As the title indicates,

  • Can vice president/security advisor or secretary of state be chosen from the opposite party?

If so, has there ever been an example?

  • 14
    The VP used to be the runner up in the electoral college. It was later changed to allow for a better working relationship between the president and vp.
    – Joe W
    Commented Feb 22, 2021 at 18:40
  • 2
    A good example would be the Jefferson-Burr administration
    – divibisan
    Commented Feb 22, 2021 at 18:45
  • 2
    @JoeW A Trump-Clinton or a Biden-Trump administration would also have been... quite... hilarious.
    – vsz
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 14:18
  • @vsz Not really, as the President controls how much power the VP has outside of the senate tie breaking vote it would end up with a VP that does almost nothing other than trying to sabotage the President which wouldn't be good for the country.
    – Joe W
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 14:43
  • @vsz Perhaps, but I wouldn't call what we got a snooze fest.
    – J.G.
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 17:05

3 Answers 3


As mentioned in comments, the Vice President was originally the runner-up in the Presidential Election; this practically guaranteed that (until this was changed) the Vice President would be of a different party than the President.

Now, because the Vice President is on the ticket alongside the President, they will almost certainly be of the same party, but nothing besides politics would prevent a joint ticket across parties. Bernie Sanders has not advanced to be the Democratic Party's nominee though he has run for it, but it's worth noting that he isn't actually a member of the Democratic Party, he's an independent. Were he to have won the nomination it seems likely he would have chosen a Democrat to be his Vice President.

As for other political appointees, Wikipedia has a helpful list. Walter Gresham, a Republican, served as Secretary of State for Grover Cleveland, a Democrat. Thomas Jefferson was also generally a political opponent of George Washington but served as Secretary of State prior to the development of the formal party system.

Many other appointments, even in recent times, have crossed party lines. Two different Republicans had time as Secretary of Defense while Barack Obama was president (Robert Gates stayed on from the same role in the Bush administration). Michael Flynn was very briefly National Security Advisor under Trump and reportedly considered for VP despite being registered as a Democrat, though it is difficult to associate his political leanings with the modern Democratic Party.

Appointments across part lines often involve people who are near the political center and/or have a long history of service in government itself rather than politics, such that their role is not as partisan. Others may be in their positions as part of a deal with an opposing party who controls the Senate confirmation process under the Appointments Clause, or in a more general demonstration of bipartisanship. And others, like Flynn, may have a party affiliation that does not particularly fit their politics, particularly if they have not served an elected office, or if parties realign.

  • 1
    Flynn coming from a military background probably has a lot to do with it - the military is supposed to be non-partisan, so high ranking military officers who serve in cabinet offices are often not registered with the same party as the President. Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 17:25
  • @DarrelHoffman I think that's certainly true of a lot of people with military background, where their political leanings are less relevant for the particular position they serve in, but it doesn't seem to apply to Flynn, who does not seem to have any political positions that align with the party he is registered with and who has been politically very vocal since the 2016 election cycle (whereas many other "generals" in cabinet/executive branch positions are politically silent). Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 18:00
  • 1
    A fairly recent example -- in 2008 John McCain (R) really really REALLY wanted to pick Joe Lieberman (D), but was talked out of it. Even after Palin was decided upon he was still asking if he could switch it to Joe at the last minute. His advisors predicted there would be a mutiny among the religious right if he picked a pro-choice VP.
    – eps
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 0:21

The Constitution, as written, does not even allude to party politics. The 12th Amendment was written in reaction to the reality of political parties and ensures that in all likelihood, the President and Vice President will be members of the same ticket and thus likely the same party. But basically anything to do with political parties in America at the federal level is a matter of custom and practicality, not the law. The President has the power to make appointments, the Senate has to confirm them, and those are basically the only requirements for the position.

As for examples, there are plenty. But the most amusing example would be that Donald Trump's Special Advisor to the President was, for most of his term, a registered Democrat. Her name was Ivanka Trump.

  • 2
    To be fair, being a "registered Democrat" doesn't mean much on its own. Trump was a "registered Democrat" too for most of his life, remember
    – divibisan
    Commented Feb 22, 2021 at 23:33

Yes it is possible.

For the Vice President there is a specfic example of Andrew Johnson, a pro-union Democrat, who formed a "National Union" ticket with Republican Abraham Lincoln.

There is no special requirement that the Secretary of State is from the same party, although there is an expectation that Secretaries of State will promote the policies of the administration, and so most Presidents will choose someone who they can work with politically. Some Secretaries of State have been seen as moderates with links to both parties (Colin Powell for example has been touted as a Democrat VP nominee, before siding with the Republicans in the mid 90s), however I can't find an example of a President hiring a political opponent to this role. (Another answer mentions Democratic President Grover Cleveland's Secretary of State, Republican Walter Gresham, which was a good find, however by the time of his appointment Gresham was actively supporting Democrats, and had campaigned for Cleveland in the Election. So he was hardly a political opponent of Cleveland.)

And below the Secretary of State, it is possible for a President to appoint people without a strong political position, or to maintain their predecessor's appointment for the sake of continuity. An example would be Robert Gates, who served as Defense Secretary in both the Bush and Obama administration.

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