The Ryan Precedent

Speaking of Paul Ryan: While the inevitable 2016 speculation hasn’t broken out just yet, there’s little doubt the Ryan’s is the name we will hear most often from Republicans. He is, after all, the favorite of Randians, fiscal hawks, and social conservatives alike, who can allegedly appeal to the young and Midwestern-blue-collar voters the GOP needs. If he could only speak Spanish fluently, he’d be ideal.

Wondering about the precedent for a failed vice presidential candidate aspiring to the White House, I looked at recent history. There were fifteen losing major-party vice presidential nominees from 1952 through 2008. Seven of them later ran for president (Lodge—technically a draft effort, not a candidacy–Muskie, Dole, Mondale, Quayle, Lieberman and Edwards). Two won nominations for President: Mondale and Dole. Neither is a good fit with Ryan; Mondale had actually served as vice president for four years, and Dole’s 1996 nomination owed more to his years as Senate minority leader than to memories of his partnership with Gerald Ford twenty years earlier. Neither Mondale nor Dole, of course, came within a hundred electoral votes of entering the Oval Office.

Actually, the only failed vice presidential nominee to become president in the era of modern party tickets was the man whose programmatic legacy Paul Ryan aims to blow up: Franklin D. Roosevelt. But even he had to wait twelve years to rise from ignominy to triumph.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.