energy in his campaign, so he might be well-suited for the mostly ceremonial job of VP. I think he decided very soon after announcing his candidacy that he would race for second rather than first place.
The idea that he was angling to be second banana to McCain was reinforced when he stayed in the race through South Carolina, even though in reality he had long been out of the race. Huckabee had a real chance in South Carolina, but he appealed to many of the same people as did Fred Thompson. If Fred had dropped out prior to South Carolina, the dynamics of that contest would have been entirely different, and Huckabee would likely have made a much stronger showing.
I think it is very likely that McCain asked Thompson (probably through an intermediary) to stay in the race through South Carolina's primary. I don't know if he promised Thompson the Vice-Presidency, but I wouldn't be surprised if he did. Perhaps it was a Cabinet position or an ambassadorship. But there was something going on that kept him going when he was making absolutely no progress.
A few days ago in Tennessee, McCain made a pitch for Thompson's supporters (Thompson is a former Tennessee senator). "He is a fine man. I had the distinct pleasure and honor of sitting next, my desk right next to Fred Thompson for eight years in the United States Senate." I think we can expect Thompson to endorse McCain in the very near future.
When I remarked earlier that the Vice-President mostly sits around waiting for the President to die, I was not denigrating the office. This has been our nation's history. Most presidents are like Clinton, who was so afraid of Gore that he never let him do anything. Very few presidents are like George W. Bush, who has allowed the very capable Dick Cheney to serve the nation in many important ways.
But the fact is that the next President could die, and several have. So we can only hope that whoever becomes Vice-President next year will have been chosen for his or her ability, and not because of some political quid pro quo.
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