We have short memories. Not only short, but often selective. When I hear a pundit or reporter describe Trump’s presidency as a historical event wherein an “outsider” was elected to clean up Washington I shake my head and wonder if they ever heard of Jimmy Carter.
From the moment Carter arrived in Washington, he was treated as an outsider. His experience in the Georgia State Senate and as Governor did little to blunt the cold reception he received from beltway Republicans and Democrats. Though Carter may have thought a Democratic majority in the House and Senate would be an advantage, the initiatives he put forth quickly divided his own party. For a long period of time there was so much tension between the Oval Office and the Hill, the nation’s business came to a complete standstill.
The trouble began when Democrats in Congress didn’t get what they wanted. Instead of Johnson’s Great Society, Carter brought a farmer’s pragmatism to the nation’s capital. The American economy was on the ropes, so Carter’s first order of business was to cut budgets and reign in spending. But the president’s fiscal austerity programs were so unpopular among fellow Democrats he was stonewalled at every turn. Carter soon earned a reputation as a president who was unable to get much accomplished. And to this day, historians look upon the Carter administration as one of the least productive presidencies in American history.
Though there are many similarities between Carter and Trump’s first eight months in office, there is one important difference between these two outsiders. That difference is the role their vice presidents played.
Carter’s top choice for vice president was Walter Mondale, a successful, powerful member of the U.S. Senate. But Mondale didn’t immediately jump at Carter’s invitation. According to Mondale, he had a front row seat to what happened to friend and colleague Hubert Humphrey’s career once he agreed to become President Johnson’s running mate. Mondale told me, “This marked the end of Humphrey’s career.” According to Mondale, Johnson relegated Humphrey to a stand-by position which had no authority, purpose, or even access to the president. Overnight Humphrey went from being a powerful Senator to an isolated figurehead. Mondale had no interest in becoming another Humphrey.
So, prior to accepting Carter’s offer he met with him to lay out his expectations for the role of vice president. Mondale made it clear he expected to be an active participant in Carter’s cabinet. He would become the first vice president to take an office in the West Wing and work side by side with the president — attending all planning and strategy meetings, having access to all cabinet personnel, and discussing and reviewing all initiatives with the president beforehand. It was only after Carter enthusiastically embraced the idea of a partnership that Mondale agreed to become Carter’s running mate.
To this day, Walter Mondale is credited with being America’s first “activist vice president.” Carter may have been an outsider but he had the wisdom to acknowledge that Mondale was not. So by diligently working the Hill on behalf of Carter — Mondale’s experience, clout, and relationships were put to good use. Mondale was crucial in getting controversial measures, such as the Panama Treaty, through a divided Democratic Congress. And what little was achieved during the Carter administration can be directly traced to Mondale’s willingness to bridge the gap between Congress and a beltway outsider.
Which begs the questions — where is Mike Pence? If Vice President Pence were to play a similar activist role could it heal the current Republican divide? Is this what’s needed to get Trump’s initiatives through Congress? Or does Pence see the vice presidency as a stand-by role ala Hubert Humphrey?
At a time when the only progress Trump has been able to achieve is through executive orders and other unilateral powers assigned to the Executive Branch, Pence’s experience and relationships in Congress could play a pivotal role in Trump’s success.
The one-two punch worked for a previous beltway outsider, and there is no reason it cannot work again. Come on Mr. Pence. Get in the game.
Rebecca D. Costa is an American sociobiologist, author, and host of the syndicated radio program "The Costa Report." She is an expert in the field of "fast adaptation." Costa’s first book, "The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse," was an international bestseller. Her follow-on book, titled "On the Verge," is scheduled for release in 2017. Costa’s work has been featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, SF Chronicle, The Guardian, etc. For more information, visit www.RebeccaCosta.com. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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