The growing clout of the vice president
Pence, Kaine stand to play active roles if on winning ticket
WASHINGTON — One man entered the national stage this summer as what some describe as the reassuringly dull half of the GOP ticket. The other, the Democratic No. 2, is a career politician who proudly called himself boring.
Yet, as Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine prepare to face off Tuesday in their only vice presidential debate, they are vying for an office that has gained increasing clout in recent administrations.
In Pence’s case, the role could expand even more than it already has over the past 40 years, given Republican Donald Trump’s lack of government experience. Kaine could find himself in a more complicated position, competing for influence in Democrat Hillary Clinton’s White House against her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
But neither man, if elected, will be relegated strictly to attending to funerals, maintaining preparedness should the president fall ill or absorbing mockery on late-night TV shows. The office, once seen purely as a stand-in job, has now cemented itself as an integral part of running the country.
The job’s heightened stature derives from a number of factors, including the increasing complexity of the president’s job, a political shift in how running mates are selected and the trust individual presidents have placed in their understudies.
“It would be difficult to throw the vice president out of the West Wing or to refuse to break bread with them once a week,” said Joel Goldstein, a St. Louis University law professor and author of “The White House Vice Presidency: The Path to Significance, Mondale to Biden.”
Goldstein pointed to Workers assemble the set Sunday for Tuesday night’s vice presidential debate in Virginia. Walter Mondale in the late 1970s as the first modern vice president, who attended a weekly lunch with President Jimmy Carter and had the power to invite himself to his meetings. Mondale and those who followed all had varying levels of responsibility, both to give the president unvarnished advice or to lead initiatives; but none relinquished the core access.
Once chosen to provide ideological or geographical balance, running mates are now usually picked to fill in gaps in the presidential candidate’s experience or expertise. Al Gore won so Pence Kaine much trust during Bill Clinton’s first term that Elaine Kamarck, a Gore aide, recalled glimpsing Gore wagging his finger in Clinton’s face as he lectured him about diplomacy in Bosnia, something few if any other advisers would dare do.
Kamarck, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who published a paper on vice presidential power last week, said Dick Cheney attained his welldocumented role leading intelligence and foreign policy in the White House by controlling the policy options that were put on the desk of President George W. Bush, who came in as a governor with no foreign policy background. Cheney had served as secretary of defense.
Pence could win similar influence on several fronts, depending on his skill and ambition and the level of trust from Trump, who would enter the job with less policy experience than anyone in modern history.