Bauer and Dunn, who are husband and wife, are part of a Bipartisan Policy Center working group that met Friday to share advice on proper VP selection; the panel coincided with the release of a formal report of the group’s recommendations. The impetus for their offering? Campaigns haven’t standardized how vice-presidential selection should be done. This is true even though the operatives often stay the same—spending their careers bouncing from campaign to campaign, sometimes switching teams mid-cycle.
During the meeting, group members warned against inadequate or delayed vetting, which can sour a campaign. Charles Black, a McCain and Kasich campaign adviser, said Friday that most people vote for the top of the ticket. But if vetting mistakes are made—if skeletons in a vice-presidential nominee’s closet begin rattling or the ticket lacks chemistry—it can affect voters’ choices.
This year, campaigns aren’t just dealing with a time crunch. On the Republican side, they also have a potentially contested convention to consider, which could play an outsized role in determining vice-presidential nominees. Benjamin Ginsberg, Mitt Romney’s national counsel, said a contested convention forces campaigns to make a tactical decision: Do they name their choice in advance to “coalesce support” around the ticket? Or wait for the convention, to convince delegates under duress to switch teams on a second ballot? The panelists Friday couldn’t predict exactly what campaigns will do.
During a campaign, the vice-presidential nominees are often viewed through a political lens: How can they—their background, their reputation—help or hinder a campaign? Joe Biden in 2008 helped alleviate worries about President Obama’s foreign policy credentials, said Dunn, who once served as the president’s White House communications director. (She said this reasoning is “not irrelevant for a few of the candidates running now”; though she didn’t name names, several candidates have taken criticism for lack of foreign policy experience.) Bill Clinton’s decision to choose Al Gore was a “generational message.” Even John McCain’s oft-criticized selection of Sarah Palin painted a potentially helpful picture: She had a reputation in Alaska for being a reformer, Dunn said, and taking on special interests.
Some camps seem to have started conceiving their lists, though it’s no clear how far they’ve gotten. John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, told The Boston Globe in a recent interview that there’s “no question” she’ll consider women for the VP spot. (The Globe, of course, wondered whether Massachusetts’ own Elizabeth Warren would be on the list.) The Washington Post reported that the Ted Cruz and John Kasich campaigns are getting names and background research together, and anonymous insiders floated a few ideas. The Trump campaign, the Post reports, is holding off on vetting, and there hasn’t been much talk of whom Bernie Sanders would select as a running mate.