Bill Whalen

Read It and Veep

It’s chilly and overcast in Northern California, weather more befitting of winter than spring, so what better time to delve into summertime political fare: choosing a running mate for Mitt Romney.

This might seem premature, considering Romney’s delegate count isonly halfway to the magic number needed for a first-ballot win. Still, it’s already part of the national political conversation, as evidenced bythis exchange between Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and Fox News’ Chris Wallace.

The key thing to remember in this quadrennial exercise nicknamed the “veepstakes”: the expectation is a running mate who’s the difference between victory and defeat. But with the exception of Lyndon Johnson, who delivered Texas (and thus the White House) for John F. Kennedy in 1960, it doesn’t happen. In fact, it seldom skews the final outcome.

Examples:

  1. Geraldine Ferraro. As the first woman on a major party’s national ticket, she generated substantial buzz. That said, the Mondale-Ferraro ticket lost 49 of 50 states.
  2. Dan Quayle. Seen as an inroad to Baby Boomers, Quayle (born in 1947) never got over the hump of self-inflicted wounds – most famously, this debate zinger. But a campaign albatross? Not at the time he was chosen. The 1988 Bush-Quayle ticket carried 40 of 50 states.
  3. Sarah Palin. Want to start an argument among Republicans? All you have to do is posit whether the high priestess of “mama grizzlies” was an asset or a liability in 2008.

Moving ahead to the summer, let’s envision the “veepstakes” process from Team Romney’s perspective. The Republican campaign won’t lack for choices – the GOP has a deep vice presidential bench. But it’s not a simple choice, given competing concerns. Does Team Romney opt for a running mate who can deliver a battleground state; a running mate who balances the ticket in terms of resume, ideology or voting blocs; or, do chemistry and comfort win out, with Romney choosing someone he simply likes and trusts?

Time will well.

Meanwhile, here are some potential running mates to get the conservation going.

Alphabetically, they include:

  1. Chris Christie. Argument for: New Jersey’s governor offers a pugnacious style and blue-collar appeal that Romney currently lacks. Argument against: Christie’s operating on a different political calendar, facing re-election in 2013. A failed vice presidential run, compounded by a failure to win a second term, assumedly would be a dagger to Christie’s national ascent.
  2. Bobby Jindal. Argument for: Louisiana’s governor is a textbook study of how to make the argument for smaller government and less spending vs. the Obama approach in Washington (Jindal being reelected to a second term last November with 65.8% of the vote, winning every state parish). Argument against: memories of – and fears of a repeat of – his nationally televised response to President Obama’s first address to Congress, which drew mixed reviews.
  3. Susana Martinez. Argument for: New Mexico’s governor is the first Hispanic woman to head any state; she’s solidly conservative on all fronts. Argument against: in addition to the Palin parallel (is she ready for prime time?), elevating Martinez signals the Romney campaign’s intent to compete for Mountain West votes in Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, when the Upper Midwest might be a better use of its time; illegal immigration gets in the way of Romney keeping the focus on Obama’s economic performance.
  4. Bob McDonnell. Argument for: Virginia’s governor, who hasn’t been shy about fueling veep speculation, could help deliver 13 electoral votes in a commonwealth the Democrats have carried only once since the ’64 landslide. Argument against: if re-staining a state from blue to red is the lead criterion, this might be the place to start as Obama’s sitting prettier in Virginia than most other battleground states.
  5. Tim Pawlenty. Argument for: the former Minnesota governor and presidential dropout has chemistry going for him – he’s beena tireless surrogate and counter-puncher on Romney’s behalf; reportedly, he and the likely nominee get along famously. Argument against: Pawlenty made scads of sense in 2008, when he was the sitting governor of the state hosting that year’s GOP national convention; in 2012, he’s not the sexiest of picks (however. don’t rule out a cabinet post).
  6. Rob Portman. Argument for: not only one of the most genial individuals in these uncivil times, but a killer c.v. (U.S. senator and congressman from Ohio; head of OMB and USTR; son of a small businessman). Argument against: hard to quibble with someone who was crucial to Romney barely surviving Ohio’s primary; might be the wrong temperament if it’s an attack dog Team Romney seeks (think Bob Dole, the hatchet man of 1976).
  7. Condoleezza Rice. Can’t remember the last time I gave a talk during which her name didn’t come up, so she goes on the list. Argument for: shores up Romney on foreign policy; she’d give the ticket a much-needed People jolt. Argument against: I’ll let her words do the talking – “I think we should go another direction and find somebody who really wants to be in elected office.”
  8. Marco Rubio. Eighth on this list, but maybe the top seed considering Florida’s junior senator brings youth (he turns 41 in May), diversity (the son of Cuban émigrés), a Tea Party fan base, and the lure of the Sunshine State’s 29 electoral votes. Argument against: Hard to make one, if he can both deliver Florida make an inroad elsewhere with Hispanics. What about superstition? Only once in the nation’s history – James Buchanan and John Breckenridge, 1856 – has either party (Republican or Democratic) run a one-monogram ticket. Yes, the Democrats won that year. And that was followed by 24 years of GOP control of the White House. Doesn’t bode well for “MR Squared”, does it?
  9. Paul Ryan. Argument for: The Wisconsin congressman andfederal budget maven is a fiscal Diogenes – looking not for an honest man, but honest answers to the nation’s crushing debt burden. Argument against: in terms of shaping the debate in D.C., it might be better to be the chair of the House Budget Committee than the number-two man in the Romney Administration; that somehow Ryan’s budget plan would swing the election in Obama’s favor by scaring the poor and elderly (Paul Gigot weighs the pros and cons of all of this).
  10. Donald Trump. Your reward for making it to the end of this list. The odds of Trump landing on the GOP ticket? About the same as his going on a double date with Rosie O’Donnell. But he does represent something we haven’t discussed so far – the “Game Change” approach of choosing a running mate from out in left field whose unexpected appearance shakes up the dynamics of the race. Two notables in this category: (a) New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (he’s pro-choicepro-gay marriage; cared little for the Republican label; his billionaire fortune could easily finance a fall campaign all on its own; (b) CIA Director David Petraeus (a non-political background; America trusts his leadership skills; he could do for the present GOP what Eisenhower did for Republicans 60 years ago).
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