8 of the Most Surprising VP Candidates Ever Suggested

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Presidential candidates choose running mates to balance out their weaknesses, bring geographic diversity, and—most importantly—to help them win. As speculation mounts over who this year's candidates will pick to join them on the ticket this fall, we look back at the wildcards past nominees considered.


Ford (left) stood behind Reagan at the 1976 Republication National Convention.

In 1980, Republican nominee Ronald Reagan thought he’d found the perfect way to beat incumbent President Jimmy Carter. The “dream ticket,” as it was called, would feature former President Gerald Ford as Reagan’s running mate. He had geographic diversity—Ford was from Michigan, while Reagan hailed from California—and, having already been in the Oval Office, he had the most Washington experience of any of the other VP candidates. The parties seriously discussed the option, but talks hit a wall when Ford demanded that the two essentially run as “co-presidents,” getting expanded power in the VP role. Ultimately, neither could agree to realistic terms, and the dream team crumbled.


Desperate times call for desperate measures, and George H.W. Bush, facing an 18-point deficit in his 1988 presidential bid, was desperate. That’s when aides to the Bush campaign floated actor Clint Eastwood as Bush’s VP pick. In an audio interview released in 2011, former Bush campaign chairman and Secretary of State James Baker said the campaign considered Eastwood with some measure of sincerity “when we were way behind.” Eastwood had held public office before, as the Republican mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, for two years. But “it was shot down pretty quick,” Baker said, and Bush went on to choose Indiana Senator Dan Quayle.


In 1992, Bill Clinton briefly considered the prominent civil rights activist and head of the Children’s Defense Fund as his running mate. His wife, Hillary, was close with Edelman, a fellow lawyer, and had served on the board of the Fund. Edelman’s name reportedly came up when Clinton asked, “Who are the leading citizens in the country?” and then answered his own question. According to the Los Angeles Times, though, Edelman wasn’t interested.

4. BARBARA BUSH (2000)

Who better to share a ticket with than your mom? In an op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, vice presidential expert Joel Goldstein made the case (albeit facetiously) for George W. Bush to pick his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, as his running mate in 2000. Having moved to the right during the primaries to appeal to the Reaganites in the party, Bush needed a running mate who could appeal to the more moderate wing, who had experience in Washington, and who would speak frankly to him. The perfect candidate, Goldstein argued, was his mom. Bush chose former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney instead, a snub his mom likely never forgave him for.

5. JOHN MCCAIN (2004)

During a swearing-in ceremony in 2013, Kerry (left) chatted with McCain in Washington, D.C.

Four years before he became the GOP nominee for president in 2008, the Arizona senator was approached by John Kerry’s campaign as a possible VP choice. Prominent Democrats hoped the bipartisan ticket of two decorated Vietnam war veterans would shake up the race against incumbent President George W. Bush and lend them clout in the debate over who could best preside over a war on terror. One Democratic strategist told the New York Times that it “would be the political equivalent of the Yankees signing A-Rod.” But while the pair considered each other good friends, McCain flat out rejected the idea.

6. OPRAH (2000, 2008, & 2016)

Free BMWs for everyone who registers to vote! After he announced his candidacy last year, Donald Trump told ABC News that he’d love to have Oprah on his ticket. “I think Oprah would be great. I'd love to have Oprah. I think we'd win easily, actually.” This wasn’t the first time the actress and talk show host was floated: In 1999, Trump told CNN that Oprah “would always be my first choice” for a running mate, and when then-Senator Barack Obama went on The Late Show with David Letterman in 2008, he joked that he’d make her his vice president. As for this year’s election, Oprah has put the kibosh on Trump VP speculation, telling Jimmy Kimmel in June that she plans to vote for Hillary Clinton.


Obama (left) shook hands with former New York City Mayor Bloomberg in Washington, D.C. in 2014.

In 2008, the mayor of New York City was courted by not one, but two candidates for president—on opposite sides of the aisle. Obama met with Bloomberg to discuss the possibility in April of 2008, and McCain took the billionaire out to breakfast to gauge his interest just a month later. At the time, John Heilemann wrote in New York magazine that both sides had serious advantages in picking the mayor for their running mate. “He’s rich, Jewish, and [has] a head for business. What’s not to like?” Something, evidently: Both candidates ended up going in different directions.

8. DONALD TRUMP (2012)

Trump (right) endorsed Romney for president during a February 2012 news conference in Las Vegas.

Before he became a major party candidate himself, The Donald was floated as GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s running mate pick in 2012. Though he told Fox News that he thought Romney could "do much better,” Trump later said he was ready to be hired if the nominee needed him. Four years can change a lot: Trump has made jabs at Romney throughout the 2016 campaign, saying, “Poor Mitt Romney. I have a store that’s worth more money than he is” and that he “walks like a penguin.” Doesn’t sound like it would have been the most blissful of unions.

Images courtesy of Getty.