One of my proudest moments– professionally, personally, whatever– was successfully pulling off a wager with my friend Sam. In June of 2008, we agreed that if Barack Obama picked either Joe Biden or Evan Bayh as his running mate, I’d get a steak dinner. If he picked anybody else but those two or Hilary Clinton, he won. (Choosing Hilary was, in our estimation, a game-changing situation after their contentious primary season battle, and that scenario would be considered a tie. That is, we’d go out for steak, but on Dutch treat.)
The nature of Mitt Romney’s choices are a bit different. First of all, no immediately obvious choice commends itself. And there aren’t too many people out there who wouldn’t provide balance for Mitt. No Northeastern Republicans (there are so few left nowadays anyway), and no Mormons, but nearly everybody else works in terms of balance. So, I wish to project a list of who I believe to be the likeliest Mitt Romney running mates. (Interestingly, this list is one of the only ones in recent memory that did not have anybody else seeking the presidency this year- T-Paw’s brief candidacy excepted. This may be partly because the primaries and debates were an international disgrace, with multiple Singaporean students asking me in frightened tones, “are these guys for real?”)
Anyway, here are my rankings for Mitt Romney’s veepstakes, ranked by likelihood rather than soundness of the decision. My decisions are based on the idea that 1) Romney is not temperamentally suited to rolling the dice with unwieldy or unexpected choices, a la McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin. The choice is more likely than not to be steady, boring, va… oh, fine. I’ll just say it. He’s probably going to pick a white guy. 4 or 8 years from now, the GOP bench will be replete with potential candidates who break out of that paradigm, but many of these are, in 2012, just a little green. Romney is probably going to want somebody who holds up in prime time and won’t fall apart in their first nationally televised interviews.
- Marco Rubio (Senator from Florida): If he wants it, I can’t see how it isn’t his. With a compelling (if chronologically sketchy) backstory, and coming from the ultimate swing demographic in the ultimate swing state, I’m sure there are many pushing Romney to go alliterative with Rubio.
- Mike Huckabee (Fmr. Governor of Arkansas): He’s not generating much buzz. But as I see it, Huckabee gives you three advantages. 1) he is likeable, amiable, and will make you laugh– intentionally (these traits don’t apply to very many on this list) 2) He will shore up social conservative support (although all signs suggest this won’t be a “family values” election), and 3) He’s been out of office since 2006, so he hasn’t had to make any damning decisions in a bad economy.
- Bill Frist (Fmr. Senator from Tennessee): Another guy not being talked about, but I’m going to take a chance with some of my picks, and hope I can bring out the “I told you so” lines afterward. Frist can be a sympathetic character, given his medical background, and his leaving the Senate in 2006 suggests ambitions for higher office that did not yet pan out. In terms of governing, having a former Majority Leader on hand could be very useful.
- Bob McDonnell (Governor of Virginia): Gives you a grounding in evangelical Christianity, but not in a creepy way, brings you closer to locking in a close state. The trouble, though, is that Virginia elects governors the year after the pres. election and prevents them from having consecutive terms– thus, like Kaine in 2008, one is stuck picking a potentially good candidate who nonetheless only has three years in office so far.
- Bobby Jindal (Governor of Louisiana) He bombed the 2009 reply to the State of the Union address, but this young converted Catholic and the most prominent Indian-American politician in the country could well be the pick. He certainly escaped the Hurricane Katrina fallout that befell his predecessor, Kathleen Blanco.
- Paul Ryan (Congressman from Wisconsin): Whether he likes it or not, Paul Ryan is already Mitt Romney’s running mate in an allegorical sense. The 2012 election is likely to be a contest between Obama’s Keynesian stimulus-based vision of economic recovery, seeing the federal government as a helping hand, and Ryan’s vision of the government as a bloated beast that needs to be tamed and starved. He’s presented a budget which I suspect many will like at first glance, but will have deep reservations about when they begin to understand it more fully. Everybody wants smaller government until a program they depend upon is cut. If Mitt wants to double down on his economic message, though, Ryan is a compelling choice.
- Condoleezza Rice (Fmr. Secretary of State): I am skeptical of the rumors suggesting that the Former Secretary of State is in the running for this job. While almost certainly the most well-liked member of Bush 43’s team, and while she brings undeniable foreign policy heft to the ticket, I can’t see this happening. Rice is not ambitious for higher office to most observers, she would be a novice on the campaign trail, and many of her views on social issues are incongruous with her party. But adding her would seem a stately choice, one that didn’t seem to pander to any demographic, despite her being both a woman and a racial minority.
- Rob Portman (Senator from Ohio): At one point considered by John McCain, Portman may get his chance in 2012. His appeal is chiefly from his state– he gives you a chance to pick up another huge swing state. But he’s only been a senator for two years, was on the failed Supercommittee, and was George W. Bush’s budget guy. Very few candidates in the past two generations have chosen someone primarily for his ability to deliver one state, and I have a tough time seeing Romney follow suit.
- Chris Christie (Governor of New Jersey): The anti-Romney. If Mitt needs someone who can stay on message and won’t generate the occasional headline of controversy, Christie’s not his guy. The question is what to do with the “white ethnic”– blue-collar guys who aren’t sure about Obama, but are reluctant to vote for Romney because he looks and acts just like their boss’s boss. Here Christie could be a godsend. He might not make New Jersey red on election night, but his appeal could spill over to Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other places in the Great Lakes area. And you couldn’t ask for a better attack dog who will allow Romney to stay above the fray. A few demerits– bad regional balance (Two Eastern Seaboard guys), only 3 years in high office, and he has been attracting negative press as of late. Will voters find his sometimes boorish behavior a sign of a mercurial man unfit for the line of succession, or a badly-needed tonic of “straight talk”?
- Kelly Ayotte (Senator from New Hampshire): Any other candidate but Romney would have meant the Granite State would be sown up for the Democrats. Now, NH is competitive, and Ayotte would probably give you its 4 electoral votes. (Don’t laugh– NH was only one percentage point or so from tipping the election to Gore in 2000….) Ayotte is young, has a strong law and order reputation, and has already demonstrated her effectiveness as a Mitt Romney surrogate. It’s bad regional balance, though, and picking a young attractive brunette with only 2 years in high office may very well seem like Sarah Palin redux.
- Tim Pawlenty (Fmr. Governor of Minnesota): I’m just not feeling the Timster. He’s already, in some respects, a literal “poor man’s Romney”. Governor of a blue state, rejected McCain vice-presidential pick, not quite conservative enough to satiate the party’s hardcore base. He failed to get traction in his brief run at the presidency, yet he was the second or third most competent figure in the room at the early debates (depending on your feelings about Jon Huntsman.) It’s not exactly consequential- but his physique is similar to Romney’s, his hair is similar to Romney’s, he just sort of looks like Mitt’s half-Polish nephew. He’s probably qualified to be vice-president, and would probably be loyal and effective in that office, but in terms of getting to 270 electoral votes, I don’t see what T-Paw brings to the table.
- John Thune (Senator from South Dakota): I got a chance to watch Thune up close in 2006 at the opening of the George McGovern library in South Dakota. He quickly grabbed my attention as someone to look out for in the future– unfailingly conservative without making damning statements that would haunt him later, handsome in a nondescript prairie sort of way. He’s a heavy wheel on the Armed Services Committee, shoring up one of Romney’s weaknesses. On the other side of things, he was a lobbyist before his turn in Congress, and his ties to The Family, the secretive Christian K-street fraternity that spawned adulterers Mark Sanford and John Ensign, may be more trouble than they are worth.