The presidency and the vice presidency, as we understand both positions, date back to 1935 when we had the chance to elect our chief executive (and the designated successor) for the first time. The holdover of decisions made back then for reasons that mattered at the time means that dynamics that emerged back then, have persisted over time. And so if there can be said to be persistent expectations as far as public opinion is concerned, two of the most basic are, first, that we expect presidents and vice presidents to work together and help each other, and second, that because we elect presidents and vice presidents separately so that each has an unquestioned mandate, presidents will always look uneasily at vice presidents, who more often than not, in an easier contest, end up gaining more votes than the president.
The first expectation also means that when vice presidents are seen to be uncooperative with, or worse, disloyal to, the sitting president, the one who pays a price as far as public opinion is concerned is the vice president and not the president. This applies even when presidents and vice presidents come from different parties. The second expectation also means that since factions are more durable than actual parties, and since every administration has been a coalition, whether formal or informal, of factions, unity in any ruling coalition is brittle but all sides are compelled to disguise their ambition as long as possible.In the past, some of this was solved by the fine old tradition that presidents assigned the foreign affairs department to their vice presidents, since presidents after all determine foreign policy while all the ceremonial and other tasks of being foreign secretary kept veeps busy and even better, out of the country for long stretches. It’s worked less well when presidents assigned other cabinet tasks to their veeps.
I’d add a third element, less an expectation and more a rule of thumb: while the Senate has been specifically designed as a training ground for the presidency, and the mayoralty and the Cabinet have also proven useful springboards for the presidency, being a congressman or worse, speaker of the House, is not helpful to becoming president at all—in fact, it’s a decided disadvantage. Many reasons can be given for this: the fact that there is a permanent majority that forms around a new president means the job of a speaker is more that of a swineherd—at least that is the public perception. It is not leadership, in other words. The second is that speakers often play bad cop to a president’s good cop.We have two pairs with a good cop and a bad cop, each. There is the President and his first cousin, the Speaker of the House; and there is the former president and his daughter, the current Vice President. Depending on how much attention you pay to the news, you’re at least minimally aware of how a radical representative has summoned the courage to directly criticize the former president, who reacted true to form by alternating between feeling sorry for himself and insulting, in as colorful a way as only he can, the radical representative and the entire club she belongs to, the House of Representative. In response, the House has discovered that it is collectively courageous when it comes to ex-presidents, and denounced the former president for taking the House and its members’ names in vain.
In the meantime, the President has shaken his head and pityingly said the Vice President shouldn’t be impeached (a scheme enthusiastically being proposed by the radical representative with a certain amount of quiet cheering on the part of other members of her club), while the Vice President herself says she is neither disloyal to the President nor interested in taking over his job in 2028. This comes at the end of the previous season of drama involving the Vice President wanting to duplicate, nationally, what she and her father had done in Davao City, which was to ensure a very large, inscrutable, intelligence budget for herself. To her dismay, she discovered that one of the biggest electoral mandates in vice presidential history is meaningless when confronted by the power of the purse of Congress.
The situation, then, is one in which the Veep has had her resources removed, and just as badly, threatened with an impeachment. The threat itself affects only the Veep; but an equally grave one, in which the use (and perceived abuse) of confidential funds by local officials could be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, a cataclysmic blow against increasingly powerful local barons. It preserves the status quo going into the midterms, which is precisely where the President and his people want things to be. Meanwhile, the holidays will give a traditional and temporary public opinion boost to the national leadership.