Sarah Palin and the 9 Worst Presidential Running Mates in US History

When a candidate runs for president, the person he or she chooses for a running mate can make or break the election. After all, if something happened to the president, the vice president would have to take over. Some presidents have chosen well, clearly, and some have not. Keep reading to find out who were the 10 worst vice presidential running mates in U.S. history — including Sarah Palin on page 5 — and why.

1. Thomas Eagleton

George McGovern and Thomas Eagleton
Eagleton was prone to manic depression. | Anthony Korody/Getty Images

You might never have even heard of Thomas Eagleton, George McGovern’s running mate in 1972. No one wanted to try to defeat Richard Nixon, so McGovern had an uphill battle finding a running mate, according to BuzzFeed. After McGovern selected Eagleton, the media announced he was taking Thorazine, an anti-psychotic — and the prescription was under his wife’s name. McGovern found out that Eagleton was prone to manic depression and had suicidal tendencies. McGovern’s “1,000 percent support” of Eagleton morphed into him asking Eagleton to resign from the ticket.

Next: A scandalous running mate

2. John Edwards

Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Senator John Edwards
He was also indicted for using campaign funds to hide the affair. | Chris Hondros/Getty Images

The John Kerry campaign originally tried to get John McCain to run with Kerry, but that didn’t happen. The campaign also tried to persuade Gov. Bill Richardson to run, but that didn’t happen, either. Kerry ended up choosing John Edwards, which he came to regret, according to BuzzFeed. So much, in fact, that he stopped talking to Edwards after the campaign. Turns out Edwards had an affair with former campaign worker Rielle Hunter — while his wife was fighting breast cancer. It came out that Edwards had a child with Hunter, and his wife, Elizabeth, left him, but died in December 2010 before she could file for divorce.

Next: Terrible times two

3. John C. Calhoun

John C. Calhoun
He swapped sides to be vice president a second time. | National Portrait Gallery/Wikimedia Commons

John C. Calhoun was not only a two-time terrible running mate, according to BuzzFeed, he was a two-time terrible vice president. Calhoun, when he served under John Quincy Adams, started opposing the president’s interests soon after he took office. When Adams’ term was coming to a close, Calhoun jointed his opponent’s ticket — Andrew Jackson — and Jackson was elected.

Shortly after that Calhoun’s relationship with Jackson went south because of a tariff policy disagreement. And things got worse when Calhoun and his wife opposed a marriage between Senator John Eaton and Peggy Timberlake, due to the fact that Timberlake’s husband had just died. The scandal caused most of President Jackson’s cabinet to resign.

Next: This joke seriously backfired.

4. Geraldine Ferraro

Former Democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro
She caused quite a stir with her comments. | Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

When Walter Mondale chose Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate in 1984 it ended in disaster, according to BuzzFeed. Ferraro, in her third term as a member of the House of Representatives, was relatively inexperienced for the role, particularly when you compared her with her opponent, George H. W. Bush. But various women’s groups had called for a female running mate and Mondale listened — but American women didn’t respond with as much enthusiasm as Mondale expected.

When an issue involving her tax returns being separate from her husband’s came up, it was the first time in history that vetting of a husband — instead of a wife — took place. When Ferraro said her husband would not release his tax returns, she joked. “You people who are married to Italian men, you know what it’s like.” The Italian-American community was not amused and a media firestorm ensued.

Next: Possibly the worst of all

5. Sarah Palin

It was frustrating for everyone except late night comedians. | Darren Hauck/Getty Images

Sarah Palin, Alaska’s half-term governor, is largely credited presidential candidate Palin went on to become the subject of thousands of jokes and parodies, yet she remains a popular figure in the Republican Party.

Palin seemingly couldn’t answer simple questions during debates or interviews, according to BuzzFeed, and even went mute at questions such as, “What newspapers do you read?” Because McCain’s campaign focused on Barack Obama’s inexperience, choosing the newbie Palin was a big mistake. The McCain staff was frustrated with Palin, and had to make sure she didn’t run into any unscripted encounters with the press — and the staff still blames her for McCain’s loss.

Next: The very first legit running mate

6. Aaron Burr

Aaron Burr Portrait
Jefferson ended up dropping him from the ticket. | Wikimedia Commons

Thomas Jefferson chose Aaron Burr as his running mate for the first American election in which the president and vice president were linked on a ticket, according to BuzzFeed. Previously, the three elections that had taken place ended with the top two candidates being named president and vice president, respectively. This was an issue with Burr and Jefferson, however, because they actually tied for the office of president.

Jefferson had to drop Burr from the ticket, so Burr ran for governor of New York, which caused issues with Alexander Hamilton, who was definitely not a fan. Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel and fatally wounded him, but he was not convicted of the crime.

Next: An invisible running mate

7. Bill Miller

Barry Goldwater (R) and his running mate William Miller accepting the Republican Party nomination
Bill Miller (L) was apparently pretty forgettable. | AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Bill Miller prosecuted Nazis during the Nuremberg trials, was a former New York State Attorney General, a U.S. Congressman, and head of the Republican National Committee when Barry Goldwater chose him for his 1964 running mate. Although Miller didn’t actually hurt Goldwater, according to BuzzFeed, he basically didn’t add anything to the ticket and people mostly ignored him throughout the campaign. Miller ended up appearing in an American Express “Do you know who I am?” ad after the campaign.

Next: A complete dufus

8. Dan Quayle

U.S. President George Bush (C), First Lady Barbara
Quayle (L) somehow still made it to the White House. | Robert Giroux/AFP/Getty Images

When Dan Quayle erroneously corrected a child’s spelling of “potato” in a school spelling bee to “potatoe,” he embarrassed himself beyond belief in 1992 election season. George H.W. Bush’s running mate in the 1988 election, Quayle seriously significantly hurt his viability as a vice president with that one remark. Republicans also had concerns about Quayle’s military service and lack of experience, according to BuzzFeed.

Despite Quayle, Bush was elected, and Quayle continued to make really dumb statements such as, “I have made good judgments in the future” — in addition, he misstated the United Negro College Fund’s mission statement and suggested there were canals on Mars.

Next: This pair didn’t get a single state in the election.

9. James Stockdale

Vice presidential candidate James Stockdale, an in
His joke didn’t go over how he thought it would. | J. David Ake/AFP/Getty Images

Remember Ross Perot? He chose James Stockdale as his running mate, but suspended his campaign at one point, which led to Stockdale having only a week to prepare for the Vice Presidential Debate. When moderator Hal Bruno asked Stockdale for an opening statement, he responded, “Who am I? Why am I here?” And that self-deprecating joke became infamous, according to BuzzFeed. Later in the debate Stockdale had to ask Bruno to repeat a question because he had turned off his hearing aid. The duo failed to carry even one state in the 1992 election.

Next: Racist running mate

10. Spiro Agnew

Richard Nixon And Spiro Agnew
Nixon used Agnew as a sort of human shield. | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Spiro Agnew was selected to be Richard Nixon chose Spiro Agnew as his running mate because he was from Maryland, which enabled him identify with Southerners without scaring away Northerners. Too bad he scared away everyone else.

Agnew used racial slurs on the campaign — he called a photographer a “Fat Jap” — and criticized the “nattering nabobs” of the media and “effete snobs.” He remained popular among the Southern Republican base, however, so Nixon kept him on the ticket in 1972. That said, Nixon all but froze Agnew out of all White House goings-on. When staffer Ehrlichman asked Nixon why he kept Agnew on the ticket, Nixon said that with him as vice president that, “No assassin in his right mind would kill me.” Agnew resigned during Nixon’s second term — like many others — and the two didn’t speak after that. Nixon’s daughters requested that he did not attend their father’s funeral.

Read more: These Are the Presidents — and Vice Presidents — Who Are Still Living


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