Lewis L. Gould: From the House to the White House

Roundup: Historians' Take

Lewis L. Gould is professor emeritus of American history at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of “Grand Old Party: A History of the Republicans.”

In all the media excitement over Mitt Romney’s selection of Representative Paul D. Ryan as his running mate on the Republican ticket, little attention has been focused on the rarity of an incumbent member of the House of Representatives holding second place on a national ticket. Each party has done it twice since 1900, with one success and one failure for both Republicans and Democrats so far.

The Republicans led off in 1908 with the selection of James S. Sherman to run with William H. Taft. A representative from upstate New York, Sherman was chosen to balance the “Western” choice of Taft, from Ohio. After the election, Sherman (known as “Sunny Jim”) played almost no role in the Taft presidency. He presided over the Senate and played golf. After Taft defeated Theodore Roosevelt in the bitter 1912 Republican national convention, Sherman was re-nominated by default. He died of a heart condition shortly before the November voting and is now generally and deservedly forgotten.

Twenty years later, in the tumultuous 1932 Democratic convention that nominated Franklin D. Roosevelt for the first time, the Speaker of the House, John Nance Garner of Texas (nicknamed “Cactus Jack”), threw his delegates to F.D.R. at a key moment to break a multiballot deadlock and received the vice presidency in return. Later he famously opined that the position was not worth “a bucket of warm piss.” Garner sought the presidential nomination himself in 1940 but could not overcome the third term sentiment for President Roosevelt....

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