Is Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin a plausible presidential nominee? Ryan is an interesting hybrid because he is both the House Budget Committee chairman and the former Republican nominee for vice president.. Ryan is certainly within the party mainstream when it comes to policy. The question is whether he has conventional credentials for a presidential run. As a House member running for president, I would say Ryan has no chance. But as a former vice-presidential nominee? That seems to put him in a more promising category.
First, let's look at presidential candidates from the House. There really have been only two during the post-1972 era who have come anywhere near winning a nomination. In 1976, Arizona Democrat Mo Udall finished second in several different primaries. With a few things breaking his way, it's not hard to imagine him winning that year. Then Missouri Democrat Richard Gephardt won Iowa and two other states in 1988. Although his candidacy certainly seemed viable, he never came close to being nominated. Beyond that, New York Republican Jack Kemp got some attention in 1988 but never came close to winning anything, and disgraced former Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia made plenty of noise in the 2012 Republican primary season but never had a chance of being nominated. And those are the successful ones.
What about former losing vice-presidential candidates? Here's a rundown:
Democrat Ed Muskie, 1968 VP nominee
Before the nomination: Solid senator from Maine with a national reputation
The VP campaign: Relatively uneventful
Post-nomination: Front-runner in 1972, faltered and dropped out. Previous VP run presumably gave him an early boost in 1972, but he probably would have been a contender anyway.
Democrat Sargent Shriver, 1972 VP nominee:
Before the nomination: Kennedy in-law, first director of the Peace Corps, various Kennedy-Johnson administration jobs including ambassador to France.
The VP campaign: Replaced Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton after Democratic convention; otherwise uneventful campaign in a blowout election.
Post-nomination: Ran for president in 1976, went nowhere.
Republican Bob Dole, 1976 VP nominee
Before the nomination: Moderately known Senator from Kansas, former chairman of the Republican National Committee.
The VP campaign: Poor reviews from (first-ever) VP debate performance.
Post-nomination: A dead-end 1980 presidential run, but also an important Senate career. Runner-up for the 1988 presidential nomination. Presidential nominee in 1996.
Democrat Geraldine Ferraro, 1984 VP nominee
Before the nomination: Obscure House member from New York
The VP campaign: Historic, but also a train wreck, combining acute scrutiny of first female on a ticket with accusations of corruption.
Post-nomination: Never ran for president.
Democrat Lloyd Bentsen, 1988 VP nominee
Before the nomination: Respected elder senator from Texas, brief previous presidential campaign.
The VP campaign: Rave reviews.
After the nomination: Didn't run (was age 71 in 1992).
Republican Jack Kemp, 1996 VP nominee
Before the nomination: Generally well-regarded former cabinet secretary and House member from New York. Ran briefly for president in 1988.
The VP campaign: Lukewarm reviews, but no scandal.
Post-nomination: Never really fully committed to 2000 presidential race; never sought office again.
Democrat Joe Lieberman, 2000 VP nominee
Before the nomination: Annoyingly sanctimonious Senator from Connecticut. Beloved by Washingtonians who enjoy that sort of thing.
The VP campaign: Uneventful until contested Florida vote count. Blamed by liberals for failing to fight to win.
Post-nomination: Sharp hawkish turn on national security left him way out of step with party. Brief 2004 presidential run went nowhere.
Democrat John Edwards, 2004 VP nominee
Before the nomination: One term Senator from North Carolina but runner-up for 2004 nomination.
The VP campaign: Uneventful.
Post-nomination: Entered 2008 campaign as one of three serious contenders, but fell short. Downhill from there.
Republican Sarah Palin, 2008 VP nominee
Before the nomination: Half-term governor of Alaska.
The VP campaign: A monumental disaster.
Post-campaign: Various clown shows. Unlikely to seek office again.
Republican Paul Ryan, 2012 VP nominee
Before the nomination: House Budget Chairman.
The VP campaign: Relatively uneventful.
Post-campaign: That's the question -- and may be for a while. He's only 44.
That gives us nine cases before Ryan. If we eliminate Palin and Ferraro, both of whom had a rough time on the vice-presidential campaign trail, and Bentsen, who was probably too old to run in 1992, then six remain.
Of those, only Dole went on to win a nomination, and only after two losing runs and a stint as Senate Majority Leader. That's the bad news.
The good news is modest, at best. Five of the six ran for president and made it to the starting line (only Kemp failed to get that far). Collectively, they didn't have much to show for it. Then again, only Muskie and Edwards would have been deemed solid candidates without a VP run. All in all, I'd say a vice-presidential run provided a moderate boost. In no case did it create an instant presidential front-runner, but none was laughed off the presidential trail, either.
I'd also say that a lot of these results are self-fulfilling. Nominees don't come from the House because everyone "knows" that nominees don't come from the House. Consequently, it's a lot harder for candidates from the House to gather the resources needed to make a serious run. That part shouldn't stop Ryan. However, it's also true that candidates from the House may have trouble gathering resources specifically because they lack the statewide constituencies and interests that senators and governors claim. The VP nomination probably doesn't really help with that. So it's a closer call than I initially thought, but I do think Ryan is viable.
It's not clear whether Ryan actually would prefer a tough presidential race to a career within the House. If he does, I do think he's a plausible nominee.
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