Ron for VP?

Recently by Skip Oliva: Caging a Businessman

Walter Block recently posed eight questions regarding the future of the Ron Paul campaign. In response to “What of the Future?” he proclaimed “Ron Paul in 2016 is my motto.” With due respect to Professor Block, I think he’s giving up on 2012 too easily. Ron Paul won’t be the Republican presidential nominee this year – but there’s still the matter of the vice presidency.

No, I’m not suggesting Mitt Romney will pick Ron Paul as his running mate. Legally, however, it’s not up to Romney to pick the party’s vice-presidential nominee, but the Republican National Convention. Jeff Taylor recently pointed out in The American Conservative the dubious restrictions that “pledge” delegates to support Romney on the first presidential ballot do not extend to any vice-presidential choice he might make:

Paul may not have the five-state pluralities to allow him to officially "seek" the presidential nomination at the convention, but delegates who are bound to Romney for president are not bound to anyone for vice president. In other words, Paul supporters from Nevada who are obligated to vote for Romney on the first ballot for president are free to vote for whomever they choose on the balloting for vice president (if there is balloting). Paul apparently does have a plurality of stealth/actual supporters in at least five states, thus qualifying as a candidate who could be placed in nomination for vice president. Delegates themselves could initiate this move at the convention, although presumably Paul would need to agree to the effort to bring it to its speech-making and roll-call-voting fruition.

Party conventions played an active role vice-presidential selection at least through the 1950s. In 1944, Democratic delegates rebelled against incumbent Vice President Henry Wallace, replacing the avowed socialist with a more discreet socialist in Harry Truman. In 1956, second-time Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson refused to pick a running mate at all, leading to a spirited contest between eventual nominee Estes Kefauver and an up-and-coming John F. Kennedy. And as Jeff Taylor noted, delegates continued to cast protest votes against handpicked running mates up through 1976.

There is no legal or constitutional prerogative for a president to unilaterally select his own vice president. Even the 25th Amendment, which deals with vice presidential vacancies, requires confirmation by both houses of Congress. Yet since the 1960s, vice-presidential selection has become more consolidated and secretive. First the convention was replaced by the presidential nominee conferring with a select group of party elders. Then presidential nominees appointed “search committees” exclusively to vet potential running mates. This culminated in the farce of 2000 when George W. Bush picked the head of his own search committee, Dick Cheney, for vice president.

If you’re a strict constitutionalist – and I’m not, but I know Ron Paul is – this is wholly unsatisfactory. For one thing, the vice president is not, contrary to recent precedent, a member of the executive branch. During the first century under the Constitution, vice presidents were regularly excluded from cabinet meetings (this was back when the cabinet, not the White House staff, actually functioned as the executive branch). Article II of the Constitution, dealing with the executive, outlines no substantive duties for the vice president other than acting as president in the event of a vacancy. Article I – the legislative article – defines the vice president’s role as presiding officer of the Senate. Again, for the first century-plus of the Constitution, that is precisely what the vice president did.

The first draft of the Constitution considered by the Philadelphia Convention had no vice presidency; the Senate would simply elect its own president, as the House would choose its own speaker. Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist No. 68, suggested two reasons this was changed in the final version:

One is, that to secure at all times the possibility of a definite resolution of the body, it is necessary that the President should have only a casting vote. And to take the senator of any State from his seat as senator, to place him in that of President of the Senate, would be to exchange, in regard to the State from which he came, a constant for a contingent vote. The other consideration is, that as the Vice-President may occasionally become a substitute for the President, in the supreme executive magistracy, all the reasons which recommend the mode of election prescribed for the one, apply with great if not with equal force to the manner of appointing the other.

The 12th Amendment, ratified after the debacle of the 1800 election, specified the Electoral College cast separate ballots for president and vice president. This again speaks to the fact the vice presidency is an office wholly independent of the presidency. In fact, the 12th Amendment further provided that if the Electoral College failed to choose a vice president, the decision would fall to the Senate, while the House would select a president.

In the modern era of vice-presidential selection – beginning roughly with Richard Nixon’s elevation of Spiro Agnew in 1968 – there has been a rash of gimmicky candidates. These previously unknown figures are offered up to provide “excitement” for the campaign but generally prove to be humorous embarrassments. The competing trend is to name more serious, if equally unimpressive, political hacks who struggle to find a place once elected. Presidents often have to provide make-work projects for their veeps – remember Al Gore’s “reinventing government” initiative? – as if they were a union mobster’s lazy brother-in-law.

Ron Paul would provide a refreshing third alternative to all this. He’s no Al Gore, and he’s certainly no Sarah Palin. He’s an established public figure with a lifetime of experience and knowledge about the problems with government. Vice President Ron Paul would be a public advocate for libertarian principles, free of the legal and political responsibilities of the president and Congress. In reestablishing and reaffirming the vice presidency’s independence from the executive branch, Ron Paul could take a baby step towards the political revolution he’s advocated for decades.