The Vacuity of Trump’s Veepstakes

donald trump veepstakes
Indeed, anyone who would consider taking the V.P. job shouldn’t be allowed within hailing distance of the Oval Office—he or she belongs on a psychiatrist’s couch instead. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
John Heilemann
June 16, 2024

The first recorded invocation of the neologism “veepstakes” can be found in a headline in the Omaha World-Evening Herald in 1952 above a story about the potential running mates of that year’s presidential nominees, Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower and Democrat Adlai Stevenson: Veepstakes Provide Laughs Even in Serious Campaign. The story’s tone (“What America needs now is comedy—so, hurry, we’re getting ready to elect a Vice-President!”) and placement (page 25) were consistent with the mockery of the headline. This turned out to be apt, since neither of the wingmen ultimately chosen for the tickets (Senators Richard Nixon and John Sparkman) had the slightest impact on Ike’s 442-electoral-vote landslide that November.

In the 72 years since then, the importance of the veepstakes hasn’t changed one iota—i.e., with one notable exception, who’s in the No. 2 slot on a presidential ticket didn’t matter then and it doesn’t matter now. But the coverage of the sidekick selection process by the political press—the speculation surrounding it (who’s supposedly on or off the shortlist, whose stock is purportedly rising or falling, the nominee’s alleged appraisal criteria, etcetera) by the political class more broadly, and the attendant efforts at subterfuge, misdirection, and dissimulation by the campaigns to throw the media off the scent and gin up suspense/surprise about the eventual pick—have escalated and metastasized like those speedball zombies in World War Z.