Most presidents have not looked at it this way. They usually have wanted a vice president who could succeed them, to carry on and defend their policies and, perhaps, protect them and their supporters from retaliation from a political rival or a president from another party. Rather than giving the vice president an incentive to distance himself from the president, the necessity of having his endorsement has forced vice presidents to defend his policies even when he would have preferred to go in a different direction. Think of Hubert Humphrey in 1968. He probably would have opposed Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam policy if he hadn't been the vice president.
Another virtue of having a vice president with ambitions of his own is that he is the only senior White House official in a position to resist the sycophancy that always surrounds the president. This is important because presidents live in a bubble, surrounded by people who owe their power and position solely to him. They are loath to be seen as "out of the loop" or to read news stories about their imminent departure, when they had no such plans. This tends to make the White House staff highly responsive to the president's wants, biases and whims.
Once into a second term, the vice president cannot be fired and his own ambitions will encourage him to pressure the president into adopting policies and taking positions that will be popular with voters. Since presidents cannot run for a third term, they would otherwise be totally impervious to public opinion. If a vice president hopes to be elected president himself, he has a strong incentive to advise the president to adopt policies that will make it easier for him to win.
For these reasons, I think Dick Cheney's lack of ambition for the presidency has been more of a handicap to Bush than the blessing he sees it as. It has fostered insularity at the White House and closed off an important avenue of influence to the president that has encouraged him to take a "go it alone" attitude, which is bad both for the country and the Republican Party.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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