Oh, 2016- we just can’t quit you. At least now, we can refer to things like the 2016 Olympics and the 2016 presidential elections as occurrences taking place next year. We are still a year away from the first primary elections, and as they currently stand, they are likely to be more interesting on the Republican side of the equation. While Hillary Clinton’s path to the nomination won’t be quite the coronation many expect, I believe her chances of being the Democrats’ choice are very, very good. With the Republicans? Things are a bit up in the air. I think there are maybe a solid seven people who could conceivably be nominated as things stand now: Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Mitt Romney, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Marco Rubio. Out of the seven, Bush seems like the front-runner. Nearly every candidate has severe drawbacks, from low name recognition, to poisonous civil rights stances, to Bridgegate, to losing the election last time. And despite public wariness with putting a third Bush in the White House within thirty years, he is best poised to collect money from the important donors, avoid saying stupid shit, and wear down primary opponents by attrition. Bush is probably the most likely to survive the grueling modern Republican dilemma of needing to be conservative enough for the bloodthirsty primary voting crowd, while not scaring off the general voting public.
When I wrote up my top ten running mates for Hillary, there were some guidelines to which I adhered. I thought her ticket would be poorly balanced by a woman, a Northeasterner, and another person north of 60. For Jeb, there are a couple of disqualifiers as well. First- no scions. If your daddy was a well known political figure, you’re out. Second- no other Floridians; it is bad balance and still a bit constitutionally dubious. Sorry Marco. And…that’s about it! He may or may not pick a woman, and Florida is such a weird state that just about anywhere else in the country offers regional balance. Even the South. (Fun fact- if nominated, Jeb Bush would be the first person on a Republican ticket to be both born in the South and an officeholder from the South.) As a consequence, all kinds of races, ages, philosophies, and geographic regions are present here. Being from a swing state is definitely a bonus, but by no means required. I also think it unlikely that he will pick an opponent from the Republican primaries, at least partly because all of the main candidates are poor temperamental fits for one another, with the exception of Kasich.
I included very few GOP hardliners, though, and for this reason. I think part of the reason John McCain and Mitt Romney lost their elections came from picking a running mate that scared the electorate in some way, either Palin’s dopey and inartful revival of the Culture Wars, or Paul Ryan’s plan to privatize Medicare, which almost certainly cost the Romney campaign the state of Florida. So, while many of these figures are conservative by any fair definition, many are not bitter-enders or hardliners. No amount of Tea Party enthusiasm or base-rallying can make up for scaring independent voters who aren’t in the bag yet.
As a hardcore 31-year-old McGovernite, I will probably not vote for a ticket with any of these people on it. Just the same, here are my best objective guesses for Jeb Bush’s most suitable running mates.
1. Cathy McMorris Rodgers: Very few people are talking about the veepstakes yet, but when they do, it will be interesting to see if Rodgers’ name comes up as a possibility. Rodgers is the congresswoman from the state of Washington’s Spokane-centered fifth district. Presently, she is the chair of the Republican House Conference, the only woman in a Republican congressional leadership that is notoriously white and male. She will not help Jeb win the Evergreen State, but her work on the presidential ticket could help considerably in other ways. Rodgers has been reasonably successful at parrying the charges of a Republican war on women, both in the office she holds and in the language she uses. Since Barack Obama won partly on a massive “gender gap”, that isn’t insignificant. Rodgers also offers poise, reliability, and message discipline. She’s a good solider willing to do what it takes for her party to prevail, and won’t go rogue to advance her own career. That’s exactly what every nominee wants to see in a running mate.
2. John Kasich: Because of its reputation as a swing state among swing states, being the governor of Ohio seems to automatically warrant some chatter about becoming vice-president. Kasich narrowly beat the incumbent, Ted Strickland, in 2010. In supposedly the closest swing state in the country, Kasich overcame some dreadful first-term poll-numbers, reinvented himself as a thoughtful, conscientious pragmatist, and was re-elected overwhelmingly, with over 60% of the vote. And Kasich has some real accomplishments to run on: Ohio’s recovery has outpaced the rest of the country, an especially impressive feat in a state that is the buckle of the Rust Belt. He can help reframe the Republicans’ rhetoric about poverty, a toxic leftover from the Reagan years. “I’m concerned about the fact that there seems to be a war on the poor,” he once said. “That if you’re poor, you are somehow shiftless and lazy.” Quite a turnaround from Mitt Romney’s comments about the 47%, no? So far, it’s just wind; few of Kasich’s policies have demonstrably helped the poor, but the rhetoric will raise eyebrows. The Republicans’ path to 270 electoral votes will be extremely difficult without Ohio this year. In fact, the Republican Party has never once won the presidency without carrying Ohio in its 160 years of existence. A Bush-Kasich ticket might put the two most lucrative swing states off the table for Democrats.
3. Kelly Ayotte: No doubt about it, New Hampshire is the friendliest territory for Republicans in New England, the bluest region of the country. In this atmosphere, Ayotte has thrived, serving a strong tenure as the state’s attorney general and easily winning election to the Senate in 2010. Since then, Ayotte has confidently staked out center-right territory. She is not on the Cruz cruise, but one would be foolish to confuse her with New England moderates Susan Collins or Olympia Snowe. Ayotte is a hawkish foreign policy and armed services specialist, and her work with McCain and Graham on immigration nicely complement Jeb’s own views. While Congress at large has floundered these last four years, the women of the Senate have earned a reputation for listening to one another and moving ideas forward, and Ayotte could bring these accomplishments to the table. And, of course, she comes from a legitimate swing state, one that Obama carried by only 5 points in 2012. One hiccup: Ayotte is up for re-election to the Senate in 2016. People have run for lesser offices while running for the vice-presidency before: Lieberman for his Senate seat in 2000, Biden for his Senate seat in 2008, Ryan for his congressional seat in 2012. But it is an unfortunate complication.
4. Brian Sandoval: Sandoval is the governor of Nevada, recently re-elected in a clean landslide. In many ways, Sandoval is the perfect candidate. He is Hispanic, he is just the right age at 51, and he can bring Nevada’s 6 electoral votes back into play for the GOP. More impressive than these factors is his solid record of accomplishment; he is widely considered one of the best governors in the United States. Under his governorship, the unemployment rate has gone from a worst-in-the-nation 14% to a much better 8% and falling. He has also mindfully avoided staking out ideological points: he has accepted the Medicare expansion, and his record on abortion- not so much pro-choice as a more libertarian pro-autonomy stance- can help win over independents. He has instituted an intriguing education reform, all with a Democratic state legislature, that now includes merit pay. However, one significant drawback is that a Bush-Sandoval team has no meaningful foreign policy experience. That will matter if it comes to governing, but with such a toxicly anti-Washington electorate, will this even matter? Also- I wonder whether Sandoval even wants it. I think it is an even-money bet that Mark Warner would have been Barack Obama’s running mate in 2008 if he didn’t commit to running for the Senate. Sandoval has the same choice- run for Harry Reid’s extremely vulnerable Senate seat in 2016, or hold off for the vice-presidency?
5. Susanna Martinez: Martinez, the governor of New Mexico, is often mentioned as the kind of person who might be the Republican vice presidential choice in 2016. Her biography seems like a panacea for the demographic sinkhole the Republican party is wandering into: a relatively young Hispanic woman governing an important state. She and the state legislature have turned the state’s deficit into a surplus, all without raising taxes. New Mexico is just barely winnable for Republicans in the general election in the best of circumstances. George W. Bush won it in 2004, and lost it by a whisker in 2000. Obama carried New Mexico by more than ten points in both elections, and it seems to have gone from a genuine swing state to a fairly deep shade of blue. If Republicans want New Mexico’s five electoral votes, Martinez is probably their only realistic chance of getting them. For all of this, I still wonder whether Martinez is a better candidate on paper than she would be in real life. She is alleged to be sharp-tongued and acerbic, qualities that, unfairly, will not redound to the benefit of a female candidate. In a way, she is similar to Chris Christie: mouthy former prosecutors who govern a blue state, alternately working well with opposition leaders and butting heads with them over principle. One further consideration: Sandoval or Martinez would mean a Republican ticket with two Catholics, a gobsmacking development for a party with historic ties to country-club Protestantism.
6. Mike Pence: Here’s the dilemma each presidential nominee faces when choosing a running mate: a governor will give you executive leadership and usually bipartisan credentials. But being in Congress, while less popular, provides crucial experience in foreign policy and how Washington works. Mike Pence, an influential Indiana congressman and presently the Hoosiers’ governor, could give you both. He hasn’t racked up an especially right-leaning record in Indiana, partly because his predecessor, Mitch Daniels, already slashed the budget and enacted right-to-work legislation, the first state in the Rust Belt to do so. Where do you go from there? He has strong support in institutional conservatism, both Koch Brothers fiscal conservatism and “values voters.” In terms of communication, his talk radio pedigree will help galvanize the ditto-heads (he has been called “Rush Limbaugh on decaf.”) Pence’s team has called him a “process of elimination candidate” for the presidency, but Pence’s faithful partisanship could make him a strong contender for the second spot on the ticket as well. This is especially so if circumstances force Jeb to move right, rather than left, such as a contentious primary battle with a more conservative challenger.
7. John Hoeven: The Great Recession hit many of us hard. For all of its severity, North Dakota weathered the recession better than any other state, a situation that makes for some fine talking points. While the nation as a whole nearly had double-digit unemployment during the depth of the recession, North Dakota’s never approached 5%. Nowadays, it hovers between 2-3%. This could spell good news for John Hoeven, two-and-a-half term governor and first-term senator from the Peace Garden State. If the Keystone pipeline becomes a major issue during the 2016 election, Hoeven could give a great deal of credence to the “drill, baby, drill” crowd, citing North Dakota’s economic miracle. Indeed, the lucrative Bakken oil fields have created a multitude of high-paying jobs, which in turn have bolstered the state’s service sector as well. This is, of course, a bubble, and like all bubbles it will burst. For now, though, the numbers are looking fine. A conservative who won’t scare independents off, Hoeven’s ten years of executive experience, six years in the Senate, and impressive Ron Swanson mustache will brush aside any questions that he isn’t ready. Besides, he continues the weird trend of running mates who have represented only a small area- either one solitary congressional district or a three-electoral-vote state: Palin (Alaska), Biden (Delaware), Cheney (Wyoming), Paul Ryan (Wisconsin’s fightin’ first), Jack Kemp (New York’s fightin’ 38th), and Geraldine Ferraro (New York’s fightin’ 9th) and even George H. W. Bush (Texas’s fightin’ 7th). Seriously- isn’t that strange? Since 1984, only four running mates (Al Gore, Joe Lieberman, Dan Quayle, and John Edwards) directly represented more than perhaps a million people.
8. Tom Cotton: In 2014, the race between Congressman Tom Cotton and incumbent Mark Pryor Cotton for the Senate seat from Arkansas was expected to be a dramatic nail-biter. Instead, Cotton bulldozed over Pryor, scion of that ~other~ Arkansas political dynasty, by seventeen points- a margin similar to Democrat Blanche Lambert Lincoln’s defeat in 2010 for Arkansas’s other Senate seat. Cotton, a 6’5″ Iraq war veteran with two Ivy League degrees also presents a compelling personal narrative, and would protect Jeb Bush from discontent from the Republican Party’s increasingly conservative base. The man oozes the conservative definition of patriotism, even campaigning for his Senate seat in a camouflage-colored bus. In a way, he hearkens to an earlier time when an Ivy League education and military service often went hand in hand (a worldview that John Kerry, a man Cotton might view as an enemy, encapsulated.) Called a “conservative superstar” by The Atlantic, Astonishingly, you’d have a GOP ticket susceptible to charges of being “too cerebral” (a criticism that was never an issue with George W. or Sarah Palin on the ballot.) This doesn’t work in it’s favor- Cotton is also a hard-edged ideological conservative- more than anyone else on this list actually- and his devotion to Heritage Foundation dogma has lead him to take academic, but still troubling, stances. As the Atlantic article notes, “Cotton also was the only Arkansan to vote for a budget drafted by the Republican Study Committee that would slash spending, voucherize Medicare, and raise the eligibility age for Social Security to 70.” Elsewhere, his on record saying that the Founders were wise to limit democracy. Including in Senate races like the one Cotton prevailed in just a few months ago.
9. Todd Platts: Chances are, you probably have never heard of Congressman Platts. He is now a judge on the York County Court of Common Pleas. That may seem like a resume that’s not exactly vice-presidential, but for twelve years, he represented a congressional district in south-central Pennsylvania. He left in 2013, wanting to spend more time with his family (and this appears to be genuine; I know everybody else says it for other reasons, but with Platts, this is probably true) and because he supports term limits. Platts stands out for his everyman appeal. He commuted three and a half hours most days Congress was in session to help give his family a steadier life in PA. Consistently, Platts has stood for good governance over ideological conservatism, a stance which is typified by his love of films like “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Like many Republicans, he voted for war in Iraq and in favor of offshore drilling, but also took less popular stands within his own party, favoring McCain-Feingold campaign reform and voting to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. When he left Congress, a Democrat colleague told him “I just want to thank you for your friendship and your leadership. You have approached issues with judicious analysis. You have avoided strident headlines. You’ve avoided bitter partisanship, and I think you are a model that many could learn from.” In all, he is a Main Street Republican (that is, a relative moderate), which may or may not be what Jeb needs. That means forfeiting tea party zeal in an attempt to win over middle American voters in a tough election against a formidable opponent. Now, I don’t actually think Todd Russell Platts is the ninth most likely Republican running mate. But someone like him might be just the shot in the arm Jeb needs. The buzz from picking this relatively humble and unassuming man currently serving as judge on a low-level court and tapping him for the vice presidency has a kind of Cincinnatus feel, and could be an unexpected game-changer.
10. Rob Portman: I originally had Condi Rice listed as #10 before crossing her off. Too tied to the George W. Bush administration, and despite her calm, her intelligence, and her foreign policy credentials, it is just too big a risk to run with someone who has never once run for political office before. Instead, what about Ohio senator Rob Portman? Here’s why. You get economic heft; Portman was the head of the Office of Management and Budget during the Bush 43 administration, and was part of the ill-fated supercommittee that attempted, without success, to resolve a budget impasse a few years ago. You also have debating chops; Portman is routinely chosen to play the Democrat when Republican candidates prepare for debate. He is credited with being able to anticipate and articulate Democratic talking points well, while eerily channeling Obama, Edwards and other figures. But Rob Portman offers two other strong advantages. Firstly, he is, like Kasich, a popular figure in all-important Ohio. Secondly, he became one of the first GOP senators to endorse same-sex marriage, on account of his son, who identifies as gay. Same sex marriage is a losing battle for the GOP, and the possibility of a Supreme Court decision making it legal across the country makes hardline opposition even more untenable, especially as it continues to poll ever more favorably. Portman offers you a way out- and it is virtually the only issue where he departs from conservative orthodoxy. Even better, you get to frame his departure as one of family values- what is more honorable than sticking up for your son at the expense of the party line? On the other hand, you get some baggage as well- being George W. Bush’s OMB guy may not communicate economic prowess, given that this team was dumb enough to cut taxes during a protracted and expensive war. Portman is also a poor choice if populism becomes an issue, and if Hillary picks a barnburner like fellow Ohio senator Sherrod Brown, he could be in real trouble. Like #3 and #7 on my list, Portman will be placed in the awkward position of running for a Senate re-election and the vice-presidency at the same time.
Five honorable mentions: former Secretary of State Condi Rice, South Dakota senator Jon Thune, former Puerto Rican governor Luis Fortuno, San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer, and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.
What do you think? Did I miss anyone?