While most of us are focusing on the obvious impact Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick might have on the 2012 election, a feature in Politico today highlights the fact that his choice may influence future elections as well. Choosing someone like Paul Ryan, who is not only young, but the intellectual leader of his party, could well set the Wisconsin congressman up as the putative frontrunner in subsequent presidential elections whether or not the 2012 ticket is successful.
The debate about the vice presidential pick is, as Politico notes, something of a stand in for the broader argument about the future of the Republican Party. Should Romney go with Ryan it could mean that the reformist wing of the party will not only get a boost but have its leader put in a position from which he may well dominate the party. On the other hand, picking a more conventional figure like Sen. Rob Portman would serve as a brake on the conservative thinkers who want to help change Washington. The elevation of Ryan could, as Rep. Tom Cole tells Politico, be akin to Ronald Reagan choosing Jack Kemp as his running mate in 1980 rather than establishment favorite George H.W. Bush. Had Reagan tapped Kemp, it is probable that neither the elder nor the younger Bush would have ever been president. It is impossible to say in such a counter-factual scenario how else history would have been changed, but it is a reminder that there’s a lot more at stake in this decision than the impact on this November or even who will be presiding over the Senate next year.
All the articles published in the last days and weeks speculating about Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick or the timing of his announcement have one thing in common: they are all mostly bunk. The rumors about Condoleezza Rice, Bobby Jindal, Tim Pawlenty or Rob Portman are just that. Rumors. Only Romney and his inner circle know whom he’ll tap, and until the announcement is made, the Republican presidential contender can always change his mind. That renders all the predictions an exercise in filling space and trying to appease a public hungry for news more than anything else.
But there is one element to much of the veep speculation that I think does bear refutation. It is the notion, probably encouraged by the Romney campaign, that they view their goal as primarily to do no harm rather than to help the GOP ticket. That sounds like sound advice, especially when you recall the way the Sarah Palin pick turned out (contrary to the mythology cherished by her fan club, Palin hurt John McCain more with independents and centrists than she helped with the GOP base). But though the Romney camp thinks it is in a far stronger position than McCain was when he decided he needed a game-changing pick and went for Palin, they would be foolish to assume they don’t need help. A brilliant vice presidential pick, assuming one exists, may not make or break Romney’s chances, but if he and his staff think they can cruise through the next three and a half months to an inevitable victory without trying to do something big, they have underestimated their opponent.
Yesterday morning, the idea that Condoleezza Rice was topping Mitt Romney’s VP list would have seemed wildly unlikely. It’s amazing what a Drudge scoop and banner headline can do in just a few short hours:
Late Thursday evening, Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign launched a new fundraising drive, ‘Meet The VP’ — just as Romney himself has narrowed the field of candidates to a handful, sources reveal.
And a surprise name is now near the top of the list: Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice!
The timing of the announcement is now set for “coming weeks.”
Speculation that Governor Romney will choose Condoleezza Rice as his running mate is all the rage right now in Washington and among political reporters. Dr. Rice evidently gave a bang-up speech in Park City at a closed-door fundraising retreat. Rice is poised and articulate; a huge contrast to Vice President Joe Biden, who often lacks both qualities. She also adds diversity to the ticket, not only in terms of race and gender, but also in terms of life story; she has perhaps the most compelling life story next to that of President Obama himself.
Rice also has much experience at the senior levels of government, serving both as George W. Bush’s national security advisor and also his second term secretary of state. Whether Rice would bring electoral benefit is an open question, especially because she has not held elective office and it is questionable, therefore, whether Californians would consider her native enough to call their own simply based on her tenure at Stanford. Nevertheless, she has a demonstrated ability to charm the press, and that is a quality that should not be dismissed. Like Colin Powell and Richard Armitage, she used it to great effect during the internecine wars that plagued the George W. Bush administration.
Rice’s record should raise various questions about her suitability to be vice president. As national security advisor, she presided over one of the most chaotic National Security Councils in recent memory. The job of the National Security Council (NSC) is first to coordinate policy between various bureaucracies and second to define policy and enforce decisions when disputes occur within the administration. Rice was a poor administrator. The meetings she chaired ran like college seminars and seldom reached a conclusion. This led to policy chaos and polarization, especially during the Iraq conflict. Many of her colleagues—on both sides of the philosophical debate—speculated that she was hesitant to present the president with decision memos until she could divine his thoughts on an issue. Hence, she let basic issues like pre-war planning and questions about whether the Iraq campaign was simply to unseat Saddam or whether the U.S. would rebuild Iraq’s government slip until just weeks before Operation Iraqi Freedom began.
ABC News is reporting this morning what may be the first actual scoop on who will be the Republican vice presidential candidate. According to Jonathan Karl, his sources say Mitt Romney’s vice presidential search team is not even vetting Florida Senator Marco Rubio. If true, this would be a clear indication that one of the party’s stars — and someone long thought to be at the top of the list of possible Republican veeps — is not being seriously considered for the nomination.
As Karl concedes, Rubio may yet be asked to start filling out the voluminous questionnaires and financial forms required to begin the process of the Romney team’s investigations of those under active consideration. But if Rubio is not being vetted with just two months to go before Romney must make up his mind, there is no way to interpret this piece of information without assuming that either Rubio has taken himself out of the picture or Romney has decided he’s not on the short list. As it is clearly not in Romney’s interest to publicly snub Rubio, the former possibility seems the more likely, especially because at times during the past six months Rubio’s adamant statements that the vice presidency “wasn’t going to happen” for him fueled speculation he did not wish to be picked.
At CNN, Ruben Navarrette dismisses the notion that tapping Marco Rubio for the VP nomination would give Republicans an edge with Hispanic voters. Navarrette writes that the preferred status given to Cuban immigrants is a sore spot with the Mexican-American community, and that rift could become an election issue if Rubio’s the VP pick:
When it comes to immigrating to the United States, Cubans get preferred status. Thanks to the Cuban Adjustment Act, which was enacted in 1966 — or four years after Rubio’s grandfather came to the United States — Cuban refugees who flee the Island and reach the U.S. shoreline have a clear path to legal residency and eventual citizenship.
Mexican immigrants aren’t so fortunate. So when Cuban-Americans do what Rubio has done since arriving in the Senate 16 months ago and take a hard line against illegal immigration, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans have been known to cringe. After all, that’s easy for them to say. …
What good does it do the ticket for Rubio to be popular with whites and Cuban-Americans? Republicans are likely to get the majority of those votes anyway. His value is all wrapped up in how well he plays with Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. And right now, the answer is “not well.”
Navarrette’s point on the Cuban-American vote is important. While Obama swept the Hispanic vote in 2008, John McCain still won with the conservative Cuban-American community. The Romney campaign’s big electoral argument for choosing Rubio as VP would be that he could deliver Florida, and in that scenario, winning the Cuban-American vote by a landslide is redundant.
Jonathan is right, Marco Rubio is far more prepared for the VP slot than Sarah Palin in 2008. Case in point: he delivered an impressive speech on foreign policy earlier today at the Brookings Institute. He even lost the last page of his remarks (every speaker’s nightmare) but managed to take it in stride.
The full text of the speech is worth reading here, but his direct repudiation of the isolationist streak within his own party is drawing the most attention:
I am always cautious about generalizations but until very recently, the general perception was that American conservatism believed in a robust and muscular foreign policy. That was certainly the hallmark of the foreign policy of President Reagan, and both President Bush’s. But when I arrived in the Senate last year I found that some of the traditional sides in the foreign policy debate had shifted.
On the one hand, I found liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans working together to advocate our withdrawal from Afghanistan, and staying out of Libya. On the other hand, I found myself partnering with Democrats like Bob Menendez and Bob Casey on a more forceful foreign policy. In fact, resolutions that I co-authored with Senator Casey condemning Assad and with Senator Menendez condemning fraudulent elections in Nicaragua were held up by Republicans. I recently joked that today, in the U.S. Senate, on foreign policy, if you go far enough to the right, you wind up on the left.
Mitt Romney’s unopposed sweep of the five primaries yesterday brought him that much closer to the Republican presidential nomination that is already his in all but name. But it also will turn up the heat on the search for his running mate. With nothing else to discuss — other than the issues, that is — anyone whose name is under consideration can expect the sort of examination that has, up until now, been restricted to presidential contenders.
The chief recipient of this intense scrutiny will undoubtedly be the man many believe is the frontrunner for the number two spot on the GOP ticket: Marco Rubio. Along with the other main contenders, Paul Ryan, Rob Portman and Chris Christie, his career and life is going to get a going over with a fine tooth comb not just from Romney’s vetting team but from a press corps that no longer has a nomination battle to cover. One of the first shots at Rubio’s credentials came yesterday from John Dickerson at Slate, who attempted to tag the Florida senator as being another version of 2008 GOP veep pick Sarah Palin, which is about the most unflattering comparison possible.
Even after the dust has settled in a presidential election it’s hard to discern the impact of a vice presidential nominee on the outcome. Even those veep nominees who are generally seen as hurting more than helping are unlikely to have decided the contest. So the preliminary polling done to discover which of the potential running mates for Mitt Romney will provide the most help or at least do the least damage to the Republican ticket should be taken with a shovelful of salt. But the numbers provided by Public Policy Polling do provide good news for fans of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
PPP’s latest poll shows President Obama leading Romney by three points in a head-to-head matchup. This is not far off other polls that show the race to be a close affair with neither party holding a decisive advantage. They also show the likely GOP nominee’s favorability ratings starting to climb now that the bloody Republican contest is all but over. But the most interesting findings in the survey concern the impact of the veep possibilities. Pairing Christie with Romney would turn a three-point deficit into a dead heat while other vice presidential picks would not fare as well.
Now that the Republican presidential nomination is no longer in doubt, attention is starting to focus on the next big question to be answered in 2012: who will be Mitt Romney’s running mate? The main candidates for the job are well known: Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rob Portman, Mitch Daniels and Bob McDonnell. But the only thing we know for sure is that unlike in 2000 when George W. Bush ultimately tapped the person running the job search —Dick Cheney — for the position himself, Romney won’t be asking his longtime advisor Beth Myers to put her own name at the top of the list she will be vetting.
With months to go before we find out the answer, anybody’s guess is good as any other as to the identity of the GOP veep. But Michael Barone points out that those expecting any great contrast between Romney and his choice or an attempt at balance are probably barking up the wrong tree. Romney would probably be best off picking someone like himself: a competent moderate conservative who would give the Republicans a “double vanilla” ticket. He’s probably right about that, but the only argument I have with this view is that one of the quintet of most likely candidates is anything but vanilla. If Romney were to choose Paul Ryan, he would be adding one of the most dynamic and ideas-oriented politicians in the country.