Former President Donald Trump is expected to announce his vice presidential pick any day now (although the smart money is on sometime next week). The three front-runners for the job, according to various reports, are North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Sens. Marco Rubio and J.D. Vance.

And the stakes for these men are seemingly high. With Trump constitutionally limited to serving just one more term as president, if he wins, his vice president would be the expected front-runner for the 2028 Republican presidential nomination. We know that Burgum and Rubio, at least, have presidential ambitions — they’ve both run for the gig in the past.

However, if they think being Trump’s running mate will stamp their ticket to the White House, they should think again. Vice presidential nominees actually don’t have a very strong record of becoming president — so in general, people may be overrating the importance of Trump’s pick.

From 1972 (when the era of modern presidential primaries began) to 2016, 18 people appeared on the ballot as the Democratic or Republican vice presidential candidate.* Only two later became president: George H.W. Bush and Joe Biden. Of course, there is still a chance that some of the more recent VP nominees, like Sen. Tim Kaine or former Vice President Mike Pence, could eventually reach the Oval Office — but even if that unlikely scenario comes to pass, that’s still not a high batting average.

Of course, the biggest X factor here is the winner of this election. Trump’s running mate will have better odds of becoming president someday if he becomes vice president first. Of the 10 vice presidents who served between 1972 and 2020,** seven later ran for president, and five won their party’s nomination. But, of course, only Bush and Biden emerged victorious in the general election.

This confirms that, in a world where Republicans retake the White House this year, Trump’s vice president would go into the 2028 Republican presidential primaries as a strong favorite (if he decides to run). But it’s also a good reminder that winning the nomination is only half the battle.

And if Trump and his running mate don’t win the 2024 election, in all likelihood, the only way his VP pick will ever see the inside of the White House is on a tour. Of the 10 vice presidential nominees since 1972 who never became vice president, not one later became president. One — former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole — did go on to win his party’s presidential nomination, but it took three tries!

Even worse, only four of the 10 even ran for president. Obviously, this is ultimately something under the candidate’s own control, but it speaks to how damaging it can be to be associated with a losing presidential campaign. For example, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin declined to run in 2012 after being widely blamed for dragging down then-Sen. John McCain in 2008.

Of course, it could be different in 2028. Past losing presidential nominees haven’t maintained such a firm grip over their party as Trump did after 2020 — and might after 2024. If he endorses his running mate for president in 2028, the primaries could be over before they really begin.

On the other hand, maybe Trump won’t want to step aside for a new generation of leader and will want to run again himself one last time. Or the GOP may finally be ready to move on from Trump — and Trumpism — and turn to someone else instead. Either way, there is no guarantee that the person Trump picks as his running mate has a future in presidential politics.

Footnotes

*I used the phrasing “appeared on the ballot” deliberately, as this number excludes former Sen. Thomas Eagleton, who was the initial Democratic nominee for vice president in 1972. He was later dropped from the ticket, though, after revelations that he had received electroshock therapy for depression.

**Former President Gerald Ford and former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller are included in the 10 VPs but not the 18 VP nominees because neither actually ran for vice president; Ford became vice president only after the resignation of former Vice President Spiro Agnew, and Rockefeller became vice president after Ford acceded to the presidency.



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