Joel Goldstein: SLU LAW's "Veep Virtuoso"

July 14, 2016

By Jocelyn Klocke

Joel K. Goldstein, the Vincent C. Immel Professor of Law, is the most widely renowned scholar on the United States vice presidency.

Most days you can find him teaching constitutional law and admiralty law, guest lecturing at universities, and writing books as well as numerous chapters and articles for a variety of prestigious legal journals. His most recent work is a book on the vice presidency titled, "The White House Vice Presidency: The Path to Significance, Mondale to Biden" (Kansas, 2016).

But once every four years, when the presidential race rolls around and the height of the running-mate season hits its peak, Professor Goldstein is the most sought-after man in political journalism.

So far in the 2016 election, he has already lent his expertise to nearly 80 different political journals, blogs, and news outlets around the globe, including USA Today, The New York Times, CSPAN, The Jerusalem Post, the Swiss broadcasting station SRF, and ABC Australia.

His popularity during the “Veepstakes” is nothing new. During the 2012 election cycle, he was interviewed by dozens of national and international news sources regarding the vice presidency. He was even featured in an article by The New York Times, which called him the every four years “Man of the Hour.”

And right now, that man of the hour is right in the middle of his quadrennial stardom in 2016 with a presidential election that America has never seen before.

On the Republican ticket, the presumptive nominee is businessman and TV mogul Donald Trump. On the Democratic ticket is the first woman to claim the presumptive presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton. And with both parties’ national convention around the corner, the question that is circling through everybody’s minds: Who will they choose as their number two?

“Every vice presidential selection is distinctive because the selector, prospective candidates, and the context are never the same,” he wrote in his guest column for Sabato’s Crystal Ball. “Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are unique, and their vice presidential options and circumstances limit their choices.”

Professor Goldstein says that there are three patterns that tend to recur when candidates select a running mate. The first is that running mates are not chosen based on the size or competitiveness of their home state, a variable that presidential candidates have paid little attention to however in the last one-half century. The second is that political outsiders, which prior to this election meant governors, always choose political insiders as their running mates. And the third is that candidates have the tendency of selecting experienced running mates, either as senators, in high national executive positions, as governors, or as members of the House of Representatives.

“First-time running mates since 1976 have averaged about 14.4 years of experience in those positions when chosen,” Goldstein said in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Even though a vice president with nearly 15 years of experience would be ideal, that is not always the case in some of the top choices in each election cycle, including the current one in 2016. Some possible VP candidates bring other pros and cons to the table.

As the leading expert on the topic, the many interviews and conversations that Professor Goldstein has given to news outlets around the globe provides an inside look as to what both Clinton and Trump are looking for in a running mate, who those running mates are, and the strengths and weaknesses of each of them.

Hillary Clinton

In Hillary Clinton’s short list, there is a mix of all the three patterns listed above. There are potential selections in high national executive positions, such as Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro. There are possible choices from the Senate who represent states with Republican governors, such as Sens. Sherrod Brown, Cory Booker, Martin Heinrich, and Bill Nelson. And there is also Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who Professor Goldstein claims “has achieved a presidential profile.”

“Warren is a good spokesperson and a strong fundraiser who would perform well in debates and on the campaign trail, and teaming up with another woman would be a bold move for Clinton,” Goldstein told WJLA, an ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C.

Castro and Perez are also both viable options that could help solidify the Latino vote for Democrats as well. However, according to Professor Goldstein, both have a problem with their lack of experience. Castro was the mayor of San Antonio before taking a position in Obama’s cabinet, and Perez's only stint in elected office was a single term on the Montgomery County Council in Maryland, from 2002 to 2005.

"The formidable challenges he faces come from the facts that he's only been in the Cabinet for not quite three years, he hasn't held elected office other than at the local level and he has yet to demonstrate a national security credential," Professor Goldstein said of Perez in The Baltimore Sun.

Professor Goldstein has been answering a considerable amount of press in Texas about the possibility of Hillary Clinton selecting the 41-year-old Castro, making appearances in articles from Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express News and The Texas Tribune.

"I don’t think there’s any question that Secretary Castro is on the very short end of the experience ladder relative to other people," Goldstein said to Texas Public Radio. "If you pick somebody who’s not ready for prime time, the fact you’re from a particular demographic group or a big state — it’s not going to help if people can’t see them sitting in the Oval Office."

A safe choice for Clinton, according to most experts is U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack. Vilsack, widely respected by both Democrats and Republicans, has already been vetted for the office and is considered to have an ‘unimpeachable resume.’

The downfall for Vilsack, however, is that safe doesn’t always mean exciting.

“He doesn’t have very high national visibility,” Professor Goldstein said to The Des Moines Register. “How would he do as a national candidate? Would he excite people? How would he do under the bright lights of the national stage? That’s always a question for someone who hasn’t done a lot of visible political work.”

Probably the most unexpected VP candidate that has been mentioned for the Democratic ticket is the comedian-turned-Minnesota Senator Al Franken.

Many would recognize Franken as one of the original writers and performers on the NBC late-night sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live. Since then however, the Harvard alum became a prominent liberal political activist and was elected to the United States Senate in 2008.

Because of this unusual election cycle, Professor Goldstein said that Franken as Clinton’s running mate just might work.

“One theory is that using humor is a way of dealing with Trump, and that among Senator Franken’s talents is he’s demonstrated an ability to use humor in a way that is very effective,” Professor Goldstein said to The Minnesota Post.

However, selecting someone like Franken also has the possibility of opening Clinton up to criticism that she is not running a serious campaign.

“Sometimes, somebody’s strength can turn into a perceived weakness,” Goldstein said. “The fact that he had this prior career as a humorist, a satirist, some people will still think of it that way rather than based on the service he’s provided in the Senate.”

 Donald Trump

While having possibly just named Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate, Donald Trump’s unpopularity with many Republicans made the job of finding a VP candidate difficult.

"Most able and upwardly mobile politicians are interested in being VP, but this year there seems to be a big exception on the Republican side," Professor Goldstein told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "The pool is shallow.”

One of the most popular Republican choices, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, says she has “no intentions” of running with Trump. And the other woman popular in the party, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, was publicly criticized by Trump for not showing up at his rally.

"If you're the running mate, your job is to be the first responder when the candidate is under fire," Goldstein said. "Most politicians across the spectrum don't agree with or want to be associated with the kind of statements Mr. Trump has made that [House] Speaker Paul Ryan calls racist."

One woman that has been mentioned as a possibility for Trump is Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, a 45-year-old Iraqi combat veteran. However, with prominent Republicans publicly denouncing Trump, Professor Goldstein told the Des Moines Register that being in a political marriage with a controversial presumptive nominee like Trump is something a rising politician would have to seriously think about.

“For someone who’s at the beginning of her national public career, does she see associating with Mr. Trump, being his defender and so forth, as being the way to best advance whatever political ambitions or desires for public service she has?” said Goldstein.

Others who would have normally received serious consideration, such as Sens. Rob Portman and Marco Rubio and Govs. John Kasich and Rick Scott, have all disclaimed any interest in being on the ticket with Donald Trump.

Professor Goldstein told WSFU Radio in Florida that it is not unusual for a politician “to play hard to get” or often change their minds. It’s all about who is willing to be vetted.

“If somebody says ‘I love my current job,’ but they are still willing to go through the extensive process of pulling together the  information that a normal vetting process would require and they’re willing to turn over their deepest personal secrets to the Trump vetting operation, then regardless of what they say, they’re interested in being vice president,” Goldstein said.

The Importance of the Vice Presidency

With all the hype in recent weeks about the possible running mates for each of the candidates, some might question whether the job of the vice president is of actual importance, and not just there to help his or her president get elected.

Does it really matter whom Clinton or Trump chooses if either of them is elected office?

Professor Goldstein says yes.

In his recent book, The White House Vice Presidency: The Path to Significance, Mondale to Biden, Professor Goldstein shows that the second in command has become “highly consequential” since Vice President Walter Mondale reshaped the office 40 years ago.

According to what Professor Goldstein told the Minnesota Post, Mondale was the first to participate in a wide range of issues while in office. He became a member of the administration who could level with Carter, and really came up with the mission of the office, as both the general adviser and the trouble shooter

“President Jimmy Carter brought Mr. Mondale into the White House and his inner circle, made him a senior, across-the-board adviser and troubleshooter on significant matters, and gave him the access, information and support to perform those roles.” Professor Goldstein wrote in an Op-Ed to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, “Mr. Mondale’s five successors, from both parties, followed his example and functioned as integral White House players. The principal purpose of these vice presidents has been helping their presidents succeed.”

Goldstein explains that this increasing access to the Oval Office enables the vice president to do things that nobody else can do, such as break bad news or suggest a different approach directly to the president.

"The last six vice presidents got a lot of face-time with the president," He said to Mic.com, "Somebody who is spending a lot of time with the president, that person has a chance of making a difference."

With the political climate of today, the question of who could end up with that chance as second in command is an important one.

"If one of the presidential candidates' picks somebody who is not ready for prime time it can make a difference at the margins," said Goldstein in Deutsche Welle, a German media outlet.

When looking at who exactly Trump or Clinton will choose, however, time will only tell. Trump has indicated that he will probably select someone with D.C. governing experience. Clinton is much more likely to choose someone with national government experience than a governor.

According to Professor Goldstein and The Christian Science Monitor, however, in the end, there is no silver bullet to picking the right running mate.

“Candidates have multiple needs,” explains Goldstein, “and there’s no one running-mate option that can respond to every one of them.”

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