Pre-Primary Ticket-Making: Someday It Will Happen

This tidbit from Bloomberg Politics‘ McCormick and Halperin, gleaned from an interview with Scott Walker, will probably disappear without a trace by the time Happy Hour ends tonight:

Walker said both he and Rubio often hear the suggestion that they should combine forces, potentially even before the first nomination voting in Iowa in February 2016, as a way to stand out amid a crowded field. “We’d just probably have to arm-wrestle over who would be at the top of the ticket,” he said.

Some who have talked privately to Walker about a possible pairing with Rubio say they have been surprised by how seriously the Wisconsin governor seems to be taking the prospect. At this phase of presidential campaign, the norm would be for a White House hopeful to summarily dismiss such a move, in public and in private.

Yeah, the “who’s on top” question in such hypotheticals is always the problem, isn’t it? That was reportedly the case in February of 2012, when a Gingrich-Santorum “unity ticket” scheme to block Mitt Romney’s nomination fell apart when neither of the putative ticket-mates would consider the back seat.

But let’s just say for the sake of argument that via arm-wrestling or a coin-toss or a director order from Sheldon Adelson and both Koch Brothers a Walker-Rubio or Rubio-Walker pre-primary partnership could be arranged. It’s not completely a psychotic idea, since both of them are in their 40s and either could theoretically settle for a clear shot in 2020 if they lose and in 2024 if they win. But more to the point, it would be an amazingly galvanizing development that could transform the nominating contest overnight. Indeed, a coalition between the two candidates with the best intra-party favorable-unfavorable ratings, one currently leading the horse-race polls and the other far ahead of the pack as a second choice, both coming from states carried twice by Obama, would be, well, hard to beat, wouldn’t it? The shock-and-awe effect alone would eclipse Jeb’s fundraising totals in a pretty big way.

The only time this sort of coalition has actually been attempted (other than in rumored deals, which frequently turn out to be tactical lies), and then only well after the primaries were over, was in 1976, when Ronald Reagan announced his running-mate would be Sen. Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania. This gambit to pry loose some delegates in Pennsylvania backfired when Reagan lost more delegates in Mississippi where horror at Schweiker’s 100% AFL-CIO Senate vote rating was widespread. But the idea of preemptive ticket-making entered the collective unconscious of political junkies, and someday it is bound to happen, perhaps as a last-minute pre-convention three-cushion shot like Reagan’s, or perhaps much earlier in the process when pols with relatively strong storehouses of political capital get tired of the uncertainty of it all and join forces to rout the field. I’d say a murky “clown car” competition with no real front-runners and up to 20 candidates struggling for a spot on the debate stage might not be a bad year for it.

If you doubt the potential power of such a maneuver, imagine the reaction if at her big rally tomorrow Hillary Clinton suddenly introduced Elizabeth Warren as her intended running-mate. It would take weeks before anyone talked about anything else.

I know it’s all a fantasy, but mark my words, it wlll eventually happen.

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.