Do US presidents get along with their vice presidents?

I have been religiously watching West Wing lately (am in the middle of Season 3 now) and one thing that has intrigued me is the relationship between President Bartlet and Vice President Hoynes. There is an active dislike between the two men (particularly on Hoynes’ side) and Hoynes openly resents having to be under someone with whom he was competing for the nomination (and was even the frontrunner). Furthermore it is clear that the vice president actually has very little role in the daily activites of national policy and is only brought in under special circumstances.

Assuming that there is some degree of accuracy in this, I am curious how what is portrayed in WW compares to real life. Do you know of examples of this antagonistic relationship between real serving presidents and vice presidents?
(Mods, I am looking for factual examples, not a discussion of West Wing)

Until Cheney, VPs simply had no role (except the largely ceremonial one of presiding ver the senate which they generally avoided) and presidents were free to like them, dislike them, ignore them; they could have been on different planets. I think Roosevelt barely knew Truman. He would have known Wallace but shuddered at the thought of his becoming president. I can conjecture that Eisenhower would not have liked Nixon much and it is more or less well known that Kennedy and Johnson loathed each other.

Even to Nixon, Agnew must have seemed fetid. Bush I must have seen Quayle as anti-assassination insurance. Actually giving the VP a sustantial role in government is unprecendented. And hopefully will not set a new precedent.

What does seem to be a new precedent is that most of the VPs since Johnson have been serious presidential candidates in their own right and a majority of them have run–mostly successfully–for president subsequently.

Kennedy and LBJ famously did not like each other. Also, Bush Sr. had competed with Reagan for the nomination and you may recall, called Reaganomics “voodoo economics.” FDR pretty much didn’t pay much attention to his VPs.

A lot of VPs have been chosen to balance the ticket or to pull in a specific geographic region, so it’s unlikely that a personal friendship enters into the calculation too often.

Edit: I just noticed my post count is 1234!

Before they changed the system, our first vice presidents were essentially the loser of the presidential race. I can’t imagine that having to serve under your opponent made for the best relationships. The conflicts between John Adams and his VP Thomas Jefferson were legendary, with the men pulling in wildly different directions and rarely speaking to each other.

I never heard what it was like between Adams and Washington, or any of the other early pairs, but it can’t have beeneasy.

I don’t know about mostly successfully. Bush I is the only VP since Martin Van Buren to be elected president.


I think Mondale was the first VP to actually be part of the inner circle at the White House. Prior to that, their duties were pretty minimal (bring in their home state in the election and vote the party line when the Senate is tied). I don’t think Bush I was that influential under Reagan, nor do I think Quayle was a big player in the Bush I White House. Both Clinton and Bush II have had veeps that have been much more involved than had been typical.

Ooh, not true. I think you refer to ‘Sitting VPs who were elected President’ but several have made the leap other than that.

Sitting VPs who were elected:

Van Buren
GHW Bush

Non-Sitting VP Elected:


VP who succeeded to the Presidency:

Tyler (did not choose to seek nomination)
Fillmore (sought nomination but didn’t get it)
Johnson (sought nomination but didn’t get it)
Arthur (sought nomination but didn’t get it)
Roosevelt (eventually won election in his own right)
Coolidge (eventually won election in his own right)
Truman (eventually won election in his own right)
Johnson (eventually won election in his own right)
Ford (sought nomination but didn’t get it)

Also, Clinton gave Gore a hell of a lot of a leadership role during his two terms.

So what about Gore and Clinton? Did they get along? I still detected some distance between them in the 2000 election.

The relationship between president and vice-president has evolved with changes in how the vice-president is selected. Before World War II, vice presidential candidates were selected by party leaders at national conventions, with little or no input from the presidential nominee. They were usually chosen to placate party factions which had lost out in the presidential fight, or to carry swing states in the fall election.

Once in office, the VP presided over the Senate (a role they took more seriously before the Majority Leader took away most of the responsibility). They had little relationship of any sort with the President. Since the VP often represented a different faction, and was a reminder of the President’s mortality, such relationship as they had was often frosty. Calvin Coolidge thought Charles Gates Dawes was a loudmouth showboat (everyone was a loudmouth compared to Coolidge), and FDR didn’t trust John Nance Garner as far as he could throw him.

Since World War II the VP candidate has usually been hand-picked by the presidential candidate. After the Eagleton fiasco, Jimmy Carter institutionalized this process in 1976, with an elaborate series of “interviews” to select Walter Mondale. Since that time the relationship between President and VP has been much closer; the VP has been part of the National Security Council and most presidents delegate at least one policy area to the VP (deregulation under Quayle, government reorganization under Gore).

A president with a dysfunctional relationship with his VP today would look like a doofus, as it would mean he muffed his first and most carefully vetted appointment.

Nominated, lost to Carter.

Martin Van Buren was one of Andrew Jackson’s most trusted advisors and was very much a part of the inner circle at the White House. He was “rewarded” with Jackson’s pick of him as his successor, even though they ultimately broke over the annexation of Texas.

Freddy’s “It depends on the President and Vice President” answer is very much on target, though I’d have to quibble with a few details.

In 1932 Garner threw his support behind Roosevelt in exchange for the Vice Presidency. They were, for the next 4+ years, respectful of each other as disparate parts of the Democratic coalition. Garner had an inside track for expressing the views of Southern Democrats of the older. more conservative school on New Deal legislation, and Roosevelt listened to it and used it to help shape how he got New Deal bills through Congress. If, for example, Garner reported that “Sens. X, Y, and Z are reliable votes for your farm bill, but you’ve got to let them make speeches on the Senate floor decrying it, for consumption by the home folks, first,” that was useful information on how to put together a majority for that bill, and not to be deceived by their seeming opposition. If Garner said, “You need to take out Section 7 of this bill – it’ll never sell in the South with that in. Pull it, and our boys can argue that the rest is needed, and that they got that concession from you,” FDR would probably pull Section 7. The Court-packing plan was what precipitated the break between them, and most of Garner’s second term was more or less in opposition – but the role he played in his first term and the beginning of the second should not be overlooked.

Ike, a consummate politician, knew how to play the public. He himself didn’t take controversial stands, in general (enforcing the SCOTUS integration decisions being one major exception, and that out of his respect for government by law). If a controversial proposal needed to be vetted, he had Nixon trot it out and take the flak if it did prove controversial. If maverick Republicans needed to be brought into line or publicly spanked, Ike, who traded on his pater patriae image to forge a national consensus, would not descend to the level of party leader; Nixon did the dirty work, with Ike’s full consent and encouragement.

Nixon himself tried to use Agnew in a similar role when he finally became President himself, but the country was too divided over Vietnam and related issues at that point, and Nixon himself was too much a partisan, controversial figure to play the Ike role.

Rockefeller more or less reprised the Garner role, speaking for the liberal Republicans, during Ford’s Presidency, but of course there were few instances in those two years for him to do so. But Ford, a staunch conservative as a Congressman, was smart enough to balance his Administration by nominating Rockefeller, the leading liberal in the GOP, in an effort to reconstruct a national coalition/consensus.

It’s part of the dynamic of “balancing” the ticket. Many presidential candidates have chosen a running mate on the basis of him having different ideological beliefs in order to appeal to more voters. But once the election is over, that asset of diversity becomes a liability - now the President wants people who have simular ideological beliefs around him.

This may be in decline–recent candidate pairs like Clinton/Gore, Bush/Cheney, and Kerry/Edwards were almost indistinguishable ideologically, at least at the time they ran. Given today’s level of media scrutiny, it may be easier to pick a soul mate than a counterweight–the one recent candidate who fit the “balance” mold, Lieberman (more conservative than Gore), had to field endless questions about “Why did you always oppose X but now you run with a candidate who supports it?” It will be interesting to see which pattern holds in 2008.

plnnr–Van Buren was an interesting exception, a “modern” Vice President time-warped into the 1830’s. Jackson was able to anoint him at a time when party conventions were in their infancy; most Nineteenth Century presidents neither sought nor were able to exercise that degree of control.

It didn’t hurt that Van Buren pretty much invented the political machine system, was from New York, and was able to to exasperatingly non-commital on nearly any subject. He once said he couldn’t exactly be sure the sun came up in the east because he made it a habit to never get up before sunrise.