If Reagan Had Picked Rumsfeld as His Vice President, Would We Never Have Had President Clinton?

by Michael R. Strain

My wife is a little under the weather, so we had an early night last night and consequently I had an early morning this morning. I used my man-time — before she wakes up and the television is taken over by Raising Asia — to watch Errol Morris’s documentary on Donald Rumsfeld. The documentary is fascinating, and I recommend it to anyone interested in the Rumsfeld years.

Of course, the 21st century being what it is, after finishing the documentary I proceeded to study Mr. Rumsfeld’s Wikipedia page, wherein I discovered — at least according to whoever wrote this part of the Wikipedia page — that the great economist Milton Friedman believed if Ronald Reagan had selected Mr. Rumsfeld as his vice president then Bill Clinton would never have been president.

Economist Milton Friedman later noted that he, Friedman, regarded Reagan’s pick of Bush as “the worst decision not only of his campaign but of his presidency,” and that Rumsfeld was instead his preference. “Had he been chosen,” Friedman said, “I believe he would have succeeded Reagan as president and the sorry Bush-Clinton period would never have occurred.”

I’ve heard it said many times that Milton Friedman never lost an argument in his life. This, of course, is not an argument, but a forecast — and not only that, a forecast done by an economist. Not exactly our forte. So, of course, one can never know. But an interesting thought experiment for an unusually early Sunday morning.

— Michael R. Strain is a resident scholar and economist at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him on Twitter at twitter.com/MichaelRStrain.

UPDATE: Based on some of your tweets — and why are you up so early on the Sunday of a holiday weekend?! — I should clarify that (1) I am not saying I agree with Friedman’s forecast, (2) I am not saying that I agree that the Bush-Clinton period was “sorry,” (3) I am not saying that I agree that Reagan should have selected Mr. Rumsfeld, (4) etc. It’s just interesting to ponder the multiverse, and to imagine what life is like in the other universe where we had two terms of Reagan followed by two terms of Rumsfeld.

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