The challenge facing Mitt Romney right now is a challenge every presidential candidate has faced: the selection of a running mate. President Nixon had the unique experience of being on five presidential tickets: nominated twice as Vice President, and selecting three running mates for his own Presidential campaigns.
When any presidential candidate considering their potential running mate asks themself, ‘who should I pick,’ the inevitable second part to that question becomes, ‘if I want to win?’ The result is often self-serving, putting the campaign first by prioritizing electoral math, and what the individual can bring to the general election above the qualifications necessary to be an effective Vice President. It is a tempting question to ask.
General Eisenhower asked a different question; he asked, ‘why am I selecting this running mate?”
The answer to this question was revealed in a conversation between then General Eisenhower and Senator Richard Nixon. “Dick, I don’t want a Vice President who will be a figure head. I want a man who will be a member of the team. And I want him to be able to step into the presidency smoothly in case anything happens to me.”
What becomes apparent from this conversation is that the foremost priority of General Eisenhower was to find a running mate who had the character and skills to assume the Presidency, not the campaign savvy to make him President. This line of thinking prioritized the future national interest above the immediate interests of his upcoming presidential campaign.
Richard Nixon embodied the qualities General Eisenhower required in a running mate.
Few men were better credentialed than RN with regard to foreign policy. Having traveled through post WWII Europe as a member of the Herter Committee, he understood the threat communism posed to America and its allies. Later, he would defend America directly against communist infiltration of the State Department in his pursuit of Alger Hiss. Ironically, the opposition’s resentment toward RN over Alger Hiss’s subsequent perjury conviction followed him on the campaign trail.
Any consideration for the position of Vice President within the Romney campaign should take a note from Eisenhower’s selection process and prioritize experience and character, which will demonstrate the leadership America expects from its President.
Ian Delzer is a Research Assistant at the Richard Nixon Foundation.