Thursday, February 7, 2008

How the Constitution is structuring the 2008 race

There are, of course, many ways that the Constitution will be structuring the forthcoming election, including, probably most importantly, the electoral college. This means that "electability" discussions inevitably (and properly, given the EC) focus on the ability to carry states (like Missouri) rather than simply to amass more votes than the opposition. But let me point to two other ways that the Constitution is extremely important:

1) The "natural-born citizen" clause. Does anyone doubt that if naturalized citizens were eligible to become president, then Arnold Schwartzenegger would be running a very active, and powerful, candidacy, probably as a Republican but perhaps as a truly strong independent? Indeed, I have had conversations with some colleagues on whether he would be barred from running for the Vice-presidency on a McCain ticket. The Constitution doesn't clearly say no, and one assumes that McCain would declare, upon choosing S., that he would strongly support a constitutional amendment that would allow S. to succeed to the presidency if circumstances required. I have been very critical of Senate Democrats for not getting behind such an amendment several years ago, when it was introduced by Republican Senator Hatch. They certainly couldn't oppose it this year, when it would properly be viewed as an "anti-immigrant" vote.

2) The vice-presidency. On July 1, 2007, I published a piece in the Boston Globe arguing that we were not well served by the current institution of the vice-presidency (for reasons going well beyond distaste for Dick Cheney). One reason is that presidential candidates of both parties have been tempted to engage in "electoral vote pandering" by picking a state or regional favorite who could conceivably have been thought to be the "best person" equipped to take over should anything happen to the President. My suggestion was that presidential candidates run completely on their own, with the winner then nominating someone to serve as VP, who would be subject to congressional confirmation, as with the current 25th Amendment.

I strongly suspect that John McCain would love such an option, for, unlike Clinton or Obama, who can't really be hurt by their choice of VP, McCain is in something of a pickle. If he rejects Huckabee simply because he's patently unfit to be President, then he alienates Huckabee's supporters and, especially if Obama is the nominee, risks losing some of the presumptively "red states." But, of course, picking Huckabee would doom his candidacy in those states who would not be taken by the further "Christianization" of our national polity. Picking Giuliani would be a disaster with the Huckabee voters, for starters. It would assure that leaders of the religious right, including James Dobson, would stay home in November. And, frankly, it's hard to think of many other Republicans waiting in the wings to be party unifiers. I don't think this is Jeb Bush's year!