How A Vice-Presidential Bid Is A Political Dead End

With Barack Obama apparently underperforming in the polls, he's under new pressure to pick Hillary rather than a ho-hum choice like Tom Kaine or Evan Bayh. And for some reason, Hillary and her supporters want – insist, in fact – that she be named. But why?

Would she really want to spend eight years as second banana to Obama while Bill helps Michelle host White House socials with cucumber sandwiches? So if they win, she's screwed. If they lose, it's worse: she'll get blamed – and, with the exception of FDR (who ran a losing race for VP in 1920), no unsuccessful running mate has ever been elected president. She won't have a leg up for 2012, she'll be out of the running.

It's true the vice presidency – which FDR's first VP John Nance Garner said "wasn't worth a pitcher of warm piss" (cleaned up to "warm spit" in most citations) – is historically the most reliable path to becoming president. But in recent years, the vice presidential nomination has become a near-certain ticket to oblivion. Don't believe me? Look after the jump.

The Losers

Henry Cabot Lodge (1960). Chosen to run with Richard Nixon in a pointless attempt to take Massachusetts away from JFK (who had defeated then-Senator Lodge in 1952). JFK later gave Lodge the joyful assignment of Ambassador to South Vietnam, just in time to supervise the 1963 coup and assassination of President Diem.

William E. Miller (1964). The obscure California congressman who ran with Barry Goldwater disappeared without a trace, but turned up in late-70's TV ads: <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,912851,00.html> "Do you know me? I ran for Vice President of the U.S. in '64. I shouldn't have trouble charging a meal, should I? Well, I do. That's why I carry an American Express card."

Ed Muskie (1968). Originally the front-runner for 1972, his campaign hit a low point as he addressed a crowd from the back of a train on a Florida whistle-stop tour. He collapsed backwards when a drunken psycho (bearing a press pass borrowed from Hunter S. Thompson) grabbed his pant-leg and heckled Muskie: "Get your lying ass back inside and make me another drink, you worthless old fart!" Later gave up his Senate career to serve for 10 months as Secretary of State in the doomed Carter Administration.

How A Vice-Presidential Bid Is A Political Dead End

Curtis E. "Bombs Away" LeMay (1968). The nuke happy ex-Air Force Chief of Staff ran on a ticket with third-party segregationist candidate, Alabama ex-Gov. George Wallace. When his selection was announced at a press conference, LeMay told dumbfounded reporters that, thanks to the Bikini atoll nuclear tests, local rats were "bigger, fatter and healthier than they ever were," but cautioned that the land crabs were "a little bit hot, and there's a little question about whether you should eat a land crab or not." He added that getting killed by a nuclear bomb would be no different than getting killed by a "rusty knife" in Vietnam. "As a matter of fact, if I had a choice I'd rather be killed by a nuclear weapon."

Thomas Eagleton (1972). McGovern dropped Eagleton from the ticket when it was disclosed he had received electro-convulsive therapy (ECT, or "shock therapy") for depression, spoiling Republican plans to print buttons with the slogan "Volt for Eagleton."

Sargent Shriver (1972). McGovern's emergency choice to replace Eagleton, a Kennedy in-law and ex-Peace Corps director who could do nothing to prevent the ticket from losing 49 states to Richard Nixon. Now suffering from Alzheimer's, Shriver's son-in-law <http://www.tvguide.com/celebrities/arnold-schwarzenegger/photos/140696/7> is governor of California.

Bob Dole (1976). Failed twice, in 1980 and 1988, to get his party's nomination before finally succeeding in 1996, only to get creamed by Bill Clinton's reelection campaign after falling off a stage at a Sacramento rally. Was sued for repurposing Sam and Dave's "Soul Man" as "Dole Man" at campaign events. Now, like Bill Clinton, he's a member of the Senate spouses club.

How A Vice-Presidential Bid Is A Political Dead End

Geraldine Ferraro (1984). Against Ronald Reagan, she and Mondale tied McGovern's record for losing 49 states. She followed up this achievement by making Pepsi ads, then lost two Democratic primaries for U.S. Senate in New York and gave up politics. This one-time rising star and feminist icon reemerged as the 2008 campaign's much-reviled poster child for racial insensitivity.

How A Vice-Presidential Bid Is A Political Dead End

Lloyd Bentsen (1988). About the only running mate whose reputation improved after a losing campaign (thanks to his "You're no Jack Kennedy" quip at the debate with Dan Quayle), he was unable to deliver Texas for Michael Dukakis, but hedged his bet by running simultaneously for reelection to the Senate. Treasury Secretary during Bill Clinton's choppy first two years in office.

James Stockdale (1992). War hero and ex-POW who inadvertently became Ross Perot's running mate (he'd let his name be used on ballot petitions as a stand-in, then Perot dropped out in August, only to reenter in October when it was too late to pick someone else), he became a deer-in-headlights prop at an absurdist VP debate with Al Gore and Dan Quayle, introducing himself to the nation thusly: "Who am I? Why am I here?" The opener got laughs, but he never managed to answer his own question.

Jack Kemp (1996). The one-time Buffalo Bills QB, superstar Congressman and presidential candidate was supposed to give Bob Dole a big lift, but turned in a wooden debate performance against Al Gore and sank into obscurity after his ticket lost.

Joe Lieberman (2000). Nearly became VP as Al Gore's running mate, though his decision to run for reelection to the Senate at the same time would have cost the Democrats control of the Senate if he had taken office. Ran a comically inept campaign for President in 2004 (remember "Joe-mentum"?). His balls-out support for the Iraq war cost him his party's nomination for reelection in 2006. He won anyway, as an independent, but is now preparing to complete his exodus from the Democratic Party as a Republican convention speaker and possible McCain running mate.

John Edwards (2004). The gifted orator was no help to John Kerry, who reluctantly picked his primary rival in hopes of a strong debate performance against Dick Cheney that never panned out. Edwards failed to deliver North Carolina for Kerry, face-planted as a candidate in 2008, and now spends his time hiding out from reporters in hotel rest rooms after heartwarming visits with the New Agey psycho-babe with whom he cheated on his dying wife.

The Winners

How A Vice-Presidential Bid Is A Political Dead End

Richard Nixon (1952, 1956). The original train-wreck running mate, Eisenhower was ready to drop Nixon from ticket after a "slush fund" financed by friendly contributors for Nixon's personal expenses came to light. He rescued his candidacy with the first of many appalling speeches – the notorious "Checkers speech," in which he cloyingly announced he'd never give back an adorable dog that a supporter had given his then-adorable daughters. He was a hatchet man as VP, ran failed campaigns for president in 1960 and California governor in 1962. He staged a petulant "last press conference" ("You won't have Richard Nixon to kick around any more") after that loss. After finally gaining the presidency in an amazing 1968 comeback, and winning 49 states in his landslide 1972 reelection, he became the only chief executive to resign in disgrace.

Lyndon B. Johnson (1960). A power broker as Senate majority leader in the 50's, he was humiliatingly kept out of the loop by JFK during his nearly three years as VP. Becoming President upon JFK's 1963 assassination, he won a landslide victory in 1964. But by 1968, he was hated by Republicans and Democrats alike, his civil rights achievements eclipsed by the Vietnam disaster. He abandoned his reelection campaign and left office a broken man.

How A Vice-Presidential Bid Is A Political Dead End

Hubert H. Humphrey (1964). LBJ gave HHH the same nasty treatment that JFK had given him as VP, and in his 1968 campaign for president, the once-liberal icon Humphrey became the unwilling symbol of Johnson's Vietnam failure. Losing a heartbreakingly close race to Nixon, Humphrey tried, and failed, to win the 1972 nomination – though his harsh debate comments about his longtime friend George McGovern helped ruin McGovern's chances that fall.

Spiro Agnew (1968, 1972). The original Dan Quayle, Agnew was an unknown in 1968 who quickly embarrassed Richard Nixon with gaffes such as "If you've seen one slum, you've seen them all," and "What's the matter with that fat Jap" in reference to a sleeping reporter. As Nixon's VP, he took up the pres-baiting hatchet-man role Nixon had pioneered under Eisenhower. During Watergate, Agnew resigned as part of a bribery plea bargain.

Walter Mondale (1980). Surviving the Carter Administration with his reputation more-or-less intact, Mondale's 49-state loss to Reagan in 1984 made him a symbol of Democratic debacle. In 2002, he served as emergency fill-in as a Minnesota Senate candidate after Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash, but lost to uber-goober Norm Coleman. "Call me sentimental, but wasn't it nice to see Walter Mondale come out of retirement for one last ass whoopin'?," observed David Letterman.

George Bush Sr. (1980, 1984). Newsweek heralded Bush's rocky, but ultimately successful 1988 presidential campaign with the headline "Battling The Wimp Factor." After spending his four years in office marveling at supermarket scanner technology and throwing up on the Japanese prime minister, he was eased into a timely retirement by Bill Clinton, living to see his mutant spawn ruin just about everything.

Dan Quayle (1988). Upon being announced as George Bush's running-mate, Quayle "was absolutely giddy with happiness, grabbing his benefactor by the shoulder and repeatedly hugging his arm, gamboling around the platform like the jackpot winner on a television game show," according to Jack Germond and Jules Witcover. Given far too little credit for his deft retort ("That was uncalled for!") after Bentsen taunted him as "no Jack Kennedy." Destined to be best remembered for misspelling "potatoe" during his, and Bush's, ill-fated 1992 reelection campaign. He made a lackluster try for the 2000 Republican nomination, but Bush Sr.'s surrogate retarded son was no match for the real thing.

How A Vice-Presidential Bid Is A Political Dead End

Al Gore (1992, 1996). His adopted preference for earth-tone suits failed to establish him as the alpha male of the 2000 campaign. After his flawed campaign and misguided recount strategy delivered the presidency to George Bush, Gore finally found the voice that had eluded him during his presidential run and became an anti-war and environmental guru. Democrats worshipped him, but gently guided him away from making repeat runs in 2004 and 2008.

Dick Cheney (2000, 2004). Reportedly dines on rats and land crabs from the Bikini atoll.