With not much else to talk about during slow summer news weeks, much of the media is spending its time promoting stories they know are either untrue or incredibly unlikely about the identity of Mitt Romney’s running mate. Some of this, as Alana noted earlier today, is just deep in the weeds “tea reading.” Other stories, such as the ones promoting the notion that CIA chief David Petraeus is at the top of the lists that were floated today, seem outlandish. But because nobody but Romney has any idea of who the winner of the GOP veep lottery will be, any suggestion about a potential candidate is just as good as another.
All this makes for a media melee that does not exactly present an edifying spectacle to the public. But whether you think this orgy of unsubstantiated speculation is good fun or just a depressing picture of the state of modern journalism, the willingness of so many to play the game reflects something more than press boredom. Whether Romney is evaluating potential running mates on their ability to govern or their electoral impact or some combination of the two, the intense interest in his choice is also an indication that he needs to do more than just fill in the slot. Some in the GOP believe the country’s economic difficulties mean they are destined to win in November no matter what the pundits say. But the polls indicating President Obama is holding onto a slim lead suggest Romney must pick someone who can energize his party and give him a post-convention bump in the polls that he desperately needs.
The widespread longing for picks that would push the political envelope like Petraeus or Condoleezza Rice is not just a function of the press promoting headline-grabbing stories. It is a clear sign Romney needs to do more than just round up one of the usual colorless suspects who many political observers assume the would-be CEO-in-chief prefers.
There is a widespread assumption that Romney so fears a foolish attempt at a game-changing pick such as Sarah Palin that he will go in the other direction and pick a colorless but seemingly safe choice like Rob Portman or Tim Pawlenty. But Romney needs to understand that although his position is stronger than that of John McCain four years ago, he cannot afford to play it safe.
If you are spending this week doing your best to ignore the veep speculation, you are smart, as most of the stories you are likely to read about the topic in the days leading up to Romney’s announcement are probably bunk. But the subtext to this press frenzy is not insignificant. Romney needs a running mate who can help him win. Whether it is a more familiar face like Marco Rubio or Paul Ryan or someone who comes in out of left (or should I say right) field, the interest in the subject is an indicator of how important the choice will be.