"A poor woman had two sons. One went away to sea. The other became Vice-President of the United States. And neither poor boy was ever heard of again."A repeating trope in Government Procedurals dealing with American politics is the pointlessness of the office of the Vice-President. For much of American history, the Vice Presidents were chosen "to balance the ticket" or some other trivial reason, with little thought to their actual qualifications, because the Vice Presidency has no constitutional duties other than to preside over the Senate (a ceremonial task, and usually passed around junior senators anyhow) and no constitutional powers other than taking over if the President dies/resigns (something that has only happened 9 times in 230+ years), and casting tie-breaking Senate votes (which has happened roughly 250 times, most of them before the Civil War - as a rule, unless they're doing it purely to make a statement, Senators try not to put a bill to a vote unless there's a fairly good chance that it will pass. Additionally, the number of bills that actually pass with less than 60 votes has decreased in recent days due to the increased use of the filibuster). Consequently Vice Presidents are commonly portrayed as useless, ineffectual, or stupid, or a combination of the above, and they become the butt of jokes. Can lead to Reassignment Backfire when the VP succeeds to the Presidency upon the President's death. This trope is not necessarily limited to the Vice Presidency, but can apply to other countries that have offices that are nominally second-in-command but are in fact unimportant, such as the post of Deputy Prime Minister in parliamentary systems, or the post of Lieutenant Governor in many American states. See also Kicked Upstairs, a broader trope for when characters are "promoted" into higher-ranking but powerless positions. Contrast Puppet King, when the nominal leader (as opposed to the #2) is actually powerless, or Evil Chancellor, when the #2 is manipulating or plotting to unseat his boss.
— Commonly attributed to Woodrow Wilson's Vice President Thomas Marshallnote
open/close all folders
- Zig-Zagged in The Boys: Vic the Veep is incompetent, borderline mentally retarded and doesn't even hide that he's a Vought Corporation puppet through and through, but that doesn't make him harmless. For example, as the President is about to give the order to shoot down the 9/11 airliners before they hit, Vic knocks him out with a fire extinguisher (everyone else had been staring at the screens), as Vought Corporation wanted their supers to save the day as a PR move.
Films — Animated
Films — Live-Action
- Air Force One: National Security Advisor Jack Doherty discusses this trope while being held hostage, "The Vice President in this case is like the Queen of England. She can't even buy airline tickets without talking to someone like me."
- The Vice President attends the historic launch of the first manned mission to Mars, Capricorn One. Doctor Kelloway notes this, and regards it as an insult by the White House, a symbolic vote of no confidence in Kelloway's leadership at NASA.
- Played with in Dave. Vice President Nance is introduced somewhat ridiculously, holding a spear and carrying a ceremonial headdress and beads that he received on his African goodwill tour. (Complete Truth in Television, as the VP often gets sent on goodwill tours and visits that the President doesn't have time for.) He is also being set up as the fall guy for a scandal that threatens the Mitchell White House. However it quickly becomes apparent that Nance is easily the most decent and honorable member of the Mitchell administration.
- In Government Procedural Gabriel Over the White House, newly inaugrated President Hammond—himself a corrupt partisan hack—bids farewell to his vice president by saying "Goodnight Mr. Vice President, hope you sleep well." The VP parries with "When did a vice president do anything else?" He is then never seen or mentioned again, even though the President spends considerable time comatose.
- Harold Lloyd vehicle His Royal Slyness ends with Harold, who earlier was impersonating a prince, accidentally start a revolution and get made president (It Makes Sense in Context). Harold has fallen in love with the princess. When he tells her "I'm only a president now" she says "I'd love you if you were only a Vice-President."
- In the movie My Fellow Americans, Matthews is really dumb (a No Celebrities Were Harmed mock version of Dan Quayle). This turns out to be partly Obfuscating Stupidity, as he is essentially the Big Bad.
- State of the Union: An irritated Mary forces her husband and presidential candidate Grant to sleep on the floor, but not before sarcastically saying "Good night, Mr. President." Grant shoots back with "You mean Mr. Vice President, don't you?"
- Independence Day: Whitmore's Vice President never appears on screen before being evacuated to NORAD and killed when the aliens destroy the base.
- Perley Beecroft in Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here, a novel about a fascist takeover of the United States. He plays no part in the power struggles.
- Harley Hudson in Advise & Consent is ineffectual and terrified of the prospect of becoming President, and generally ignored by the administration.
- In the Timeline-191 series of Alternate History novels, Donald Partridge, the second vice president of evil Confederate Nazi President Jake Featherston, is chosen for that office specifically because he is an ineffectual cipher. Featherston's first Vice President had tried to assassinate him. Partridge doesn't do much more than hang out with society ladies and tell jokes.
- And on the union side, the Vice President is asked by his new in-laws to describe his job and does so by lampshading this trope. He explains that the government is a machine, and in it is one all-important piece that keeps all the other parts running. That's the President. As Vice President, he is the backup copy of that piece, whose job is to sit in the closet and collect dust unless something happens to the original.
- In the 1964 novel A Feast of Freedom, Vice President Boysie Taylor visits the island of Omo Levi on a goodwill tour, and is eaten by cannibals.
- In Jeff Greenfield's satirical novel The People's Choice, the President-elect dies just two days after winning the November election. His dopey vice presidential running mate Ted Block, chosen for the ticket for his pretty face and described as "a step or two slow out of the cognitive gate," seems poised to become President. But after Block picks one of his even dopier buddies to be his Vice President, the Electoral College members realize they are not obligated to vote for him and in fact can vote for whoever they want (the Electors are the ones chosen in November, and they officially elect the President in December). Chaos ensues.
- In Christopher Buckley's satirical novel The White House Mess (1986), Vice President Douglas "Bingo" Reigeluth is both far too assertive for the administration's taste and too willing to send the President into areas with heightened risk ("We can't let ourselves be ruled by fear"). Presidential adviser and narrator Herbert Wadlough arranges for the VP to spend pretty much the entire term flying around the world on goodwill missions.
Wadlough: Vice Presidents should be seen and only infrequently heard.
- America (The Book) includes a "Vice Presidential Welcome Letter" that makes the job seem perfect for a Professional Slacker:
"There's no reason why you shouldn't spend the better part of your day in a drunken stupor. Just remember to shave for the State of the Union. You have to sit behind the President for that one."
- In Our Gang, Philip Roth's satirical book about the Nixon administration, the Vice President is only referred as "Vice President What’s-his-name".
Live Action TV
- Barney Miller: In "Field Associate" a conspiracy theorist loon starts rattling off the names of prominent members of the Trilateral Commission. After naming Carter and Henry Kissinger, he mentions then-Vice President Walter Mondale and Dietrich says "Who?"
- In Community Joe Biden makes an appearance (sort of) while on a Vice Presidential Tour that was going to stop at Greendale. This trope is referenced when he wakes up from a nap and says he had a dream about being a REAL President.
- In Freaks and Geeks, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush speaks at McKinley High. Because of Mr. Rosso's checkered past with a Yippie-type organization, he's detained in his office by one of Bush's Secret Service officers (played by Ben Stiller), who goes on to confess his dissatisfaction with protecting the Vice President.
Rosso: Well, it's an important job.Agent Meara: No it's not. You ever heard of the Vice President getting assassinated? No. You know why? It's never happened. Will it ever happen? No way, because who cares?
- The HBO series Veep is about an ineffectual, bumbling Vice President, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who is ignored by the President and mocked by the media. She spends her time as veep griping about having no power and wishing she were still in the Senate.
- In House of Cards (US):
- Vice President Jim Matthews greatly resents his political irrelevance after he resigned as governor of Pennsylvania to run on Garrett Walker's national ticket. Likewise, Walker considers Matthews to be a pain in the ass and only used him to get voters. In part because of the manipulation by Frank Underwood, he ultimately resigns from the position in order to run again for governor of Pennsylvania.
- Frank replaces Matthews, who uses his influence and connections (and flat-out illegal actions) to wield the maximum amount of power as Vice President, up to and succeeding Walker as POTUS by forcing the latter to resign.
- When Frank becomes President in Season 3, he actively invokes this trope by appointing the inoffensive and easily sidelined Donald Blythe as his Vice-President. And even then, Frank plans on dropping him in favor of someone a bit more dynamic for the campaign ticket. Of course, it's great impeachment insurance, but it's not good assassination insurance. As happens when Frank gets shot by Lucas Goodwin and is hospitalized for two weeks, meaning Blythe becomes Acting President under the Twenty-Fifth Amendment. Blythe is only able to move things along by being Claire's puppet.
- Both of President Bartlet's veeps in The West Wing. Bartlet and Hoynes personally dislike each other and Bartlet barely involves Hoynes in anything important, which Hoynes resents. Bob Russell is widely known as a bland political hack and was the only VP nominee that could get through a hostile Congress, but he tries to make himself more notable for his inevitable presidential campaign.
- In John Adams, Vice President Adams is chagrined when George Washington excludes him from Cabinet meetings. This was Truth in Television, as the early American political system installed the presidential runner-up as vice-president, making the president and vice-president political rivals.
- Agent X is built around the idea that the Vice President has so few publicly-known duties so that (s)he can command a black ops officer in defense of the nation.
- Played for laughs in Tom Lehrer's song "Whatever Became of Hubert?", from That Was the Year That Was, regarding Lyndon Johnson's VP Hubert Humphrey. The first line:
Whatever became of Hubert?
Has anyone heard a thing?
Once he shone on his own
Now he sits home alone
And waits for the phone to ring.
- When introducing the song, Lehrer tells of an event to which it was suggested that the President send Hubert... to which the President supposedly replied "Hubert who?". Ouch.
- Bloom County indulged in this trope a couple of times.
- See this strip, in which Meadow Party Vice Presidential nominee Opus proves he is "a natural for the job" by dozing off.
- In a 1985 strip Opus, who has gotten amnesia, is further rattled by Oliver's prediction that Halley's Comet will hit Earth and wipe out all life. He says "No past...no future...and nothin' much to be don' right at this moment. I feel like George Bush!!"
- In one episode of The News Quiz, when discussing a lack of Lib Dems in the UK Coalition government, Andy Hamilton claimed that the post of Deputy Prime Minister (held by Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg) was made up by New Labour to keep John Prescott out of the way, and consisted of an office at the end of the corridor with a phone that didn't make outgoing calls.
- Exaggerated in Of Thee I Sing with Throttlebottom, who is a perennial victim of Recognition Failure.
- Hamilton gets a lot of mileage out of mocking the Vice President office. Hamilton straight up says "John Adams doesn't have a real job anyway" and President-elect Jefferson literally laughs in Burr's face when the latter gets the office after campaigning extensively against Jefferson.
Madison: It IS kind of weird how the guy who loses becomes Vice President.Jefferson: Ooo, y'know what? We can change that! Know why?Madison: Why?Jefferson: Cause I'm the President!
- In Sam and Max: Abe Lincoln Must Die!, if Sam examines the potted plant found in the Oval Office:
Sam: Is that a potted plant, or the Vice President of the United States?Max: It is hard to tell the difference.
- Enclave Vice President and Dan Quayle spoof Daniel Bird from Fallout 2. An experimental vaccine for one of the Enclave's genocidal viruses fried his brain, and he now spends his days spouting utter nonsense (that are edited Quayle gaffes, of course). The President says his spelling and grammar have actually improved.
- The Onion has a notable portrayal of "Diamond" Joe Biden: that of a stoner casanova who's always in trouble, looking for cash to make, women to date, and places to take his 1983 Pontiac Trans Am. They even released his own in-universe autobiography, The President of Vice. Here's a list of all their stories.
- In the first episode of Capitol Critters, the mice and rats who live in the White House are surprised when two cats are brought in to try to catch them. (They're surprised because "they got dogs, they can't get cats, cats and dogs hate each other.") The one with the collar tag "P" is heroically built (for a non anthropomorphic cat) and aggressive; the one with the collar tag "VP" is a pathetic loser who couldn't catch a cold and within seconds of his first appearance trips on his own tie.
- In an episode of The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries, Granny is called in to investigate a haunting at the White House. She apparently recognizes the Vice President, but, when he asks how, she admits that she read his name tag, which just said: "Hello, I'm Vice President Obsequious."
- In one episode of Pinky and the Brain, Brain plans to take over the world by becoming an arts and crafts counselor at Camp Davey, where children of world leaders meet. He abandons the plan when the only children left are children of vice presidents.
- In Futurama, the Vice-President of Earth is the headless body of Spiro Agnew, which just lumbers around menacingly.
- Frequently believed to be true in the United States of America. In the early years of the nation, the runner-up of the presidential election became vice president, making him the current president's political rival, so it was to be expected that the president would make little use of him. Even after presidents selected their own running mate, many veeps held little power. The office was insignificant enough that until the passage of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, there was no provision to replace a VP who left office prematurely or who moved up if the President left office prematurely. The position was simply left vacant until the next election. This never caused any problems.
- George Washington excluded John Adams from Cabinet meetings, much to Adams's displeasure; Adams went on to describe the post of Vice President as "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived."
- James Monroe's vice president, Daniel Tompkins was notorious for neglecting his duties, and usually being drunk and belligerent when he did perform them, leading to some members of the party wanting to replace him for Monroe's second term. Despite this, Tompkins remained on the ticket for the ultimately uncontested 1820 election, as the role was considered so unimportant that no-one could actually be bothered to discuss potential replacements. There were also concerns that had Tompkins been forced out he would likely have soon won himself a seat in the House of Representatives or Senate, where he would have been more of a liability, whereas as VP he was largely harmless.
- Richard M. Johnson, vice president to Martin Van Buren, found his position so unfulfilling that he abandoned it for the better part of a year to work as an innkeeper in his home state, and when he eventually returned to Washington D.C. he took to deliberately wearing ridiculous clothing around the city, confident that no-one would actually care enough to call him out on it. All this eventually culminated in Van Buren running without a VP candidate when he ran for re-election in 1840.
- John Nance Garner, the first of FDR's three vice presidents, famously described the office as "not worth a bucket of warm piss" (the quote was Bowdlerized to "warm spit").
- When FDR died, Truman was not even aware that the Manhattan Project was a thing.
- A somewhat well known anecdote about the power of the office of Vice President goes as follows: the hotel then VP Calvin Coolidge was living in broke out in a fire; as Coolidge returned to the hotel after the evacuation, he was stopped by the Fire Marshall. "I'm the Vice President"; the Marshal let him through, but then called him back: "The vice president of what?" "I am the Vice President of the United States!" "Well, then, you can't go in. I thought you were the vice-president of the hotel."
- There is one famous case of Reassignment Backfire. As Governor of New York, Theodore Roosevelt was causing trouble for the Republican establishment by going against their (wildly corrupt) political machine. In the hopes of simultaneously getting rid of him and cashing in on his popularity, they made him William McKinley's running mate for the 1900 re-election campaign (McKinley's first-term VP, New Jersey Republican grandee Garret Hobart, having died in 1899). A few months into his second term, McKinley was assassinated and Roosevelt succeeded to the presidency. And as if that weren't enough of a shock for the party elite, Roosevelt proceeded to win re-election in 1904.
- John C Calhoun was Vice President to Andrew Jackson, yet he was also the leader of the Nullification faction of his state of South Carolina during the Nullification crisis (with President Jackson being on the opposite side). He resigned as Veep to get a seat in the Senate (then appointed by state legislatures) to more efficiently agitate his position.
- Also true of the only Confederate Vice President, Alexander Stephens, whose relationship with President Jefferson Davis turned so bad that Stephens left Richmond in 1862 and spent most of the rest of the war at home in Georgia.
- When Daniel Webster was offered the office of vice president, he famously replied "I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead and in my coffin." Ironically, the offer was made by Zachary Taylor who died in office, meaning that Webster would've become President had he accepted it. Webster was earlier offered the vice-presidential ticket with William Henry Harrison, Webster refused again, and Harrison then proceeded to die a month into his presidency.
- Deputy prime ministers too. Tony Blair's deputy PM John Prescott was given the non-job as a sop to the traditionalist wing of the Labour Party and as a token working-class hero. In practice, he was a powerless figure of fun used to deflect criticism away from the real power base. Succeeding PM Gordon Brown didn't even bother with a deputy PM, and then David Cameron's deputy Nick Clegg was used very much in the Prescott tradition and only got the job to keep the Liberal Democrats in coalition, and promptly ditched once the Conservatives won an outright majority.
- Deputy prime minister is generally a symbolic title in most parliamentary systems. If the Prime Minister dies or resigns, the ruling party just picks a new leader who immediately takes office as the new PM.
- Zig Zagged Trope in Australian politics. Whenever the Coalition (the Liberals and the Nationals) is in power the Deputy Prime Minister is the leader of the National Party, who usually falls under this. However, when Labor is in power the Deputy Prime Minister is also the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, who occasionally takes the leadership at some point (most recently Julia Gillard).
- Heads of state in the former British Empire are generally this. With the exception of the African colonies (and some Asian ones like Myanmar), where political instability caused great changes in their political systems, most former subjects of the British Crown have retained the Westminster system of government, based on that of the United Kingdom. As such, these countries' de jure rulers have around the same amount of power as the Queen in Britain: for example, in Israel, the President only appoints a number of state-level offices, signs laws and treaties, and serves as the main speaker at a number of state holidays. It is the Prime Minister who usually handles high-ranking international duties in these countries.
- The Vice-Chancellor of Germany. Always a cabinet minister and usually the leader of the junior coalition partner. So while the office holder is generally known to the public, this is for his other positions and awareness that he is also the deputy head of government is generally low. He also does not succeed to the chancellorship in the case of the Chancellor's resignation or death. Exception As the position has often been held by Germany's foreign minister, it is sometimes said that the main reason for the existence of this position is to make Germany's representative higher ranking (by virtue of being deputy head of government) in comparison to other foreign ministers (who usually only hold ordinary ministerial rank). Very rarely do Vice-Chancellors get to head cabinet meetings in their own right (e.g. when the chancellor is sick or otherwise absent). When then Vice-Chancellor Guido Westerwelle (FDP) had the audacity to mention that he had in fact led a cabinet meeting, many took this as just another example of his supposed delusions of grandeur, despite this being a totally constitutional and normal thing to do.
- The Swedish deputy Prime Minister uses the same system, and has the same 'usually known but for something else' tendency and when applicable (which is less common than in Germany) 'given to leaders of junior coalition partners'. The foreign minister tendency is less strong, however, possibly because this system has only been in place since 1975 — before 1975, there was no formal 'deputy Prime Minister' position, with the foreign minister having deputy authority as needed (for historic reasons, Sweden's foreign ministers have held a number of privileges otherwise only shared with the Prime Minister in the cabinet, with some having fallen away over the years while others are still in formal force).
- The role of the Presidency under the post 1979 Nicaraguan constitution is similar to that in the US (though the parliament is unicameral and follows proportional representation unlike in the US) and the Vice President is an even more useless position. Daniel Ortega for instance has had a grand total of four Vice Presidents serving under him. The first Sergio Ramirez being more well known for the books he wrote and for his later political activities opposing Ortega. Ortega's running mates in 2006 and 2011 were total non-entities and served eventless terms, whereas his 2016 running mate was his wife, finally giving her an official elected title, after she had already been Ortega's second in command for years. Liberal and conservative governments however somewhat averted this, as in the 1990-1996 government of Violeta Barrios de Chamorro the VP was widely regarded as The Man Behind the Man and in charge of holding the shaky parliamentary majority together and Arnoldo Aleman's VP would go on to be elected President in his own right in 2001. However, said VP (Enrique Bolaños) would spend most of his term opposed by much of his own party because he went after the endemic corruption under Aleman, claiming this trope as his defense why he had not done a thing to stop it while VP (and he seems to have been genuinely innocent of major wrongdoing himself). His Vice Presidents (he had two because one resigned halfway) were similar non-entities however.