It takes special skill to perform the role of No. 2 well, pre- and post-election. A good choice must bring substantive strength, expertise and relationships, yet be adaptable enough to respond effectively to someone else’s leadership structure and style and to work in tandem with their team.
There are political costs to choosing a running mate who cannot plausibly lead well in both scenarios. A poor choice impugns the skill and judgment of the selector and alienates voters who can’t fathom a mediocre leader being just a heartbeat away. Spiro Agnew’s presence complicated Richard M. Nixon’s 1968 presidential run. And the Palin choice made John McCain appear impulsive and willing to abandon his own campaign refrain that experience matters. Voters are smart enough to know when a VP is on the ticket just to target a particular bloc of voters.
Yes, the timing of the selection process makes it nearly inevitable that Romney will choose a running mate who might help him become, rather than succeed as, president. He, like all candidates, will make the choice while preoccupied with winning the election, not figuring out how to govern.
Most presidential candidates can’t visualize the structure of their administration the summer before the election, and therefore can’t see how a vice president’s style would fit in. And though much may be known about potential running mates, it’s hard to anticipate the range of leadership assets a particular VP can contribute.
But we’re talking about the person who may be second in line to lead the most powerful country in the world. The VP selection is the first presidential decision most standard-bearers make, telling voters plenty about their values. Choosing someone of real substance who can lead, follow and compensate for weaknesses of the presidential nominee is good governance—and, ironically, good politics.
Joel K. Goldstein is a professor at the Saint Louis University School of Law. He is the author of numerous works on the vice presidency.
More from On Leadership:
Barclays cleans house of CEO, chairman and COO
Summer movies that pack a leadership punch
PHOTOS | owerful women in Washington
Like On Leadership? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter:
On Leadership: @post_lead | Editor: @lily_cunningham