A repeating trope in Government Procedurals dealing with the American Political System is the pointlessness of the office of the Vice President. The office was originally set up as a literal case of Second Place Is for Losers — the runner-up of the presidential election was simply made vice president. Politicians immediately began trying to game the system so that both the presidency and vice presidency went to their preferred candidates, and before long, this proved to cause awkward situations such as a President and a Vice-President of different political ideologies (i.e., John Adams being elected as President and Thomas Jefferson as Vice-President in the 1796 election), with the system crashing in the election of 1800: The Democratic-Republicans wanted Jefferson as president and Aaron Burr as vice president, but their electors screwed up and Jefferson and Burr tied for the presidency, so the outgoing — and repudiated — House of Representatives had to resolve the tie. After 36 ballots and Alexander Hamilton's vigorous lobbying, the House chose Jefferson as president. As a direct result, the system was changed by the 12th Amendment so that voters deliberately chose the vice president in a separate, simultaneous race.
Thereafter, for much of American history, various parties chose their vice-presidential nominees simply "to balance the ticket" for the comparatively trivial reasons of achieving geographic, demographic, or opinion "diversity" with presidential nominees, 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 among junior senators anyhow) and no constitutional powers other than taking over if the president dies/resigns (something that has only happened nine times in 230+ years of there being full-time presidents), 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 fewer than 60 votes has decreased in recent years due to the increased use of the filibuster, which under current rules requires 60 votes to get the bill out of debate and to an actual vote). Consequently, vice presidents are commonly portrayed as useless, ineffectual, 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, the post of prime minister in semi-presidential 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. For an actual list of the U.S. Vice Presidents, see The Vice Presidents of the United States.
- In "The Visitor", a sketch on album The First Family, a visitor to the JFK-era White House is revealed to be a little boy who asks if Caroline can come out and play, only to be told that she and her mother are absent.
Boy: Oh. Well, what's Lyndon doing, then?
- 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.
- 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!!"
- Dilbert's dog, Dogbert, has some interesting ideas on what the Vice-President's job should be, particularly when he chooses Ratbert as his running mate.
Dogbert:I need somebody who is so inept and simple-minded that I always look good in comparison.
Ratbert: I don't understand.
Dogbert: Okay, okay, you've got the job.
- He has even more ideas in a later strip.
Dogbert: Your job is to be so unpopular that no one will want to assassinate me.
Ratbert: I can do that!
- He has even more ideas in a later strip.
- In Zootopia, Deputy Mayor Bellwether is a "glorified secretary" who was put on the ticket to appeal to the sheep vote. Her office is in a boiler room and she serves as a gofer and Butt-Monkey for Mayor Lionheart. She turns out to be the Big Bad.
- Parodied in A Bug's Life when some of the grasshoppers consider skipping invading the ants for food for a year, not considering the trek worth the hassle. Unwilling to complain to Hopper however, they butter up Molt into explaining the idea, outright using this trope. "You're his brother, that's like vice-president". Expectedly Molt takes to this "title" and does so, with the grasshoppers assured even if Hopper doesn't like it, he'll only Shoot the Messenger. They were wrong...
- 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 otherwise deeply corrupt Mitchell administration.
- The Death of Stalin: Georgy Malenkov, the number two man in Josef Stalin's USSR, is a pathetic butt-kisser, probably chosen for the job because he was no threat to Stalin. When Stalin dies Malenkov nominally takes leadership, but he is outmaneuvered by more competent men and soon deposed by Khrushchev.note
- Four Days in November: This John F. Kennedy assassination documentary notes that Vice-President Johnson arrived in Texas "almost unnoticed", and that he flew commercial.
- In Government Procedural Gabriel Over the White House, newly inaugurated 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."
- Independence Day: Whitmore's Vice-President never appears on screen before being evacuated to NORAD and killed when the aliens destroy the base.
- In the 1972 James Earl Jones film The Man Vice President Calvin is an old man in ill health who refuses to assume the duties of the presidency when the president (along with the speaker of the House) dies, feeling that the added exertion would kill him. This leads to the African-American senate leader becoming 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?"
- Teddy, the Rough Rider: The New York pols who get Theodore Roosevelt nominated Vice-President because they want to get rid of him, chortle that the office is a "political tomb."
- Subverted with Sudden Death as the plot has villain Foss holding the Vice-President hostage during Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. It's noted how much security the VP has and Foss acknowledging that it's the VP's presence that will give weight to his demands for a billion dollars.
- At one point, Foss tells one of his people to "get rid" of a little girl who wandered onto their plans. The VP snaps "you hurt her and you lose me as a hostage because you'll have to shoot me" and Foss is indeed forced to spare the girl.
- In the film version of Advise & Consent, the Vice-President is written off as weak and irrelevant, not only as an office but as a man—until he suddenly becomes President at the end of the movie and, in a casual show of backbone, decides to make his own appointment and renders the whole struggle we've just been watching completely moot.
- Wrong is Right: Zigzagged. On one hand, the Vice-President is included in top-level strategy meetings and is taken seriously there. However, she also gets frisked at the door when no one else does and gets subjected to some jokes about being a Twofer Token Minority.
- A man bragged about his recent promotion to vice president of the company, only for his neighbor to respond: "Vice presidents are a dime a dozen; even the supermarket has a vice president in charge of peanuts." The man skeptically called up the supermarket and asked to speak to the vice president in charge of peanuts, with the assistant manager asking "Do you want to speak to the one in charge of roasted peanuts, or unsalted?"
- 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.
- The unnamed Vice-President in The Throne of Saturn (who sounds like it COULD be Harley) mentally translates a presidential announcement into I have asked the Vice-President to do the dirty work.
- In the Timeline-191 series of Alternate History novels by Harry Turtledove:
- 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 hanging out with society ladies and tell jokes. Partridge himself doubts that history will remember him at all in his final scene, where Featherstone has died and Partridge's first and only act as president is to surrender to the Union.
- 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.
- Jack Ryan was hoping for this when he agreed to replace Vice President Kealty when he resigned due to a sex scandal, only expecting to have to warm a chair for a year before retiring from government service entirely (it was an election year, and he wasn't going to be the VP candidate on the ballot). Then an airliner crashed into the Capital during a joint session of Congress, killing the President and most of the government.
- In Joe Steele (another Turtledove Alternate History novel) John Garner Nance is a respected senator before becoming vice-president, and afterwards is the Only Sane Man and Token Good Teammate of the administration... which is why he is not allowed to have any role in running the government for the entirety of the decades-long Steele presidency. When Steele dies, most of his cabinet doesn't even know where to find Nance to tell him the news (namely, in the nearby bar where he spends most of his days Drowning My Sorrows).
- In the Turtledove novel Alpha and Omega the unnamed Vice-President is a terrible public speaker who quickly loses the interest of his audience even though his speech itself is an intelligent one.
- Played with 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. However despite his ignominious fate and how much of his time he spent on goodwill missions, Taylor is implied to actually be better-liked and/or a better politician than the president himself, and his death causes a bit of an uproar.
- In Jeff Greenfield's satirical novel The Peoples 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. Although in the end Block and his new Vice-President show some Hidden Depths, in the form of Realizing the country doesn't want them in charge and engineering a worthier successor to be made Speaker of the House of Representatives so the two of them can safely resign. From the same book, the outgoing vice-president is considered more politically savvy but tainted by a sex scandal.
- 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".
- Help! I'm Trapped...: In Help I'm Trapped in My Principal's Body Josh in the principal's body orders his secretary Mrs. Hub to call someone interesting as a test of his power. A few minutes later she announces she has the vice-president of the United States on the phone.
Mrs. Hub: Well you said you wanted someone interesting but not too interesting.
- Full Disclosure: The first time Vice-President Arnold Nichols is mentioned, its to show terror at the idea of him succeeding Ericson. Besides Nichols himself, every single character in the book considers him to be a stupid, cowardly political hack who will serve as a Puppet King for Bannerman if he becomes president.
- The Generals President: Haugen's processor, President Donnelly, is a former vice-president who recently assumed office after the sudden death of his predecessor. He is portrayed as a fretting, overwhelmed man who's on the verge of a nervous breakdown and has been manipulated into helping several unsavory people. That said, the amount of pressure he's under would break almost anyone else in the book.
- 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 the Community episode "Intro to Political Science", 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. This became Hilarious in Hindsight when he actually became 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?note
- Get Smart: In "One Nation Invisible," the Chief asks Max who he thinks could walk through KAOS headquarters without attracting any attention, and Max guesses the vice-president.
- The HBO series Veep is about Selina Meyer, 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. Selina eventually ascends to the presidency and treats her own veep the same manner she used to be treated.
- 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 25th 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 John Hoynes personally dislike each other and Bartlet barely involves Hoynes in anything important, which Hoynes resents. Like many Real Life veeps, Hoynes was one of Bartlet's biggest rivals when they were both running for President, and Bartlet only invited him to become his running mate because he knew that he couldn't win the election without the votes of Hoynes' supporters. After Hoynes was forced to resign, his replacement Robert "Bingo 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. Being an Unconventional Learning Experience about the US government, the show demonstrates (accurately) that the White House Chief of Staff often really serves as the President's Number Two, despite not being an elected position.note
- 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.
- Yes, Prime Minister: In the first episode when James Hacker has recently become Prime Minister he is preparing for a trip to Washington important for publicity and also planning to cancel a large order for Trident from the US and use the money instead to fund conscription, which horrifies the civil service. He is then told that if he did cancel the order he would instead be met by the Vice-President, which horrifies him and convinces him to put off cancelling the order.
- 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.
- 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. At one point, even Throttlebottom forgets his own name.
- 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's crazy that the guy who comes in second gets to be Vice President.
Jefferson: Yeah, you know what? We can change that. You know why?
Jefferson: Cause I'm the President!
- Mass Effect: Navigator Pressley is allegedly the executive officer of the Normandy. However, it's Joker who really comes across as being the actual XO, having a much bigger role in the game and being the one who Shepard actually talks to any time they need to contact the Normandy while ashore. Pressley never even shows up during any of the mission debrief cutscenes and it's even possible for Shepard to go the entire game without speaking to him once.
- 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.
- On the Dream SMP, this is zigzagged in L'Manburg, depending on the administration in question.
- This is generally averted during the Soot administration, as Wilbur's VP, Tommy, helped L'Manburg grow by recruiting newcomers and building new structures, and took part in several side events alongside his fellow L'Manburgians. During the election, Tommy did lots of campaigning by building signs and talking with members of the SMP, had a major role during the Presidential debate, and also secured endorsements for their party, POG2020.
- During the Schlatt administration of Manburg, this is played straight as Quackity, who served as Schlatt's VP after pooling his votes (30%) with Schlatt's (16%), had little to no actual political power and his main role in the cabinet was to "have a fat ass". This is due to Schlatt's desire to consolidate power onto himself and himself alone, which Quackity lampshades before his resignation from his position and taking Schlatt's second canon life, when he has had enough of Schlatt's abuse and Control Freak tendencies.
- Under the Tubbo administration, this is played with. Tommy initially helped rebuild L'Manburg after the Manburg-Pogtopia War, but when he started to question Tubbo's leadership and suggest making more political change by banning several things (such as Americans and Australians) in the country, which Tubbo ended up vetoing. However, after Tommy gets exiled from the country under Dream's demands, Quackity took his place and regained his role as VP, and wielded a lot more political power than he did in the previous cabinet, being able to assemble and unofficially lead the Butcher Army in an attempt to consolidate national power and eliminate threats to the state.
- 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 nonanthropomorphic 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, in which there's a Running Gag about the heads of famous historical figures being kept preserved in jars, the Vice-President of Earth is the headless body of Spiro Agnew instead, which just lumbers around menacingly.
- In Roger Ramjet episode 'Pay Cut', General Brassbottom tasks Roger with delivering secret plans to the Vice-President. No one else knows who he is either. In reality, Hubert Humphrey.
General Brassbottom: You know, What's his name.
- Leslie P Lilylegs' first appearance in Wabbit had him a full Played for Laughs sendup of such, his role of Vice-President usually consists of doing trivial housework for the President, with most people surprised the occupation still exists. He takes a New Job as the Plot Demands in later appearances, but his shtick remains, an egotistical No-Respect Guy whose occupation is always a degrading grunt job disguised as second-in-command.
- During the United States' infant years, 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 25th 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.
"Before Cheney, discussion about the vice presidency focused on how to make the office stronger, more effective. Not any more."
- George Washington excluded John Adams from Cabinet meetings, much to Adams' displeasure; Adams went on to describe the vice presidency 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. In the end, the efforts to minimize his involvement succeeded in about the most tragic way possible, as Tompkins essentially drank himself to death during his second term and passed away barely three months after leaving office.
- Despite being vice president to Andrew Jackson, John C. Calhoun 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 VP to get a seat in the Senate (then appointed by state legislatures) to advocate his position more effectively.
- 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 nobody 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.note
- Zig-zagged by Millard Fillmore when he was elected as vice president to Zachary Taylor in 1848. Initially, Taylor tried to have the VP's powers expanded, likely because he had only ever served in the military whereas Fillmore was an experienced politician, but Congress stopped this plan. Fillmore would soon get much more power than he ever bargained for when Taylor died just over a year into his presidency, causing Fillmore to succeed him... and promptly become one of the most forgettable presidents in the country's history.
- William R. King, the vice president of Franklin Pierce, didn't even make it to the White House; he fell ill with tuberculosis shortly before Inauguration Day and traveled to Cuba to try to regain his health, but his condition didn't improve; as a result, he is the only United States executive official to take the oath of office on foreign soil, being inaugurated while still in Cuba. While he ultimately tried to travel to Washington D.C. he only made it as far as Selma, Alabama before dying, and never carried out any duties of the office.
- Hannibal Hamlin, Abraham Lincoln's first vice president, wasn't really interested in the position but also felt honor-bound to accept the nomination when he received it. He subsequently did almost nothing in the role, other than give Lincoln the occasional bit of policy advice. When re-election approached in 1864, he discreetly made it known that while he wouldn't turn down re-nomination if he was offered it, he wasn't too bothered about continuing in office, leading to him being replaced on the ticket by Andrew Johnson, who became vice president simply because Lincoln wanted a running mate who would appeal to Southerners. He is considered by some historians to be possibly the worst president ever. The man was hungover the day he was sworn in as vice president, and he even asked Hamlin for a bottle of alcohol.
- 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). Six 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 won re-election in 1904. He was the first vice president to become president on the death of one who won a term in his own right. To add insult to injury, the Republican Party were Cassandra Truthed by party chairman Mark Hanna, who warned everyone that nominating Roosevelt would put him only one life away from the presidency.
- In October 1919, Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke which left him paralyzed on the left side of his body and with partial vision in the right eye. Edith Bolling Wilson, his second wife, worked with Wilson's private secretary Joe Tumulty and physician Cary Grayson to conceal knowledge of Wilson's illness and disability, controlling what information reached him; Tumulty didn't believe that Vice President Thomas R. Marshall would be a suitable acting president, and Edith strongly disliked his "uncouth" disposition. They withheld the communications that would have made Marshall acting president, and after Marshall consulted with his wife and personal adviser, privately refused to serve as acting president unless a joint resolution or official communication from Wilson's inner circle determined that Wilson was unable to carry out his duties.
- A somewhat well-known anecdote about the power of the office of vice president goes as follows: the hotel then-Vice President 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 marshal. "I'm the vice president," Coolidge said. 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."
- Charles Dawes is generally unnoteworthy as Calvin Coolidge's vice president, but he is instead much better known for his previous role in the Allied Reparations Commission, where he played a key role in crafting the namesake Dawes Plan. This policy provided assistance to Germany in paying off its war reparations, helping to stabilise the country for the rest of the 1920s. His having been Coolidge's VP could have paid off for him in 1936, when the Republicans were desperately trying to recruit a presidential candidate who wasn't associated with the by-then catastrophically unpopular administration of Herbert Hoover, but Dawes refused, leaving Alf Landon to get humiliated in that year's election.
- FDR had three vice presidents. John Nance Garner, the first of them, famously described the office as "not worth a bucket of warm piss" (the quote is often Bowdlerised to "warm spit"). The last of them, Harry S. Truman, wasn't even told about the Manhattan Project's existence until FDR died and he suddenly had to fill the president's shoes.
- Note, however, that Harry Truman was a downplayed case, and his Presidency in fact led to the amendment of the Constitution to codify the presidential succession — and also to popular awareness of the dangers of kicking someone "upstairs" to be Vice President. In addition, Truman was nominated for Vice Presidency precisely because of his party actually needing/expecting a possible replacement thanks to FDR's failing health and possible impending death. Only that, by early 1945, FDR decided he was feeling well enough to see World War II to its conclusion, until he died later that year after all.
- Lyndon Johnson didn't like being vice president because he saw it as being a dead end and missed having real power as the Democratic leader in the Senate. He and John F. Kennedy were never close and Kennedy's real right-hand man was his brother Robert F. Kennedy, who also led the Justice Department. Of course, upon Kennedy's assassination, Johnson succeeded him, then won re-election the following year. Unfortunately, his involvement with The Vietnam War during his presidency so tainted his reputation that he voluntarily withdrew from the 1968 race. Johnson's own Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, was defeated by Richard Nixon for the same reason.
- During the 1988 campaign, George H. W. Bush chose Dan Quayle as his running mate. In the vice-presidential debate with Lloyd Bentsen, Quayle compared his 12 years of service in both houses of Congress to John F. Kennedy, who served 14 years in both houses before being elected president at age 43 in 1960. Bentsen retorted "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy" to Quayle. During his vice-presidency, Quayle made such blunder-filled statements as "I have made good judgments in the past. I have made good judgments in the future", "I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy, but that could change", "You take the U.N.C.F. model that what a waste it is to lose one's mind or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is," and his infamous insistence that potato was supposed to be spelled "p-o-t-a-t-o-e" when attending an elementary school spelling bee.note Quayle even described the vice-presidency as "an awkward office. You're president of the Senate. You're not even officially part of the executive branch — you're part of the legislative branch. You're paid by the Senate, not by the executive branch. And it's the president's agenda. It's not your agenda. You're going to disagree from time to time, but you salute and carry out the orders the best you can."
- Al Gore zig-zagged this. For his first term as Bill Clinton's vice president he mostly fell into the background against the more colorful and charismatic Clinton, with the few popular culture mentions that he did get mostly ridiculing him as a dullard obsessed with trivial matters. Then Clinton's impeachment and the possibility of Gore succeeding him raised his profile, continuing into his own presidential run in 2000, which resulted in him narrowly (and controversially) losing. Afterwards he fell back into obscurity for a while, overshadowed by the The War on Terror, but came back into prominence, firstly as that war became increasingly controversial and unpopular, and more pertinently, when one of the issues he had championed during his time as VP but largely been ignored on, namely global warming, became an issue of widespread concern. Between this and his having a recurring role on Futurama, Gore is considered to have had perhaps the most influential post-vice presidential career of anyone who never succeeded to the top job.
- Dick Cheney, vice president under George W. Bush, is one of the most famous subversions of this. He had already served under George H. W. Bush as Secretary of Defense and had a political career of about thirty years under his belt when Bush Jr. picked him as VP in 2000—consequently he had a lot of sway over the more inexperienced President. Many political observers and historians see him as the most powerful Vice-President in American history, having served as The Man Behind the Man for the power he wielded over the Bush administration's policy decisions, which included crafting the justification for the war in Iraq and the Bush administration's policies on warrantless surveillance and Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (and keeping Bush in the dark about their legality), shaping the administration's energy policy, expanding the power of the presidency, vetting Supreme Court nominees, and pressuring Bush to moderate his stance against same-sex marriage (as his daughter Mary was openly lesbian). While Bush did grow more assured and assertive of his authority during his second term, Cheney was still a highly influential figure in the White House. Then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert even secured an office for Cheney in the United States Capitol to go along with the one normally afforded to the President, in recognition of his power. To quote this story from NPR:
- Sarah Palin never got to be Vice President, and what by now became a defiance of this trope was a big reason why. note John McCain had nominated her as a way to broaden his base with more right-wing Republicans, but Palin's stunning incompetence — with the extent of her foreign policy experience being memetically expressed on Saturday Night Live as "I can see Russia from my house!" — turned many people off from voting for McCain even though they preferred his policy, realizing that if anything happened to him (who was not in the best of healthnote ), she would be President. A 2010 Stanford paper estimates that Palin cost McCain about 2 million votes.note
- Mike Pence swung the pendulum back to the office being less influential. Pence was picked as a compromise between the Donald Trump campaign and the GOP. The campaign figured they needed to do something to thank the Evangelical Christians who supported him in the primary and to court ones who were leery about supporting him due to his checkered history. Trump would keep Pence at arm's length after being elected and because of this, Pence was mostly relegated to ceremonial duties and the de facto second-in-command in the administration was Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner. That being said, he has had the extremely dubious fortune to have escaped the curse of utter media/public perception blackout thanks to the Internet finding as much fun in mocking his homophobia as Trump, with early hysterical fear-mongering of him scheming to legalize electroshock conversion therapy somehow leading many to adopt the Electric Mike meme. Pence would become more influential in the final days of the Trump administration. He would face a lot of opposition after Trump lost the 2020 election and would not overturn the results despite Trump desperately claiming the VP had the legal power to do so after Pence clarified he did not actually have that power, causing a breakdown in the relationship as well as an Assassination Attempt by those who objected to the election.
- The only Confederate vice president, Alexander Stephens, saw his relationship with President Jefferson Davis turn 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 in 1848, and Taylor died in office in 1850, meaning that Webster would've become president had he accepted it. Previously, in 1840, Webster was offered the vice-presidential ticket with William Henry Harrison, Webster refused again, and Harrison then proceeded to die a month into his presidency in 1841.
- This trope was parodied by renowned humorist Will Rogers, who remarked: "The man with the best job in the country is the Vice President. All he has to do is get up every morning and say 'How is the President?'", and "One seldom ever remembers meeting a vice president."
- Deputy prime ministers in the United Kingdom, too.
- Tony Blair's deputy PM John Prescott was given the non-job as a sop to the traditionalist wing of the Labour Party, as a token working-class hero, and as the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party which is expected to be a cabinet minister. 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, although in the final year of his premiership he did appoint Peter Mandelson as First Secretary of State, a position which is basically "Deputy Prime Minister in all but name", Mandelson being very much an aversion of this trope.
- 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 five years later.
- The job then stayed vacant for six years, before Boris Johnson gave it to Dominic Raab, in what was seen as a Kicked Upstairs move after Johnson was forced to remove Raab from the Foreign Secretary role in the aftermath of his widely-criticised handling of the Fall of Kabul, but still wanted to keep him somehow in the cabinet. Therese Coffey then got the job during the extremely short reign of Liz Truss, before Rishi Sunak reinstated Raab as part of the process of building a cabinet of former Johnson and Truss appointees in an attempt to re-unify what had rapidly become a very fractured party.
- 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.
- Averted by Clement Attlee, the first deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom, appointed due to the Coalition Cabinet formed during World War II between the Conservatives and Labour. While Winston Churchill was the public face of the war effort, Attlee was doing more behind-the-scenes work, working to ensure the smooth operation of government and helping to mediate between the Conservatives and Labour in government. However when the war finished he surprisingly won a landslide majority and became the new prime minister, being regarded as one of the best holders of that office.
- Zig-Zagging Trope in Australian politics. Whenever the Liberal-National Coalition 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 (the most recent example to ascend directly being Julia Gillard, who took over from Kevin Rudd in 2010; current ALP leader Anthony Albanese was Rudd's second deputy PM/party leader in 2013, and after the Coalition won government back that year, Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek were leader and deputy leader respectively of the ALP).
- The vice-chancellor of Germany. Always a cabinet minister and usually the leader of the junior coalition partner. So while the officeholder 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 (a crucial exception being 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. Even Adolf Hitler refused the office when it was offered to him in 1933, correctly recognizing it as an attempt by the mainstream German conservatives of the time to neutralize the rising Nazi Party.
- 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 historical 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 Ramírez Mercado, was better known for the books he wrote and for his later anti-Ortega activism. Ortega's running mates in 2006 and 2011 — Jaime Morales Carazo and Omar Halleslevens respectively — were total non-entities and served eventless terms, whereas his 2016 running mate was his wife, Rosario Murillo, 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 1990–1997 government of Violeta Barrios de Chamorro VPs Virgilio Godoy and Julia Mena were widely regarded as The Man Behind the Man and in charge of holding the shaky parliamentary majority together, and Arnoldo Alemán's VP, Enrique Bolaños, would go on to be elected president in his own right in 2001. However, Bolaños would spend most of his term opposed by much of his own party because he suffered by association with Alemán's very corrupt prior administration, claiming this trope as his defense why he had done nothing to stop it while VP (and he seems to have been genuinely innocent of major wrongdoing himself). His vice presidents, José Rizo Castellón (who resigned in 2005 to run unsuccessfully for the presidency) and Alfredo Gómez Urcuyo, were similar non-entities, however.
- France zig-zags this by design. Usually, the president is the one calling the shots and the prime minister does nothing, but if the president loses majority support in the legislature, they only run foreign affairs and national defense, and the prime minister takes over everything else. This "split majority" (or in French "cohabitation") is generally seen as undesirable by the French political class and the shortening of the presidential term from seven to five years during the Chirac era was mostly done to align presidential and parliamentary election cycles as recently-elected presidents traditionally earn convincing parliamentary majorities.
- South Korea has a prime minister who holds the nominal number-two spot in the government hierarchy. But the position doesn't wield much political authority and the officeholder's primary responsibilities are advisory and administrative, sort of like a British Cabinet Secretary. It can be difficult for people to keep track of who the prime minister is because their role is primarily behind the scenes and their tenures tend to be short and a president can go through several in their single five-year term.note One exception to this was in 2004 when President Roh Moo-hyun had to relinquish his responsibilities while being impeached and then-Prime Minister Goh Kun had to step into the spotlight when he became Acting President for two months.
- Chile took this trope to the logical conclusion and abolished the position of Vice President back in the 19th century. The last vice president, Diego Portales, held the position without taking an oath of office. Nowadays, the position is only a title that exists should the president becomes incapacitated and is no longer able to perform his duties. The Vice President, in the performance of his duties, has all the powers that the Constitution confers on the President of the Republic.
- The Philippines' vice president's widely regarded role is to serve as "spare tire" or a backup in case the president dies or becomes incapacitated, and unlike the American vice president (on which the Philippine example is largely modelled, thanks to decades of colonialism), does not even preside over the Senate, which has its own separate Senate President. This is remedied by the fact that the constitution allows the president to appoint the vice president to a cabinet position. While it's customary for the president to do this, it is not really a requirement.
- Presidents and VPs are still elected on separate tickets unlike their American counterparts-cum-models, which has led to several cases of these top two spots radically differing in policy and even ending up effectively each other's enemies, or the focal point of enemy supporting camps.
- The current Vice President of Indonesia Ma'ruf Amin is very rarely seen doing anything related to politics or governance in contrast of the mostly politically active previous Vice Presidents, to the point that people start calling him "Wapres AFK" or "AFK VP" because of his apparent inactivity.