Why isn’t Tim Kaine running for president?

Today, we’re talking about something a little different. Rather than continuing what at least one experimental psychologist calls a “very excellent” series on the 2020 Democratic candidates, we’re going to talk about someone who is absolutely not running for president: Timothy Michael Kaine.

In case you don’t remember – and you might not remember – Tim Kaine is a senator from Virginia who, in 2016, was the nominee for Vice President of the United States. This is a very important job. Let’s look at it.

The primary duty of the Vice President of the United States is to live longer than the President of the United States. In the unlikely event that a major catastrophe befalls the president, the veep gets his job, house, and – odd as this sounds – family (rather than kicking them out of their house like, “Sorry your husband/father died, but also you’re now homeless”).

The first vice president to benefit from this proximity to power was John Tyler and his influence on how we understand the vice presidency is immense. President Harrison died in 1841 not long after his inauguration and Tyler decided that he was president now. That might be obvious to us, but the Constitution doesn’t say “the vice president becomes the president” but rather that the “Powers and Duties” of the president “shall devolve on the Vice President” and many insisted on calling Tyler the “Acting President,” including some in Congress. Ultimately, the 25th Amendment made this clear in 1967.

Nine vice presidents have become president during their term (Tyler, Fillmore, A. Johnson, Arthur, T. Roosevelt, Coolidge, Truman, L. Johnson, Ford). Forty-one vice presidents have not.

So what else does the vice president do? Well, they preside over the U.S. Senate but cast a vote only if there’s a tie. They sit on the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institute so that’s … cool? And presidents often task their veeps with specific duties. If you want a relatively easy gig, vice president is probably the best one you can find.

But what about being a candidate for vice president?

A lot of people have eyed the #2 spot in many, many campaigns. Being a vice presidential candidate can give you national name recognition so you can launch your own bid for the presidency in case your veep job doesn’t pan out. A lot of vice presidents and veep candidates start out as long-shot presidential candidates.

Here are the veep candidates since 1960 and what they did after the election:

1960: Lyndon B. Johnson (won, later president) and Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. (became Ambassador to South Vietnam, then West Germany, then the Holy See)
1964: Hubert Humphrey (won, later presidential candidate) and William Miller (appeared in an American Express commercial*)
1968: Spiro Agnew (won) and Edmund Muskie (remained in Senate, authored Clean Air and Water Acts and served as Secretary of State in 1980-81)
1972: Spiro Agnew (won, then resigned and pleaded no contest to tax evasion) and Sargent Shriver (launched unsuccessful 1976 bid for president)
1976: Walter Mondale (won) and Bob Dole (became 1996 presidential nominee)
1980: George H.W. Bush (won) and Walter Mondale (became 1984 presidential nominee)
1984: George H.W. Bush (won, subsequently won 1992 presidential election) and Geraldine Ferraro (remained in Congress, later served as United States Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights)
1988: Dan Quayle (won) and Lloyd Bentsen (remained in Senate, later served as Treasury Secretary)
1992: Al Gore (won) and Dan Quayle (that was pretty much it for Dan Quayle**)
1996: Al Gore (won, became 2000 presidential nominee) and Jack Kemp (Kemp mostly became a party boss after the 1996 election, in part because he had lost some stature after losing every single debate to Gore; be considered a 2000 presidential run but it faltered early)
2000: Dick Cheney (won) and Joe Lieberman (remained in Senate; sought 2004 nomination but lost)
2004: Dick Cheney (won, later became a party boss and an advocate for… same-sex marriage? Okay) and John Edwards (launched an unsuccessful bid for president in 2008***)
2008: Joe Biden (won) and Sarah Palin (launched a reality show as a way to remain politically relevant; it backfired because people liked Palin best when they didn’t know anything about her)
2012: Joe Biden (won, presumptive candidate for 2020) and Paul Ryan (remained in Congress and served as Speaker of the House)
2016: Mike Pence (won) and Tim Kaine

You’ll notice that most of the candidates who didn’t win go on to do… something. Secretary of State Muskie. Secretary of the Treasury Bentsen. Ambassador Ferraro. Ambassador Lodge. Speaker Ryan. Edwards, Lieberman, Dole, Kemp, Shriver, and Quayle mounted campaigns for the presidency.

Tim Kaine isn’t the only veep candidate to fade into obscurity. Miller was virtually unknown before his candidacy and Palin can fade into obscurity any time she’d like, thanks. But Kaine is unusually because there’s not even speculation that he ~might~ run. We thought Ryan might run in 2016. We thought Dole might run in 1980 (he did, although he wasn’t the party’s sole nominee until 1996). There was even speculation that Cheney might run in 2008, and some conservatives urged him to.

No one is urging Tim Kaine to run for president.

The moment the ticket lost, Kaine went away from the national spotlight. No one looks to him as a party elder; he was the party’s vice presidential nominee and its former chair from 2009 to 2011 and yet no one is clamoring for the Tim Kaine campaign in 2020.

This helps shed light on one of the myriad of problems that Clinton faced in 2016. Reportedly, members of the Clinton campaign were floored when she picked Kaine as her running mate. Many had pushed for Julian Castro, the HUD Secretary who could potentially make Texas competitive, or for Tom Vilsack, the former Governor of Iowa. Clinton picked Kaine because, among other things, he represented the battleground state of Virginia and he was Spanish-speaking, something that Clinton thought would appeal to Hispanic voters (Castro is, oddly, not fluent in Spanish because he was discouraged from speaking it as a child). But there’s a general suspicion that Hillary Clinton favored Tim Kaine because Kaine offered absolutely nothing fresh or new, which kept the focus on her and her politics. The pair had a kind of suburban neighborhood vibe that Clinton may have enjoyed but that didn’t feel nearly as authentic as Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Biden is not my pick for president by any means. But the fact that we’re talking about him and he’s the frontrunner even though he hasn’t announced a campaign is a sign of how much of an impact he had. True, he served as vice president, but Tim Kaine could have. And Kaine is a powerful senator, a former governor, a former DNC chair, a Harvard Law graduate, and – I can’t stress this enough – the nominee for vice president in 2016.

And yet he matters not as we stare down 2020.

* Barry Goldwater, the eccentric conservative who was the 1964 Republican nominee, claimed that he picked Miller as his running mate because President Johnson hated Miller. But there’s little evidence that Johnson even knew who Miller was and his pick gave rise to the sing-song joke “Here’s a riddle, it’s a killer / Who the hell is William Miller?” You might be more likely to know his daughter, liberal comedian and talk radio host Stephanie Miller.

** The Vice Presidency was made for Dan Quayle, a generically handsome man with absolutely no common sense or knowledge about anything ever. He ran for president in 2000 but very unsuccessfully.

*** Edwards was indicted for campaign finance violations not long after the 2008 election. It turns out he used some of the funds for his campaign to visit his mistress. He had a mistress because his wife had terminal cancer. He is not in politics anymore, because in 2008 “using campaign funds to conceal an affair” was a thing that could end your political career.