Don't Do It, Bobby

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Perhaps the most prescient piece I've ever written (it's a short list) was a column for the Wall Street Journal in June of '06, which urged Barack Obama to run for President - because, I argued, "in presidential politics, it's usually better to run too early than to wait, and wait, for a perfect moment that may not come." Now the talk of McCain-Jindal raises the question of whether the same dictum should be applied to accepting a vice-presidential slot when you might be too young and green for it.

I tend to think the answer is no: The downside is too far down, and the upside doesn't have enough up to it. If you run for president and lose in the primaries, you can come back and run again: Just ask Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Al Gore and John McCain. If you run for president and lose in the general election, well, at least you've lost pursuing an office that's worth having in and of itself. But if you run for vice president and lose - as is more likely than not for any GOP ticket this time around - the odds are your national ambitions are finished, since no losing veep since FDR has come back and taken the Oval Office. And if you run for vice president and win - well, in some cases you've taken an important step toward the Presidency, but in others you've consigned yourself to losing four-to-eight years that might have been spent more profitably elsewhere. Somewhere like, say, the Louisiana statehouse.

Now obviously the powers of the Vice Presidency have increased considerably during the last two administrations, and just as obviously being veep in a McCain presidency is a special case, since the heir-apparent aspect of the office will be magnified by McCain's age, his disinterest in vast swathes of policymaking, and the possibility that he would only serve one term. The question, though, is whether a young and promising governor like Jindal would want to be dubbed the heir-apparent to a President who would have won the White House in spite of his party's deep unpopularity, and whose administration would be almost certainly defined as the last gasp of Reagan-era Republicanism, rather than the first step into whatever's next for the GOP. Which is to say, even if a veep slot led to a Presidential campaign further down the road, by hitching his ambitions to a McCain Administration, Jindal might be signing up to play Walter Mondale, rather than the Bill Clinton he could hope to be instead.

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Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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