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Cabinet positions are lousy launching pads to the vice presidency

This post has been updated. It was only hours after reports that San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro would be picked by President Obama to act as the administration's next Housing and Urban Development secretary that Castro's next job was proposed: vice president of the United States in a Hillary Rodham Clinton administration. A move from the Cabinet to the the presidency or vice-presidency, however, is not something that happens very often.

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro speaks during Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin's annual fundraising steak fry dinner, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013, in Indianola, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Henry Cisneros, former HUD secretary (and former San Antonio mayor), told Politico that Castro's "learning the breadth of the issues and the nation" while serving in the Cabinet could land him a spot on a possible Hillary 2016 ticket. (This is how many levels of "maybe" this story goes: the possible next HUD secretary could possibly be a VP pick for a possible presidential campaign.) But, Politico's Edward-Isaac Dovere points out, HUD is "not traditionally a very visible [role] — it’s not as if most Americans could name [current HUD Secretary Shaun] Donovan, or any of the past HUD secretaries."

It is also not as if the move from any Cabinet position to the big chair at the middle of the table is an easy one. By our count, there have been six people who went from the Cabinet to the presidency (about 13 percent of them). Only five — 11 percent — got the vice presidency. Namely:


  • James Madison, from State to president in 1808
  • James Monroe, from Secretary of War to president in 1816 (after a one-year gap)
  • John Quincy Adams, from State to president in 1824
  • William Howard Taft, from War to president in 1908
  • Herbert Hoover, from Secretary of Commerce to president in 1928
  • Update: We forgot James Buchanan, who was at State eight years before being elected president in 1856, and Henry Wallace, below.

Vice presidents

  • Thomas Jefferson, from Secretary of State to vice president in 1796 (after a four-year break)
  • John C. Calhoun, from War to vice president in 1824
  • Martin van Buren, from State to vice president in 1832 (after a year break)
  • Henry Wallace, from Secretary of Agriculture to vice president in 1940
  • Dick Cheney, from Secretary of Defense to vice president in 2000 (after an eight year break)

You'll notice two things about that list: First, good news for Hillary Clinton: Secretary of State is the most common launching pad; second, Housing and Urban Development does not make an appearance.

It does, however, if you look at losing vice presidential candidates. Going back 100 years, only three other losing vice presidential candidates served in the Cabinet. Edmund Muskie, the Democratic pick for VP in 1972, served as Secretary of State under Carter (briefly). Frank Knox, Republican VP candidate in 1936, served as Secretary of the Navy (when it was a Cabinet-level position). Both of those candidates, incidentally, served in the Cabinet after they lost their races.

There's only one HUD secretary who's run on a presidential ticket. In 1996, former secretary Jack Kemp joined Bob Dole's ticket. They lost, badly — to Bill Clinton.

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He is based in New York City.



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