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When the VP Selection Mattered

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As Trump and Clinton are about to pick their VP candidates, it’s worth remembering that it basically doesn’t matter in terms of the election. It gives the chatterers something to talk about. Political junkies love it, but ultimately, it barely matters. If you pick someone completely incompetent like Sarah Palin or Dan Quayle, well, it doesn’t much matter. If you pick someone brilliant or highly experienced like Al Gore or Joe Biden, well, it doesn’t much matter. This probably won’t matter either, although I will laugh if Trump picks Gingrich and cry if it Clinton picks Cory Booker or the general. But it definitely did matter once, and that was 1944 when FDR was dying. Politico ran a story on that choice. We can always dream that he could have selected Henry Wallace again, but the party faithful barely acquiesced to Wallace in 1940. The conservatives hated him and FDR did not have the power in 1944 he once had within the party. He had to dump Wallace. Had FDR died before the 1944 election and Wallace taken over, maybe he could have won that fall before being utterly eviscerated in 1948. Rather, Roosevelt chose between two men, Harry Truman and William O. Douglas. We know what happened with the former. The latter is kind of fascinating to imagine, although it’s hard to see him beating Dewey in 1948. Unfortunately, the Politico article doesn’t even mention Douglas, instead focusing on Jimmy Byrnes, which wasn’t going to happen under FDR because he was too anathema to the liberals. Of course, FDR basically wouldn’t admit that he was dying and so actually choosing the next president was not really on his mind, thus he never told Truman about the Manhattan Project outside of what was necessary when he was in the Senate to stop his investigative committee, for instance. Truman actually did ask Douglas to be his VP in 1948. Douglas declined however and Alben Barkley became VP instead.

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