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How a presidential candidate decides on a vice president, explained

The Washington Post

Friday, April 29, 2016

For months, we’ve debated and analyzed and marvelled at the 22 people who at one time were considered real(ish) contenders for the presidency. Some 45 million people have already weighed in, helping shrink the field down to five (or two, depending on whom you ask) — a seeming validation of the laborious process that demands each state savor the candidates like a political gourmand before reaching a conclusion.

Here, toward the home stretch of this thing, it’s easy to forget that this isn’t the only path to the presidency. That a guy became president in 1974, for example, simply by virtue of being in the right place at the right time. Gerald Ford was plucked from the House to be Richard Nixon’s vice president, a job he held for about nine months, until his promotion. The only election he won to get there was besting Jean McKee in the 1972 race for Michigan’s 6th Congressional District. The 118,027 people who voted for Ford that year had no idea that they were, in effect, choosing the next president.

That, in a nutshell, is what makes the vice presidency so bizarre. Nixon could have picked anyone he wanted, and, once confirmed by Congress, left that person in control of the United States. It wasn’t even 118,027 people that elected Ford. It was 479 people, 387 of whom worked alongside Ford in the House. Those 479 people — 0.001 percent of those who’ve voted so far — chose the next president.

Even under non-bizarre circumstances, choosing a vice president is an unusual part of the process.

“It’s a very peculiar arrangement,” former White House counsel Bob Bauer told us when we spoke with him by phone on Thursday. “A person decides to take another person to be vice president of the United States. And all of the resources that are required for evaluating the choice and then proceeding with it are privately deployed.” All of the money and consideration and effort that goes into the presidential understudy happens quietly and according to the whims of only one person: the nominee.

Or, sometimes, just a candidate. Ted Cruz’s announcement this week that he had selected Carly Fiorina to be his running mate (on the off-chance that he earns the chance to run) contained a lot of oddities, including that it was a bit presumptuous. But it was also strange because it was so early.

Bauer was co-chairman of an effort by the Bipartisan Policy Center to draft a set of recommendations for the vice-presidential vetting process. As part of that, the group created a chart showing when vice presidents had been announced relative to the flow of a campaign. Normally, it’s shortly before the convention, allowing for time to both win the nomination and thoroughly vet someone. Cruz skipped the former by so much that one can reasonably question how well he did the latter.

The Bipartisan Policy Center report figures that you should allow for about two months, at a minimum, for a thorough vetting process (which would require Cruz’s efforts on Fiorina to have begun about two weeks after she dropped out). Why so long? Because uncovering every minute detail you could ever want to know about someone else takes a bit of time.