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In Politics, Loyalty to Your Boss May Be Hazardous to Your Political Career

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This year marks the 45th anniversary of Vice President Hubert Humphrey's historic speech in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he broke with President Lyndon B. Johnson over U.S. policy in Vietnam. Humphrey was the Democratic Party's Presidential nominee. This was a rare moment when a Vice President benefited from breaking from the President he had dutifully served. Humphrey's oration, delivered on September 30, 1968, miraculously managed to calm criticism against him from the left, without alienating the more conservative Democratic Party regulars.

Humphrey had been a loyal foot-soldier for the Johnson policy of gradual escalation of U.S. troops to Vietnam. The Johnson policy effectuated enmity from liberals in the Democratic Party who urged a withdrawal of all U.S. troops. Humphrey, who had once been viewed as a lord and savior by liberals for his role in the Civil Rights struggle, was now becoming the liberal anti-Christ. Anti-war hecklers consistently interrupted Humphrey's speeches.

Despite this problem, Humphrey enjoyed the solid support of the establishment of the Democratic Party. But in order to win the election, Humphrey needed to persuade the proliferating anti-war insurrectionist faction of the party that he was the best option the Democratic Party had. Fearing that many would not support him on Election Day, Humphrey stunned the nation in 1968 by announcing that as President he would unilaterally halt the bombing of North Vietnam "as an acceptable risk for peace."

Humphrey was in an unenviable position. He had mustered his party's Presidential nomination with the support of the high command of the Democratic Party, most of whom supported Johnson's position on Vietnam. But Humphrey also had to reach out to the party insurrectionists who were disenthralled with the Johnson administration's support for the war. His middle course of not favoring an immediate de-escalation of U.S. troops from Vietnam, as the insurrectionists wanted, and not favoring a continued bombing as the party regulars and the Johnson administration supported, propitiated both factions of the party with respect to Vietnam policy.

This dexterous political move resulted in a significant influx of financial donations to Humphrey's Presidential campaign. It also resulted in a detente with anti-war protestors, as well as the endorsement of U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy (D-MN), whose failed campaign for the nomination had been fueled by the anti-war left.

With the hecklers receding, media coverage improved for Humphrey. Humphrey was no longer seen as a subservient Vice President defending an unpopular Vietnam policy, allowing him to be able to focus his campaign on domestic issues, which were his bailiwick.

Humphrey began creeping up on the Republican Presidential nominee, Richard M. Nixon, who once held a near immutable lead. However, despite the fact that the Salt Lake City speech was a turning point for Humphrey, it was a little too late, as Humphrey lost the election despite closing the gap to a whisker. It is estimated that Humphrey gained more than eight million votes between the Salt Lake City speech on September 30 and the election on November 5. Had the election been held one week later, Humphrey, with his accelerating electoral momentum, might very well have won the election.

In contrast to Vice President Humphrey, in 2000 Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic Presidential nominee, broke with President Bill Clinton over the fate of Elian Gonzales. Six-year-old Elian Gonzales was the sole survivor of a group of 13 Cubans trying to escape to the U.S. President Bill Clinton wanted Elian to be sent back to Cuba to live with his biological father. Vice President Gore broke ranks with Clinton, choosing instead to support federal legislation to grant "permanent residency status" to Gonzalez and his Cuban family members while the case was being litigated in Family Court.

Unfortunately for Gore, liberal supporters and many swing voters saw this break as blatant pandering to the geopolitically advantageous Cuban-American community in the critical showdown state of Florida. Gore was forced to defend his stance on the issue to the liberal Democratic base. U.S. Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) threatened to "reconsider" her endorsement of Gore. Some liberals, disenchanted with Gore's position on this issue, defected to the Green Party Presidential nominee Ralph Nader. Ironically, Gore's gamble failed to pay political dividends with even Cuban-Americans voters. On Election Day, Gore pocketed just 25% of the vote from this constituency; ten points lower than Bill Clinton mustered in 1996.

Like Vice Presidents, Lieutenant Governors running to succeed a Governor of their own party must also walk a political tightrope when they distance themselves from their boss. Few Lieutenant Governors have been in a more uninviting position than Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey in 2006. Mitt Romney had been elected Governor of Massachusetts in 2002 on a moderate platform. He endorsed Kerry Healey as the Lieutenant Governor nominee in the primary that year over the more conservative candidate, businessman Jim Rappaport

However, during Romney's final two years in office, and with the GOP Presidential race on the horizon, Romney pivoted to the right, disavowing his past support for abortion rights, disavowing his past support for the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and disavowing his past opposition to a federal Constitutional ban on same sex marriage. In addition, Romney spent an inordinate amount of time out of state, 212 days mostly on politically related activity in 2006. Running to succeed Romney, Healey spent much of her campaign distancing herself from Romney and trying to paint herself with the same moderate brush that Romney used in 2002.

However, the Republican Governors Association, which Romney chaired, aired an advertisement on Boston television stations touting the policies of the "Romney-Healey administration." The spot backfired in that while these advertisements were airing, Healey was trying to emphasize issues of departure between her and Romney. Accordingly, the Healey campaign officials were forced to emphasize the fact that they had nothing to do with producing the advertisement.

Throughout her run for the Massachusetts Governorship, Kerry Healey rarely campaigned with Mitt Romney. She walked a political tightrope of not publically reputing Romney, but concomitantly trying to communicate that she would be different than Romney. Healey asserted: "I will be a different kind of governor than we've had in the past."

In contravention of Romney, Healey supported increasing access to the morning-after pill, legislation which Romney vetoed. In addition, unlike Romney, Healey supported same-sex civil unions.

Rather than linking herself with Romney, Healey tried to tether herself to former Massachusetts Governor William F. Weld, whose fiscal conservatism and social moderation proved the archetype for being elected as a Republican in Massachusetts. Healey styled herself as a "social moderate" and said, "I would be honored to be called a Weld Republican."

In a politically awkward moment, Romney and Healey appeared together at an official event where they were asked if the state should suspend its gas-tax for the summer. Romney responded: ''I am very much in favor of people recognizing that these high gasoline prices are probably here to stay and that the appropriate action for us to take is to find ways to find fuel conservation." Healey retorted: "This is a place where the governor and I may part company. I am very concerned about the impact of higher fuel costs on people's ability to get to work, on their individual budgets, I would consider the temporary suspension of the gas tax especially if we can't get other tax progress."

Ultimately, Healey was unable to convince Massachusetts voters that she would be different from Romney and that she would govern as a Massachusetts moderate Republican, and not like the national Republican Romney had recently transformed into. Healey was defeated for Governor by 21 percentage points by Democrat Deval Patrick.

Vice Presidents and Lieutenant Governors face the conundrum of how to assert their independence from the person whose administration they have been serving, without appearing to be opportunist. Humphrey was one of the few politicians able to do this, and might have won the Presidency had he achieved this task earlier in his Presidential campaign. Gore and Healy failed miserably in their attempts to separate themselves from their political bosses.