The revelation was guaranteed to lend spice to a political season that was becoming predictable. According to a new book by fired White House chief of staff Donald Regan, astrology has helped plot the key moments of Ronald Reagan’s presidency—including the timing of the signing
ceremony, during last December’s Washington summit, of the intermediate nuclear arms treaty with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
But as Capitol Hill and television talk shows erupted in horoscope jokes last week, one man whose mirth seemed a little forced was Vice-President George Bush. In California, Joyce Jillson, the actress-astrologer who claimed to advise the Reagans, declared that her 1980 starcasts had convinced the President to choose Bush as his running mate. Aboard Air Force Two, on a campaign swing through the West, Bush said that he had never met Jillson. “But,” he joked, “I’ll likely work closely with her. She’s brilliant.” True or not, Jillson’s claim underlined the precarious nature of the process that has now become Washington’s leading guessing game: whom Bush and his likely Democratic rival for the White House, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, will pick as vice-presidential running mates.
Landslide victories last week in the Ohio and Indiana primaries virtually clinched the Democratic nomination
for Dukakis. Despite losing a third primary—in the 70-per-cent-black District of Columbia—to Jesse Jackson, Dukakis now leads the former preacher by 1,467 delegates to 926. And on the Republican side, Bush finally acknowledged that he had locked up his party’s nomination at an “Over the Top” party in a Washington hotel. That certitude, a full six months before the election, left
political analysts to begin handicapping likely contenders for the vice-presidency. Still, as the speculation heated up, no one was more aware than Bush of the pitfalls of a job that one predecessor, John Nance Garner (1933-1941), described as not “worth a pitcher of warm spit.” And at last week’s victory party, Bush’s son, George Jr., seemed to confirm that verdict on the vice-presidency when he told the crowd, “Our Dad needs a real job.”
The man most mentioned as Bush’s first choice for running mate—California Gov. George Deukmejian—has already refused the job. If he stepped down from the governorship, he reasoned, he would be obliged to turn over the statehouse to Lt.-Gov. Leo McCarthy, a Democrat, for the remaining 2lh years of his term. Still, the seriousness with which Deukmejian was being considered before he said no highlighted the key role that geography may play in determining who will be a heartbeat away from the next president.
The governor’s chief attraction for Bush was his power base in the most
populous state of the union. In the stateby-state system of electing presidents and vice-presidents, California casts 47 votes—the biggest bloc in the 270vote electoral college that, apportioned according to population, ultimately decides the presidency. Geographical considerations also hover over the Democratic deliberations. As it became increasingly clear that Dukakis would
win the party nomination, conservative southern Democrats have lobbied for one of their own on the ticket to balance his northeastern, liberal image.
The southerners say that only a southerner can help break the Republicans’ stranglehold on the region in recent presidential elections. But their favored son, Georgia Senator Sam Nunn, also seemed to be closing the door on the job last week. Besides being a southerner, Nunn would bring another advantage to the ticket. As Capitol Hill’s reigning military expert—and chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee—he fills a gap in Dukakis’s experience.
Still, Nunn’s very strengths also make him a dubious choice. Although Dukakis consulted him on national security early in the campaign, Nunn’s support of the contra rebels in Nicaragua and his conservative defence policies put him at odds with Dukakis. And as a 1972 supporter of segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace, Nunn has a blemished record on civil rights that could alienate an element even more essential to a Democratic vic-i
tory in the South: Jesse Jackson and his massive black constituency.
Nunn’s supporters have proposed that Dukakis offer him the vice-presidency together with a high-powered cabinet post such as secretary of state or defence. But Nunn’s friends say that what he really wants is to be the government’s chief arms-control negotiator. At the same time, some constitutional experts say that it would be a mistake to appoint the vice-president to cabinet because the President could not fire him.
Other proposed southerners also have drawbacks. Veteran Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen, chairman of the Senate finance committee, could guide Dukakis around the quicksands of Capitol Hill. And Florida Senator Bob Graham shares much of Dukakis’s moderate agenda despite only brief Washington experience. But like the
owlish Nunn, both are short on charisma and neither is likely to be capable of delivering his state’s votes to the Democrats in November. And the one southerner whom Dukakis reportedly feels close to, Arkansas Senator Dale Bumpers, hails from a state with virtually no electoralcollege clout.
That same disadvantage applies to former Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt, who dropped out of the presidential race last February. But speculation still swirls around Babbitt’s name because the Dukakis campaign recently paid off his campaign debts.
Still, many analysts dispute the conventional wisdom that Dukakis needs a southerner on the ticket at all. They say that the South will again vote Republican, regardless of who is on the Democratic ticket. And they advise the Demo-
crats to concentrate their strategy on winning the West and the Midwest industrial states where the economy was in decline during the Reagan era. That scenario has produced another list of possible Dukakis costars. Among them: Henry Cisneros, the handsome Hispanic mayor of San Antonio, Texas, and Ohio Senator John Glenn, the former astronaut who failed in his own 1984 campaign for the Democratic nomination.
For Bush, who is from both the North and the South—as a Massachusetts native who moved to Texas—geography is a less important consideration. He is considering a Midwest running mate, Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson, whose party machinery helped him win that state in March. But the most surprising prospect for a Bush partnership is Kansas Senator Robert Dole, until last month his bitterest
rival for the Republican nomination. Lately, Dole has hinted that he would be open to the job, as has another Dole—his wife, Elizabeth, who resigned her cabinet job as transportation secretary to help him campaign for the nomination. The senator agreed that his wife, a native of North Carolina, had three eminent qualifications: “She’s from the South. She’s a woman. And she’s a Dole.”
For many Democrats, it was embarrassing that their party was not considering a woman for the spot this year, while the Republicans had three serious female contenders besides Dole. They are Kansas Senator Nancy Kassebaum, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor from Arizona, and former ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick. Said one Democratic campaign veteran: “I can’t think of a single woman Democrat
who could run who isn’t a flake.” And many southern Democrats still blame their party’s defeat in the region in 1984 in part on the unwillingness of southern white males to accept Geraldine Ferraro as Walter Mondale’s running mate.
For now, Bush has to seek an ideological balance in his vice-presidential choice. But even before that, he will have to decide if he is going to present himself as a candidate of the Republican centre or its conservative wing. Carving out a moderate stance would increase the odds for one possible running mate: New York Representative Jack Kemp, a right-wing favorite, who dropped out of the presidential race after Super Tuesday on March 8.
But the main qualification for any vicepresident is that he must not detract from the ticket. And it is precisely that consideration that leads many Democrats to
oppose putting Jackson on the ticket. Not only do they believe that many whites will refuse to vote for a black vice-presidential candidate, but they are also concerned that Jackson’s policies are too left-wing for a large number of voters. Jackson knows that he would be blamed if the Democrats lost in November—an indictment that could end his hopes for another try at the White House in the future.
Meanwhile, as Bush attempts to forge an identity that is distinct from Reagan’s, he too is well aware of the historical jinx on the vice-presidential office for those with presidential aspirations. The last time Americans elected a sitting vicepresident to the White House was when they gave the nod to Martin Van Buren 152 years ago.
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