FLASHBACK: 36 Years of Media Derision & Scorn for GOP Veeps

News & Politics

At any point in the next ten days, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump will announce his choice for a 2024 running mate. While we don’t yet know who it will be, we do know that the media elite will likely greet Trump’s new running mate with derision and scorn, because that’s what has faced (nearly) all Republican VP candidates since the Media Research Center began tracking political coverage in the 1980s.

These Republicans are invariably attacked as too conservative, too mean-spirited, too unqualified, too religious, too extreme, and/or too dumb. Only one vice presidential candidate, Representative Jack Kemp in 1996, avoided this predictable tidal wave of bad press. Instead, the press opted to contrast Kemp — “a nice conservative,” according to CNN — with the rest of his party, as a means to slime all other Republicans as radical and hateful.

Of course, there’s not equal toughness when it comes to Democratic vice presidential candidates. Four years ago, the media were rapturous over Joe Biden’s selection of California Senator Kamala Harris. “She’s just unbelievably smart, articulate, and good,” CNN historian Douglas Brinkley declared on August 11, 2020.

“She cares about women’s issues. She cares about equality deep within her soul,” cooed MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski on August 12, 2020.

And there was an equally enthusiastic reception for Hillary Clinton’s choice of Virginia Senator Tim Kaine in 2016. The duo made for “perfect chemistry” hailed CBS’s Charlie Rose on July 25, 2016. “This is the most qualified ticket in terms of sheer resume that’s ever run on either ticket,” Bloomberg’s John Heilemann declared that same morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Republican VP candidates get a much rougher ride in the media. Here’s a sample of how each of the GOP’s vice presidential nominees was covered by the press after they were selected:

DAN QUAYLE, 1988 &1992

■ “The minute he speaks his own mind, he reminds us of why Lady Di isn’t allowed to talk, the guy has nothing to say and when he speaks it’s frightening….What can he do? Can he talk or think? Which one can he do?”
— San Francisco Examiner reporter and CBS This Morning “political columnist” Chris Matthews on The McLaughlin Group, September 17, 1988.

■ “You’re opposed to abortion in any form. You also have opposed the ERA, and you’re opposed to increasing the minimum wage, which is important to a lot of women out there. Aren’t you going to have a hard time selling Dan Quayle to the women of this country?”
— NBC’s Tom Brokaw to Quayle during his network’s convention coverage, August 17, 1988.

■ “He [Vice President Bush] put a Senator on the ticket who doesn’t have a great civil rights record, who voted against the civil rights bill and voted to sustain a veto on the civil rights bill.”
— Ken Bode during NBC convention coverage August 17, 1988.

JACK KEMP, 1996

■ “He [Kemp] is a rare combination — a nice conservative. These days conservatives are supposed to be mean. They’re supposed to be haters.”
— CNN analyst Bill Schneider on Inside Politics, August 9, 1996.

■ “Jack Kemp is a can-do optimist who cares about all people, and that’s going to put him at odds with a platform that is protectionist, mean-spirited, anti-immigration, insensitive to racial minorities.”
Wall Street Journal columnist Al Hunt on CNN’s Capital Gang, August 10, 1996.

■ “Even some Republicans describe the current platform as quote, ‘harsh, extreme,’ even ‘radical.’ Do you see it that way?”
— Dan Rather to Jack Kemp on the August 12, 1996 CBS Evening News.

DICK CHENEY, 2000 & 2004

■ “Cheney’s politics are of the hard-right variety. He’s opposed to abortion and gun control and favors both capital punishment and school prayer.”
— Co-host Bryant Gumbel on CBS’s The Early Show, July 25, 2000.

■ “Bush is portraying himself as a compassionate conservative. If he’s running with somebody who voted for all the Reagan budget cuts, for example, wouldn’t that prove a bit of a problem?”
— Gloria Borger to Bush campaign strategist Karl Rove on CBS’s Face the Nation, July 23, 2000.

■ “When you talk about votes like that, that he made while in Congress, anti-affirmative action, anti-abortion, anti-gun control, anti-equal rights, how does George Bush portray him as a compassionate conservative?”
Today co-host Matt Lauer to Tim Russert, July 26, 2000.

■ “One of the obstacles for Dick Cheney tonight is the fact that he has become a dark figure….There are those who believe that Dick Cheney has led this administration and this President down a path of recklessness, that maybe his approach, his dark approach to this constant battle against another civilization, is actually the wrong approach for ultimately keeping America safe.”
— NBC White House reporter David Gregory during live convention coverage on MSNBC about 8:30pm EDT on September 1, 2004.

SARAH PALIN, 2008

■ “It’s hard to know how many women will flock to the GOP ticket because of Palin. She is a far-right conservative who supported Pat Buchanan over George W. Bush in 2000. She thinks global warming is a hoax and backs the teaching of creationism in public schools. Women are not likely to be impressed by her opposition to abortion even in the case of rape and incest.”
Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter in a “Web exclusive” posted on his magazine’s Web site, August 29, 2008.

Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift: “This [McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin] is not a serious choice. It makes it look like a made for TV movie. If the media reaction is anything, it’s been literally laughter in many places across news-”
Host John McLaughlin: “Where is that? See that?”
Clift: “In very, very many newsrooms.”
— Exchange on The McLaughlin Group, August 31, 2009.

■ “If Sarah Palin becomes Vice President, will she be shortchanging her kids or will she be shortchanging the country?”
— NBC reporter Amy Robach on Today, September 3, 2008.

■ “Before Gov. Sarah Palin came flying in from the wilds of Alaska for the Republican convention in St. Paul, there was a lot of sniggering in media rooms and satellite trucks about her beauty queen looks and rustic hobbies, and the suggestion that she was better suited to be a calendar model for a local auto body shop than a holder of the second-highest office in the land….In the press galleries at the convention, journalists wrinkled their noses in disgust when Piper, Ms. Palin’s youngest daughter, was filmed kitty-licking her baby brother’s hair into place.”
New York Times media writer David Carr, Sept. 7, 2008.

■ “The fact of the matter is, the comparison between her [Sarah Palin] and Hillary Clinton is the comparison between an igloo and the Empire State Building!”
— Host Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball, October 14, 2008.

PAUL RYAN, 2012

■ “Ryan is the Republican with a plan to slash government spending by trillions of dollars, including politically dangerous changes to Medicare.”
— ABC’s Jonathan Karl on World News, August 11, 2012.

■ “In his decision to make Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny-starver from Wisconsin, his running mate, Romney finally surrendered the tattered remnants of his soul not only to the extreme base of his party, but also to extremist economic policies, and to an extremist view of the country he seeks to lead…Paul Ryan is an authentically dangerous zealot. He does not want to reform entitlements. He wants to eliminate them…. He is a smiling, aw-shucks murderer of opportunity, a creator of dystopias in which he never will have to live.”
Esquire’s Charles Pierce, a former Boston Globe Magazine writer, in an August 11, 2012 posting, “Paul Ryan: Murderer of Opportunity, Political Coward, Candidate for Vice President of the United States.”

■ “I’d been wondering how long it would take Republicans to realize that Paul Ryan is their guy….Who better to rain misery upon the heads of millions of Americans? He’s Scrooge disguised as a Pickwick, an ideologue disguised as a wonk. Not since Ronald Reagan tried to cut the budget by categorizing ketchup and relish as vegetables has the G.O.P. managed to find such an attractive vessel to mask harsh policies with a smiling face….Ryan should stop being so lovable. People who intend to hurt other people should wipe the smile off their faces.”
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, August 15, 2012.

MIKE PENCE, 2016 & 2020

■ “I think [Mike] Pence is almost horny for the job. It’s clear that he wants it. It’s clear that he thinks it’s his….Can he [Donald Trump] put up with a churchy guy like Pence? Pence is so churchy. I mean, the only thing about Donald Trump — he can say all he wants about religion — he ain’t churchy.”
— Host Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball, July 12, 2016.

■ “Pence is casually anti-gay, startlingly craven, and extraordinarily vacuous…Pence is a fatuous yes-man, a milquetoast mook with no strong convictions other than a desire to win and be popular. He will faithfully follow Trump’s whims and commands, even as they lead him (and the country) toward the abyss. An unprincipled puppet is exactly what Trump needs for vice president. And it is exactly what he has in Mike Pence.”
Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, July 14, 2016.

■ “Throughout his career as a congressmen, radio show host and governor, Gov. Michael Richard Pence of Indiana, Donald J. Trump’s running mate, has been deeply and proudly out of sync with his times….With his deep social conservatism, public religiosity and aversion to negative campaigning, he is a throwback in his political style.”
New York Times reporters Michael Barbaro and Monica Davey in a July 15, 2016 piece on Pence’s selection.

■ “Look at who he picked as his VP? I mean, Mike Pence is no friend to the LGBT community….He doesn’t want transgender bathrooms. He believes in funding conversion therapy, which to that community is one of the most insidious and dangerous things there is.”
— Co-host Chris Cuomo on CNN’s New Day, July 22, 2016.

For more examples from our flashback series, which we call the NewsBusters Time Machine, go here.                       

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