The real test of a president is how well they make difficult decisions. Wisdom, insight, perspective, a sense of political necessity and public acceptability, are all critical factors.
The first insight one gets into the mind of the person seeking public endorsement for their pursuit of the highest office in the land is their choice of a running mate.
The simple fact is all too often the vice president has ascended to the presidency upon the death of the president. Sometimes the nation has benefitted as the vice president turns out to be surprisingly competent at holding and exercising judiciously the powers of the Office of the President.
For example, in the 20th century most presidential historians agree that Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman and Lyndon Baines Johnson all turned in credible performances when called to center stage by the death of a president. Candidly, though, all four of those selections were based upon what were deemed at the time to be over-riding political concerns.
President William McKinley’s political mentor, Ohio Senator Mark Hanna, thought he and other GOP party bosses were putting the overly “progressive” Teddy out to pasture and out of the public mind. Imagine their shock when the young, ambitious, vain but brilliant Teddy inherited the Presidency upon the death of McKinley?
Twenty-two years later, “Silent Cal” became president upon the death of Warren G. Harding. The former governor of Massachusetts was considered by these same historians to have been a considerable improvement over the man he succeeded.
Truman of course surprised many by his ability to rise to the demands of the job. And LBJ, at last having reached his long-time goal, ushered through the Congress his “Great Society” legislation including the truly historic Civil Rights Act of 1964. Each of these men won the office in their own right in the subsequent election.
Contrast those four with the four who succeeded to the presidency in the 19th century none of whom went on to be elected. Three of the four are viewed by presidential historians as “weak leaders,” the exception being John Tyler who set the correct precedents for a veep to succeed to and be able to exercise all the powers of the presidency. (more…)