So, who's Mitt Romney going to choose to be his running mate? I know I'm a bit late getting this post up, but Gov. Romney hasn't announced a choice yet, so what the heck?
Tons of names have already cycled through the political prognostication industry. Over the last few weeks, Team Romney has floated a few out there themselves. Some of these possibilities are likely trial balloons, sent up to observe reaction. Others are nods to various constituencies within the Party, done to let them know that various different "types" of contenders are being vetted for the position. This is all pretty standard stuff.
The choice of a running mate is considered to be the first "Presidential" decision a nominee makes, and as such is as valuable to we voters as a gauge of how a given candidate thinks and makes decisions as it is for who the pick turns out to be.
Who will get the gig? Here's what we know, or at least what we think we know.
Mitt Romney is a very careful man. He is through and extremely intelligent. All this means he will make a relatively safe pick. He will pick someone who no one will be able to say can't be President on day one. This is always the first thing to consider when choosing a vice president. The other is who would be the best running mate. The two are not always the same. Best running mate means an individual who brings helpful political skills to the campaign, and/or might be able to bring the electoral votes of his or her home state or region which may be needed. I'll touch on both points as we go.
My secret wish:
Newt Gingrich. Let's start with this fact: There is absolutely no way Mitt Romney will pick Newt Gingrich. I know that. Newt is too volatile and too controversial, and I just got finished saying that Romney will not make an out-of-the-box or controversial choice. I'm also pretty sure they don't like each other much after the nasty primary fight they had for the top spot on the Republican ticket. Despite that, Newt has been diligently campaigning for Romney for the last few months. As a running mate, Romney is going to win Newt's home state of Georgia no matter who his VP is. The only area here where I'm sure Newt would excel would be the part about if you want to do any bomb throwing in a presidential campaign, those things are usually delegated to the VP choices. Yes, Newt would be great at that!
No, this is just my moment to make a pitch for my guy. I do so because Newt Gingrich would be a phenomenal Vice President. Here's why:
The Vice President has no power (Beyond breaking tie votes in the Senate) other than the power the President delegates to him or her. More and more in recent years, Presidents have been doing exactly that. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton gave Walter Mondale and Al Gore more responsibilities to oversee projects within their administrations than had ever been done before. The apex of this trend was reached with the large amount of national security deference George W. Bush gave to Richard Cheney. Long gone are the days where a Vice President Harry Truman becomes President upon the death of Franklin Roosevelt, and only then finds out there is a project to build an atomic bomb that he had no knowledge of.
Newt Gingrich is by far the smartest policy mind in the Republican Party. A Romney/Gingrich administration would be a situation where Romney, as the boss, could give Gingrich a few specific policy areas, along with wide latitude to influence them, and then let him have at it. I would think three areas would be in the former Speaker's wheelhouse:
Health care reform: What do we replace Obamacare with, after we repeal it? What policies would get us from where we are to a patient and doctor centered, market driven model with a chance to really hold down costs and improve both quality and access? Through the Center for Health Transformation, Newt has worked in this area since he left Congress.
Homeland security: Newt served on the Hart/Rudman Commission. They were the first to suggest a federal homeland security agency. DHS has wandered far from it's original goals, and needs reform badly and right away. In an era of Islamic terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, this is one we can't afford to get wrong.
Government re-organization: The federal government has hundreds of programs that overlap and duplicate each other, not to mention many that are just pointless, ineffective or unconstitutional. I think a President Romney would order a full review of this quagmire, and propose serious change. By serious I mean the closing of hundred of federal programs, dozens of agencies and probably four to five cabinet level departments. Newt has thought about, talked about, and written about this very thing for years. He would be the perfect guy to lead such an effort.
OK, now that I got that off my chest, let's move on to the people who really are contenders...
Actual Front Runners:
I claim no particular insight into who Gov. Romney is going to ultimately choose. I can make a case that it'll be any of these gentlemen, and I do believe it will be one of these five. I try to describe the various pluses and minus of each below.
Tim Pawlenty. The former two term Governor of Minnesota has moved steadily up the Team Romney short list for the last couple of months. He ran for President in his own right, dropping out last summer after doing badly in the Ames (Iowa) straw poll. My guess is he wishes he'd stayed in. Who could have foreseen the up one minute, down the next contest that ultimately unfolded? With Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich (twice) and Rick Perry all being flavors of the month at one point or another, Pawlenty probably realizes now he likely would have had his moment on top, and if given that chance who knows what might have happened? But that is water long under the political bridge now.
Gov. Pawlenty won re-election twice in a mostly Democratic state. He has that executive experience. He was widely viewed as a strong contender to be tapped for VP by 2008 Republican nominee John McCain. Pawlenty governed as a fiscal conservative who balanced his budgets, even though he had to contend with a Democratic majority in his state legislature. In this he can relate to what Mitt Romney went through as Governor of Massachusetts. He was still quite popular in Minnesota when he left office. I've personality heard dozens of interviews with him, and while a serious guy on policy, he can also be quite funny.
I think Tim Pawlenty is exactly the kind of steady hand who Mitt Romney would like to pick. He would be a great choice, a great Vice President and if need be a steady and solid President.
Rob Portman. The freshman Senator from the state of Ohio, and in that sentence you will see Rob Portman's most important qualification to be on the Romney short list: Ohio. The total number of Republicans who've been elected President in the history of our republic without winning Ohio is, exactly, zero. This election will be no different. Ohio and it's 18 electoral votes are the most crucial of the crucial to Mitt Romney's chances of winning.
This is not in any way to denigrate a very bright and talented public servant. Rob Portman was elected to the Senate in 2010. Prior to that he represent Ohio's 2nd district in the House of Representatives for six terms. Before that he served in the White House Counsel's office during the Presidency of George H. W. Bush. In between his House and Senate service, he was both US Trade Representative and Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush. At the time Portman was director of OMB, the federal deficit was only $161 Billion, and under his leadership, the Bush administration proposed a budget that would have reached balance in only 5 years. A far cry from the spending binge we've been on since the Democrats took control of Congress in 2007. A spending bender that really went into overdrive when President Obama took office in 2009.
The downside to the Senator is he doesn't have the name recognition the rest of the top contenders do, so he'd have to be "introduced" to the country. Also, he lacks executive experience, as he practiced law before getting into government. Pluses include he seems to be super-smart, and a through and cautions decision maker. Word is he and Gov. Romney get a long quite well also. If the Romney campaign thinks they need help to win Ohio, Portman will get the gig for sure.
Paul Ryan. The third name on Team Romney's radar right now is the Congressman from Wisconsin and Chair of the House Budget Committee. I would love the Governor to pick Ryan for all the same reasons I'd like him to pick Newt Gingrich: Paul Ryan is smartest policy mind in the Party outside of the former Speaker. He is also blessed with move star good looks (so says the charming and talented Mrs. Proud Ex-Democrat) and tons of natural charisma.
Last month I heard an interview with a big shot GOP operative who made this comment: "Paul Ryan is a big deal, and he doesn't know it." Bingo. That struck me as so true. He doesn't have the kind of giant ego many politicians are barely able to conceal. He doesn't wear his brilliance or his importance on his sleeve. But, if you've ever seen him in an interview or a debate, his exceptional grasp of policy issues and solutions shines though. He is the federal government official I like, and respect, the most.
The downside to a Ryan choice is he has some fairly high negative name recognition. In his case, it's because he's actually tried to do things and solve problems and paid a price for it.
When Ryan became Chair of the Budget Committee after the 2010 elections, he and his crew came out with a budget proposal that was serious and necessary in terms of reducing spending and reigning in our very dangerous debt issues. It contained some strong medicine for reform of Medicare and Medicaid, the two programs that are the biggest drivers of this debt.
At the time it was released, Congressman Ryan said that budget could serve as the start of an important national conversation about the size and role of government, IF the Democrats didn't demagogue it. Wishful thinking on his part. Within a month, the DNC had produced a TV ad with a Ryan lookalike pushing an old woman off a cliff in a wheel chair. So much for expecting anything serious from Democrats. One more excellent example of why I fired that party. Once again they proved they are more interested in playing politics and protecting their sacred government power than they ever are of solving problems and making life better for our citizens.
Choosing Ryan would put Wisconsin in play, and could help Romney in the Mid West generally, even some in Ohio, although obviously not as much as Portman. Ryan, like Portman, lacks executive experience. But, his policy acumen would partly make up for that. If elected, expect a Vice President Ryan to lead the administration's effort to reform entitlements and reorganize the federal government. Ryan would lead an effort similar to the one I described Gingrich doing if he were VP. And if Ryan is given that task, we can expect equally excellent proposals from him and the team he assembles.
If Romney is confident in wining Ohio and Florida, and tilts his decision making toward the best VP (as opposed to the best running mate), and if he feels the campaign can reverse some of the dishonest mud that has been slung his away, Paul Ryan's name will move to the top of the list.
Bobby Jindal. The very popular and successful Governor of Louisiana, Jindal is one of the models for what Romney hopes to accomplish at the federal level: Reign in spending, balance budgets, and make government more accountable. Gov. Jindal has done all of that in his home state. He is also a great American success story in the classic tradition. A first generation son of immigrants from India, he got an education and has pursued and largely attained the American dream. Gov. Jindal served in the House, representing Louisiana's 1st Congressional district for two terms. He also held positions in George W. Bush's Department of Health and Human Services, and was President of the University of Louisiana system. His strong suits in policy, understandably, are health and education. He is considered an expert in both.
The Governor is also an articulate spokesperson for conservative principles, having given many well received speeches at gatherings like CPAC. He is excellent in interviews and debates, as are all the people on the shortlist. Being Indian-American, he could potentially help the ticket with minorities. He is also a Roman Catholic (as are Pawlenty, Ryan and Marco Rubio) and could bring more votes from that important group as well.
Gov. Romney likes the executive experience governors and former governors would bring to his ticket, so Bobby Jindal has an advantage there over Portman, Ryan and as we will see below, Marco Rubio. We also hear he gets along very well with Mr. Romney.
Like all these individuals, Gov. Jindal has been an excellent spokesperson for Gov. Romney on the stump for the last couple of months. If Mitt Romney decides to go with a governor, I give a slight advantage to Pawlenty, but I'm not in the room with these gentlemen, and so can't gauge the personal chemistry between them. That will and should play a role also.
Marco Rubio. The early front runner for the VP post is this clearly rising superstar of the party and first term senator from Florida. Like with Rob Portman, geography plays a role here. Florida is more important than Ohio, in that it has more electoral votes (29 to 18.) The fact that Senator Rubio is from Florida is less likely to be decisive because it really looks like Romney can win there no matter who his running mate is.
I think there is slightly less chance Rubio will get the gig than the first four gentlemen on the list. But only slightly.
Make no mistake, Marco Rubio has as bright a future in American politics as anyone right now. Smart and good looking with charisma to burn, he is also brings a great family story. The son of Cuban immigrants, he was the first child in his family to go to college. Later, he was the youngest Speaker in the history of the Florida state House of Representatives, the job he was holding when he won his Senate seat in 2010.
The only real downside to a Rubio candidacy is what I call the "we shall serve no wine before it's time" issue. He's only 41 years old (to be fair, that's the same age as Gov. Jindal,) and he's only been an elected official of the US government for 2 years. He has no executive experience, not even as an agency official, as we see in the resumes of Jindal and Portman. Sen. Rubio will therefore be vulnerable to attacks that he's too inexperienced to be Vice President. I think the cautious Romney, having watched four years ago as John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin unraveled (unfairly) under charges she wasn't qualified, will go in a different direction.
I personally think Rubio would be a fine pick. He would energize the Republican base as no one else on this list could. But I must acknowledge that whereas that base needed firing up in 2008, in this election all the GOP faithful really need to reach stratospheric levels of enthusiasm will the the name "Barack Obama" on the other ticket. Not needing that energy boost, Romney will probably avoid Rubio, thus allowing him to continue to grow into one of the Party's great future (but not so much present) leaders.
UPDATE: A late add, which is probably another trial balloon but it was too intriguing to not mention briefly:
David Petraeus. The General, who lead our efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan and is now CIA Director, has seen his name percolating on the net the last couple of days. I doubt this would happen for a couple of reasons. Where Petraeus would be a terrific Vice President, I doubt he'd take to the role of running mate. He's never run for public office, and has said he never will. It would also really go against his grain to criticise his former Commander in Chief, President Obama.
All that said, if the general was offered the job and accepted it, it would elevate the process above politics to a degree. It would also give the ticket more serious foreign and national security credibility than anyone else could bring with the possible exception of Condoleezza Rice.
The more likely scenario is that if Mitt Romney wins the Presidency, David Petraeus will be offered a high level gig in the new administration. Possibilities would be Secretary of Defense or State, National Security Advisor, or to come out of retirement and be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Other's in the conversation, but less likely:
I don't think any of the folks on these last two lists are going to get the gig. I mention them here because they're names have been brought up from time to time.
Chris Christie. The Governor of New Jersey is absolutely my favorite politician in the country. Period. Great leader. Great attitude. Gets things done. Outspoken. None of the BS you normally have to put up with in a political figure. All this and he's seen Bruce Springsteen more times than I have (Christie - over 100. Me -around 70.) That really just makes me jealous.
I think Chris Christie will make a great President someday. But, I just don't see him as a second banana. I think both Gov. Christie and Mitt Romney agree with me.
Bob McDonnell. Like other successful Republican Governors like Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich and Rick Walker, McDonald, from the Commonwealth of Virginia, has done a fine job of getting spending and budget deficits under control. He is probably the sixth name on Team Romney's list, if it's that long.
Like Rob Portman and Marco Rubio, Bob McDonald comes from a state Romney very much needs to win in November. Like those two men, expect him to move up the list if Gov. Romney thinks he needs him to capture Virginia and its 13 electoral votes. I don't think Romney is as worried about Virginia as he is about Ohio, so McDonald is likely below Portman in their thinking.
That said, Gov. McDonald is bright and effective and a governor, so he'll be in the conversation until a pick is actually made.
Condoleezza Rice. The former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State would be a great choice. Like is almost always the case with governors, Mitt Romney has some lack in his resume in the area of foreign and national security policy. Condi Rice would definitely fill those gaps, just as most recently Richard Cheney did for George W. Bush.
Dr. Rice would help the ticket with both women and African Americans. She also has the highest name recognition of anybody being discussed here, so the campaign wouldn't have to introduce her to the country.
Those are the pluses. Her only major negative is this: Rice has never run for elected office, and has said over and over she doesn't want to. Not now. Not ever. She's not available unless Gov. Romney feels so strongly that he makes a personal appeal to her that her country, and her Party need her. I don't see him trying that hard to recruit someone who doesn't want the job, nor should he. There's another reason, which I will discuss along with the next person on the list.
Kelly Ayotte. The freshman Senator from New Hampshire is the most likely woman to be the VP choice, unless Condi Rice changes her mind. I said most likely, but not likely.
Team Romney has said on a couple of occasions that they are vetting women for Vice President. I personally don't believe them, or of they are, they're just going though the motions and are not serious. It's not that they don't want to pick a woman. They'd be happy to if they thought a woman was the best person for the job. The reason is the media's savage, and largely made up, attacks on Sarah Palin. Those have likely killed the chances of a woman running mate on a national ticket for the foreseeable future. This does not mean, by the way, that a woman could not win either party's nomination. That is a separate issue. The right woman definitely could.
Getting back to Senator Ayotte, she is another up and comer in the Republican universe. She is also a personal friend of Gov. and Ann Romney, as she is from a neighboring state. What she won't be is Vice President.
Not really contending:
John Thune. Re-elected for a second term in the US Senate from South Dakota in 2010, Thune has just recently started getting some notices for VP. With his state only having three electoral votes, he won't get the gig to add to the EV total. He is seen as a rising star, who briefly considered a presidential run of his own this time. But VP? I don't think so. Another member of a deep Republican bench who'll be in the leadership of the Party for years.
I think his immediate future is right where he already is: the Senate. Sen. Thune is seen as a strong contender to move into the leadership opening being created by the retirement of John Kyl of Arizona.
Mitch Daniels. The retiring Governor of Indiana is a Party favorite. Many people urged him to run for President this year, but after much soul searching he decided against it. Same thing with VP. He has repeatedly said he doesn't want the job.
The Governor and the Mrs. Daniels have had some marital problems over the years. I suspect he figures that would be too fertile a ground for the Obama/Chicago attack machine. Even if what the Obamanauts came out with wasn't true (which would be likely) I just think Mitch Daniels doesn't want to expose his family to that level of nastiness.
Jeb Bush. The former Governor of Florida, brother to one President, son to another, has repeatedly said when asked about the Vice Presidential nod: "I think Marco Rubio would make an excellent Vice President."
I think Jeb Bush would make an excellent Vice President, but he's clearly not interested. If Mitt Romney really does make a VP pick based largely on winning Florida, he'll take Bush's advice and choose Rubio.
Susana Martinez. The first term Governor of New Mexico would be another hispanic candidate and another woman on the Team Romney VP list. If they wanted to hit a double and get both of these categories, she would move up rather quickly. The five electoral votes from New Mexico is also a consideration, but other people from other states have more EV's and better candidates as favorite sons (or daughters.) She also has less name ID than anyone else being considered, so it would be some work to introduce her to the country. She also has a bright future. But this is not her time.
John Kasich. The Governor of Ohio is better known than the other contender from the Buckeye state, Rob Portman. A few years as a high profile member of the House leadership, followed by a show on the Fox News Channel will do that for you. But the sword of publicity cuts both ways. Kasich has some high negatives stemming from a nasty fight with his public employee unions over benefits, in much the same way as Scott Walker did in Wisconsin. But, in Gov. Kasich's case, the reforms ended up on the ballot, and they lost, diminishing his stature in the process. If anyone gets the nod from Ohio, it'll be Portman, not Kasich.
Nikki Haley. Another first term Governor (Can you tell from this list that the Republicans did really well in 2010?) from South Carolina. Her name keeps coming up because she's a woman and is seen as a comer. I sort of don't get it. Her approval ratings are not that good. And Romney's going to win South Carolina no matter who he picks as a running mate, so what's the point? There is none. She won't be chosen.
If your interested in hearing and/or seeing more, here are some links for you:
The transcript of an interview Hugh Hewitt did recently with Bobby Jindal is here. Another, with Tim Pawlenty is here.
The video of a tremendous speech Paul Ryan gave last year at the Heritage Foundation is here.
Videos of speeches by some of the contenders at the February 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC): Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan and Bobby Jindal.
I expect Governor Romney to make his decision on a running mate public shortly, probably just after the end of the Olympics. Some people urged him to make his choice known before now, but I think this way is best. That is because pretty much all the people on this list have been out campaigning for the Governor, many of them to great effect. As well as being part of the auditioning process for VP, these speeches and appearances are getting a lot of coverage precisely because the press knows all these folks are potential running mates. As soon as the Governor makes his selection, the attention all those who are not picked is getting will fall off dramatically, as the media meat-grinder turns it's (nearly) undivided attention, some would say fire, to whoever has won the Veep-Stakes.
This will still be a choice announced earlier than the usual (which is on the weekend before the convention starts.) The plan is for Team Romney to roll their pick out and start building momentum toward that convention, which begins August 27th in Charlotte, NC.
It's gonna be interesting.