It would take three or four months to hold a special election. In the meantime the show must go on. If the vice presidency were abolished, who would serve as Acting President?
One proposal is to make the Speaker of the House Acting President for thirty days while Congress chooses a President to fill out the remainder of the term. This proposal has the disadvantage, given the number of times in recent years that one party has controlled the legislative branch and the other the executive, of risking an unvoted change in party control of the White House and in the direction of government-a change that might itself be quickly reversed in the special election, thereby compounding the confusion in Washington. The confusion would be even greater in the event of temporary presidential disability, in which case the presidency might shuttle back and forth between the two parties in a period of a few months.
The argument is overriding, it seems to me, for keeping the Acting President within the executive branch for the few weeks before the people have a chance to speak. A convenient way would be simply to make the Secretary of State, if qualified, the first successor. If the Secretary of State is foreign born or under thirty-five or has some other disqualifying eccentricity, then the Secretary of the Treasury could be the automatic successor, and so on down the 1886-1947 line of succession. But this first succession would be momentary until an Acting President is selected to run things during the, say, ninety days to the special election. This Acting President, in order to assure continuity of policy until the people speak, should come from the Cabinet. Congress might select an Acting President from the Cabinet—a device that would preserve continuity, spread responsibility, afford a choice of sorts, and perhaps stimulate Presidents to choose better Cabinets. Or the Acting President might be selected by the Cabinet itself using the corporate authority already bestowed on it to some degree by the Twenty-fifth Amendment, which gives a majority of the Cabinet, plus the Vice President, power to declare the President non compos mentis. However chosen, the Acting President would be declared ineligible as a candidate in the special election, this in order to avoid the advantage created by the inevitable rush of sympathy to the new person in the White House.
Then, as soon as possible, let the people make their choice. If the President vanishes in his last year in office, it would be simpler to let the Acting President serve out the term and await the next regular election. If it be said that three or four months is not time enough to prepare an election, the answer is that this is only an election to fill out a term and thus does not require the elaborate preliminaries of the quadrennial orgy. Let the national committees, which have become increasingly representative bodies under the new party rules, canvass opinion and make the nominations. Short campaigns, federally financed, would be a blessing, infinitely appreciated by the electorate. Perhaps short intermediate elections might have a salutary impact on the quadrennial elections, which in recent years have stretched out to intolerable length.
In doing this, we would not be departing from the spirit of the Founding Fathers: quite the contrary. "We have only to operate the Constitution as the men who wrote it thought it should operate," Walter Lippmann wrote a quarter of a century ago on the question of intermediate elections. "If we are the prisoners of a rigid system to-day, the fault lies not in the Constitution but in our own habits which have only rather recently become so hard and so fixed."