John P. Sears, who ran Ronald Reagan’s almost-successful race for nomination against President Gerald Ford in 1976, told me if Joe Biden becomes a candidate it would be “a good idea” for him to name Sen. Elizabeth Warren as his vice presidential running mate and do so before the convention.
Now 75 and retired in Miami, Sears recalled how his candidate was narrowly trailing Ford in the crucial count for delegates shortly before the Republican National Convention in Kansas City, Mo. In a political version of football’s “Hail Mary pass,” Sears crafted the idea of Reagan naming Pennsylvania’s moderate-to-liberal Sen. Richard Schweiker as a running mate even before the nomination for president.
Schweiker agreed, and Reagan stunned the party and the press July 26 of that year by saying Schweiker would be his choice if he became the nominee for president.
But it was not to be. A Sears-conceived move to adopt Rule-16-C, changing convention rules to require any presidential candidate to name his vice presidential choice before the balloting for president, was narrowly beaten on the convention floor. Reagan narrowly lost to Ford in the balloting the final evening.
“It was a good idea when we did it, and it would be a good idea for Biden to turn to Warren early,” Sears told me. “A move like that would suddenly raise tremendous speculation as to whether Hillary Clinton could hold onto the support of liberal activists.”
Warren, known for having among the most redistributionist economic agendas of any national Democrat, has ruled out a presidential bid of her own. So far, the Massachusetts lawmaker has yet to endorse any candidate for the Democratic nomination next year.
Recalling how his idea of Reagan announcing a running mate before the convention was controversial in 1976, Sears pointed out that “it kept Reagan in the competition right up to the balloting. And, you’ll note that every major party nominee has since named a vice presidential choice before the convention.”
The lone exception to the rule of early announcement of running mates since 1976 was Reagan himself, who in 1980 arrived on the convention floor in Detroit moments after he was officially nominated to tell delegates he was naming former rival George H.W. Bush as his vice presidential choice.
Before Sears spoke to me, the idea of a Biden-Warren ticket has been circulating on the Washington, D.C., dinner-party circuit. So has the idea that Biden — at 72, is the second-oldest vice president in history after fellow Democrat Alben Barkley — would announce early that he would only serve one term as president if elected in 2016.
“That’s not a good idea at all — not for Biden or any candidate,” said Sears. “I certainly never told Reagan to do that in 1976 [when the Californian was 65] or in 1980 [when Sears parted company with the Reagan campaign after the New Hampshire primary]. When a president is in his second term, he is a lame duck and grows more ineffective as time goes by. When he announces that before he wins one term, he becomes especially ineffective.”
Sears noted that Reagan’s pollster Richard Wirthlin found that, in 1979, “the same number of people who said Reagan’s age would discourage them from voting for him was the same number who said they wouldn’t vote for him if he was 42. The age issue is just an excuse for people who don’t like a candidate anyway.”
“If you’re in good health and look OK, and no one is asking if you’ve lost your marbles, just run and don’t limit yourself.”
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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