We’ve heard so much gab in recent months about who Mitt Romney, the GOP’s all-but nominee for president, will or should choose as his running mate. Every name you can think of has been mentioned: Chris Christie, New Jersey’s loud-mouth yet lovable governor; Marco Rubio, Florida’s junior (and did I mention Hispanic?) U.S. Senator; and Paul Ryan, the ever-controversial chairman of the House Budget Committee. There has even been talk about names most have never heard: Bob McDonnell, the governor of Virginia, and Mitch Daniels, Indiana’s chief executive.
But now that the Veepstakes has entered its audition phase, the question everyone will be asking is: “Who will he choose?” Will it be Rubio or Ryan? Will it be Bachmann or Bobby (Jindal, that is)? But the question that appeals to me isn’t so much “who,” but rather “how?” And that’s what I’ll write about.
WHAT WON’T WORK
The leading school of thought as to how Romney should choose was largely utilized during the height of the primary season. It was the line of thinking that led to the discussion of potentials like Ryan and Christie and went something like this: “Governor Romney should pick a strong conservative to cover his right flank.” Sure, that would certainly have won him the Republican nomination a little faster, but it’s going to get him nowhere against Mr. Obama.
You see, the reason to add a strong conservative to the ticket would be to garner support among the conservative ranks of the GOP. And that’s support Romney doesn’t need to work on; he’s already got it. Were there more conservative candidates than Romney? Absolutely. But you show me one conservative who’s going to vote for Obama. They don’t exist, so the right is sewn up. As reluctantly as it may be, conservatives will vote for Romney.
As you may have guessed by now, my suggestion for Romney’s running mate isn’t the Rick Santorum type. I have three criteria for suggesting a number two: likeness, likeability, and brains. Arizona Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain adds a fourth, trust, but I’ll leave that as a foregone conclusion and jump into my three, in reverse order.
Vice-presidential debates have become more and more prevalent and even televised. The Democratic Party has given Romney a golden nugget by keeping Joe Biden on the ticket for 2012. Gaffe-laden Biden has said everything from asking a wheelchair-bound individual to stand up to be recognized, to making disparaging remarks about immigrants, to his “big f-ing deal” comment during the ObamaCare announcement. Most recently, he gifted Mr. Obama with a “hurry up, would ya?” on the issue of gay marriage. So for Mr. Romney, this is a huge advantage. Picking a running mate with a filter between his grey matter and his mouth will put him a leg up on Team Obama. And although anytime Biden opens his mouth you know it’s going to be entertaining, a smart, well-spoken alternative will make the debates more tolerable.
This is one of the few areas in which Romney has consistently trailed the president and it has mostly been a 2:1 margin in favor of the latter. Romney is so unlikeable, in fact, that Politico even went as far as to compare him to Count Dracula. With electoral history tending to favor the more likeable candidate (see Kennedy v. Nixon, Clinton v. Dole, Bush v. Gore/Kerrey, Obama v. McCain), adding a genial number two is essential for Mr. Romney’s success.
Paul Begala tells the story for The Daily Beast:
When Bill Clinton was choosing his running mate in 1992, I made a pitch for Sen. Harris Wofford—a visionary who had worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. Wofford seemed perfect because he would have balanced the ticket, and that’s what conventional wisdom considers most important: Clinton was young, Wofford was older; Clinton was a Southerner, Wofford was from Pennsylvania; Clinton was a governor, Wofford served in Congress; Clinton was a Protestant, Wofford was a Catholic; Clinton was a moderate, Wofford was a liberal. But Clinton was blown away by his meeting with Al Gore and settled on him quickly, even though Gore was the same age, same region, same religion, and same ideology. “Why pick him?” I asked. “Because, Paulie,” Clinton said in a near whisper, “I might die.” Gulp.
Gulp indeed. Think what you will of President Clinton, but he makes an excellent point. While I, and the millions of conservatives across the nation, would like to see a stronger conservative in the Oval Office, right now, we must focus on defeating Barack Obama and this election will be decided in the middle and not on the right or left.
With that in mind, it’s encouraging that recent polling trends show Romney leading Obama among Independents by a fairly handy margin and outside the margins of error. If Romney were to select a more controversial running mate such as Rep. Paul Ryan or Sen. Tom Coburn, he would do so at the risk of alienating Independent voters and pushing them to vote for Obama. And in an election this close, that would be devastating to the GOP presidential hopeful. To succeed, he must choose someone like him in ideology. My guess is John Huntsman, who meets all of the Clinton-Gore criteria, except region.
BRINGING IT ALL HOME
While conservatives across the country would like to elect this decade’s Ronald Reagan, it’s not going to happen this November. We need to focus solely on beating Barack Obama and Romney stands an increasing chance of doing so. If he employs Karl Rove’s 3-2-1 strategy and makes a wise vice-presidential selection—one with brains who can mop the debate floor with Joe Biden, who is likeable and can appeal to people’s sense of affection, and who is similar in ideology to Romney himself—I see a very real chance for the former Bay State governor to be our nation’s 45th president.