by The Wall Street Journal
May 4, 2019


PROVO, Utah—A bus stop on the campus of Brigham Young University is where David Blake began his quest to bring back the days of independently electing the next U.S. vice president, namely him.

“Do you have 30 seconds to talk about the vice presidency?” Mr. Blake, 35 years old, asked a series of passersby on their way home one night last month. Those who stopped got the elevator pitch for the former San Francisco tech executive’s “movement to reclaim our democratic right to elect the vice president of the United States.”

In an era of political tectonic shifts from President Trump shaking up White House protocols to Democratic presidential candidates calling for ending the Electoral College, Mr. Blake is aiming to spark a change to two centuries of precedent for the way vice presidents are elected.

“We’re living through a time when a lot of norms are getting thrown out the window,” Mr. Blake said over breakfast in Salt Lake City. “We have to start thinking about how we protect the office of the vice presidency.”

There’s not a lot to protect. The only constitutional requirement of the vice president is to break ties in the Senate and replace a dead or incapacitated president. The Founding Fathers thought so little of the office at the nation’s birth that they awarded it to the second-place finisher in a presidential election—a process that nearly tore the young country apart.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, advancing starkly different foreign policies, were elected president and vice president in 1796. In 1800, an Electoral College tie led to the deal memorialized in the musical “Hamilton” that made Mr. Jefferson president and Aaron Burr vice president.

The 12th Amendment was ratified in 1804, creating separate Electoral College votes for president and vice president.

Yet no one since 1824, when John C. Calhoun won the vice presidency after running alongside both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, has mounted a serious independent campaign for the vice presidency.

For the next 100 years, nominees for president and vice president were chosen at the parties’ political conventions. For the past 60 years, the presidential nominees from the major parties have chosen their running mates shortly before the summer political conventions.

Mr. Blake’s path is far more arduous than the typical path to the vice presidency, which usually involves being from a key state or representing an important voting bloc.

“A 105-day campaign for vice president is a lot better than a two-year campaign for vice president,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D., Va.), who was Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016. “He may come to realize the virtue of the 105-day version of what he’s about to do.”

Mr. Blake’s first step is convincing people the office that Vice President John Nance Garner called “not worth a bucket of warm spit” is worth a political movement. Placards at a political rally on the BYU campus read “It’s time to reclaim the vice presidency” and bore the hashtag #electthevp.

A CNN poll in February found 20% of Americans had never heard of or had an opinion about Mike Pence, who has been vice president since January 2017.

“I don’t think that they do much,” BYU geography professor Matt Bekker said of vice presidents after hearing Mr. Blake’s pitch. “What should they do? I don’t know.”

Mr. Blake says he voted for Republican nominee Mitt Romney in 2012 and Mrs. Clinton in 2016. He has little policy agenda of his own but, citing Democrat Walter Mondale as his favorite vice president, says he would serve as a “domestic diplomat” between America’s two major parties.

“I would represent the Walter Mondale model as sort of that right-hand man or woman, sort of the political fixer,” Mr. Blake said. He would be, he says, a “unifier-in-chief.”

To that end, he has put $1 million into a political committee, hired a staff of 15, including a full-time political consultant, a polling expert and Washington public relations firm. He is also working on a book.

Mr. Blake’s immediate goal is commitments from 865,000 people to sign petitions to secure separate ballot access for an independent vice-presidential candidate. His team on Thursday reached the threshold in its first state, Utah.

Even then, though, he would have to navigate a set of 50 different state election laws that may prohibit solo candidates for vice president. Mr. Blake is not a declared candidate for vice president.

In Ohio, for instance, state law calls for “joint candidates for the offices of president and vice president.” There’s no mechanism to seek one office without a running mate, according to Jon Keeling, a spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose.

Mr. Blake is also running up against the small community of vice-presidential scholars who broadly belittle his proposal.

Yale University constitutional law professor Akhil Amar and his brother, University of Illinois law school Dean Vikram Amar, wrote a widely cited 1992 paper called “President Quayle” that imagined bifurcating the presidential and vice-presidential elections.

“Having a guy who is a heartbeat away who is not on the team is a problem,” Akhil Amar said.

John Feerick, a former Fordham University Law School dean who wrote the 25th Amendment that codified the relationship between the president and vice president, said Mr. Blake would add to the current glut of people running for national office.

“Right now, we’ve got so many candidates, if you add to that names of people running for the vice presidency, the American voter certainly is going to be entertained by it, but I’m not sure that it’s going to be a good thing,” Mr. Feerick said.

And Larry Jacobs, a University of Minnesota professor who teaches a political science class with Mr. Mondale, said presidents would fear vice presidents with their own political power base.

Mr. Mondale, Mr. Jacobs said, only accepted President Carter’s offer to be his running mate after receiving assurances he would be treated better than fellow Minnesotan Hubert Humphrey, who spent his years as President Johnson’s vice president lamenting his powerlessness in the government.

“If the vice president was potentially a political rival, then the president is going to go back to treating the president like Lyndon Johnson did, a spare suitcase you’d throw into the attic,” Mr. Jacobs said.

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