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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Should a V.P. be One Person’s Choice?

The best person might not be the pick of the nominee


Imagine “Hail to the Chief” playing in the background and then you hear these words: “And now, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the President of the United States, Irvine Luther Lenroot!”

Never heard of him? But for a couple unexpected developments, you would have.

In politics, you can’t always count on the better person getting the job.Two weeks ago, Trump anointed Pence. Last week, Clinton baptized Kaine. Each major party’s presidential nominee selects who he or she wants to run with. That’s the way it’s been done for decades now but it wasn’t always so. For most of American history, the ticket’s #2 was not presented by the ticket’s #1 as a fait accompli but rather, was put forth by national convention delegates or party bosses.

Irvine Luther Lenroot, a Wisconsin “progressive,” was Warren Harding’s personal pick to be his vice presidential running mate on the GOP ticket in 1920. Harding favored Lenroot for ideological balance but the party’s conventioneers had another (and much better) idea. At the last minute, a delegate from Oregon nominated Calvin Coolidge of Massachusetts. With Harding and the party bosses absent (they left town, figuring the convention would dutifully ratify their selection), the independent-minded delegates approved Coolidge on the first ballot instead.

When Harding died of a cerebral hemorrhage on August 2, 1923, Coolidge became the 30th President, not Lenroot. Instead of tax and spending hikes a President Lenroot might have delivered, Americans enjoyed reductions in tax rates, a cut in the national debt and a federal budget that was smaller in 1929 than it was six years before. So the country ended up with the better man in the White House not because of one person’s choice but because the party rank-and-file opted to have a say in the matter.


Poor Irvine Lenroot. He did manage to win re-election to the U.S. Senate in 1920 but by a plurality of just under 43% in a three-way race.

Six years later, Lenroot lost his Senate seat handily to another (and also better) man, James J. Blaine, the incumbent Republican governor. Blaine served one term. As a senator, he became the only person in American history to author an amendment to the Constitution that repealed a previous one.

Blaine’s 21st Amendment overruled the 18th, which had authorized the prohibition of intoxicating liquors. He was also the sole vote in the Senate against the starry-eyed Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, under which most of the governments of the world promised never to go to war again to resolve disputes.

Lenroot was a Prohibition sympathizer and would not likely have raised a fuss about Kellogg-Briand either.

The Lesson

In politics, you can’t always count on the better person getting the job. The truly better ones usually don’t run in the first place. So when the superior man or woman actually gets the nod, whether by fate or choice, it’s noteworthy.

For Democrats meeting in Philadelphia this week: You’ve been told you should ratify one woman’s choice for a running mate. But if you dumped him, it wouldn’t be the first time something like that happened at a national convention. In fact, it might even be the small-d “democratic” thing to do.


  • Lawrence W. Reed is FEE's President Emeritus, having previously served for nearly 11 years as FEE’s president (2008-2019). He is also FEE's Humphreys Family Senior Fellow and Ron Manners Global Ambassador for Liberty. His Facebook page is here and his personal website is