Commentary Magazine


Topic: Republican vice presidential nomination

A Ryan Pick Could Shape GOP Future

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.

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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.

Of course, it’s easy to imagine scenarios in which this picture of a rosy Ryan future is derailed. Ryan could prove a flop on the national stage, though given his experience in the Washington maelstrom as the center of debates on the budget and entitlement reform that seems unlikely. A greater danger is that as a vice presidential candidate Ryan would be the focus of an intense Democratic campaign whose intent would be to demonize him and brand both Romney and the Republican party as villains intent on pushing grandma off the cliff. The toll such Mediscare tactics may exact on the GOP should not be underestimated, and that may explain the reluctance on the part of many Republicans to endorse Ryan as a possible veep.

But though Democrats may be as excited about a Ryan pick as some Republicans, he should not be underestimated. Ryan will be a formidable asset for Romney, and even Republicans who are leery about him may change their minds once they take a closer look and see how his serious approach can connect with voters. Indeed, here the comparison with Kemp may be instructive. Kemp was the favorite of supply side conservatives and an admirable man whom many believed was destined for the White House. But, as even he admitted, he had already had his dream job — as an NFL quarterback — and he may have lacked the fire to get to the top in politics. Bob Dole would pick Kemp as his veep choice in 1996, but there was nothing the former QB could do to inject life into that hopeless attempt to defeat Bill Clinton. Ryan is as knowledgeable as Kemp was about tax and budget issues but appears to be more focused on what it takes to succeed in Washington.

Ryan is, according to Chuck Todd of NBC News, one of the three finalists in the GOP veep race along with Portman and Tim Pawlenty. We don’t really know how any of them will play this fall, but there’s little doubt that Ryan is the choice that brings with it the most risk as well as the most reward for Romney. But if Ryan is the choice, it will not only place him at the head of the line as a presidential nominee in 2016 or 2020 (depending on whether Romney wins) but will give the ideas he stands for a bigger audience. For those who believe the nation’s future rests on our willingness to listen to voices of reason like Ryan who understand that entitlements must be reformed, there is more resting on Romney’s decision than the pundits may think.

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Romney Can’t Afford to Play it Safe

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.

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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.

Romney’s position is stronger than that of McCain four years ago, but he is still likely to head into the conventions as a slight underdog. As I wrote yesterday, the polls showing a tight race haven’t budged in months. But that shouldn’t be considered great news for the GOP. President Obama has presided over a lousy economy, has few accomplishments to his name, and spends most of his time blaming his predecessors. That makes him vulnerable, but Romney’s weaknesses have allowed the president to retain a steady if tiny lead among registered voters and a virtual dead heat among likely voters.

The common assumption among political experts is that in a close race, undecided voters tend to break for the challenger. That’s a trend that puts a smile on the face of members of Romney’s camp, but that prediction is about as valuable as the latest skinny on the Internet about who the GOP veep will be.

It can’t be said often enough that political science isn’t science. There is no reason to believe that any past political trends will be repeated. More to the point, if Romney can’t break through and take a lead sometime during the summer, he may never do so.

Which leads me to the conclusion that while Romney should obviously avoid a rash, unvetted and unprepared choice like Sarah Palin, he would be foolish to assume he doesn’t need help from the bottom of the ticket. It’s true that vice presidential nominees are not the difference between victory and defeat, but if Romney decides to play it safe, he will regret it. A dull as dishwater vice presidential pick will help turn the GOP showcase in Tampa into a snoozer. It will also lead to a minimal convention bump that will be widely interpreted as a portent of doom and deprive him of the momentum he needs heading into the home stretch.

The assumption on the part of some Republicans that Obama is so weak that Romney doesn’t need to do something to galvanize his party and seize the attention of the public is based on a misreading of the president’s position. President Obama has no case for re-election, but he remains a historic figure with lots of goodwill and the loyalty of his party and its base. He can be defeated but not if Romney thinks he’s already got the election in his pocket. Rather than worrying about reliving the Palin debacle, Romney needs to understand that at the moment he has no better than an even chance of winning in November. If that doesn’t factor into his choice, then he’s making a big mistake.

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Romney Considering Condi?

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.”

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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.”

Ann Romney did say her husband was considering a female candidate, though the initial assumption at the time was that she was referring to Sen. Kelly Ayotte. Sure, Condoleezza has come up in the VP speculation, but it never seemed like a serious consideration for either side. Plus, Condi shut down rumors pretty thoroughly late last month:

Rice told “CBS This Morning” she’s not interested in joining Romney, who has more than enough delegates to win the presidential nod at the party convention in Tampa.

Rice said, “I didn’t run for student council president. I don’t see myself in any way in elective office.”

Rice also said, “There is no way that I will do this because it’s really not me. I know my strengths and weaknesses.” She said Romney will pick a strong running mate and she’ll support the ticket.

That was a pretty straightforward rejection. But it’s always possible she could change her mind, a la Chris Christie.

At the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol stops short of endorsing the idea, but seems to think Condi’s a possibility:

Who’s the woman? It could be Kelly Ayotte or New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez. But as much as I like both of them, I suspect Mitt Romney will see them as risky picks, lacking sufficient high-level government experience to unequivocally answer the question of whether they’d be qualified to take over. No, the woman Ann Romney likely has in mind is Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state.

Rice wowed the crowd—and seemed to impress Mitt Romney, who was standing beside her—when she spoke in a featured role at a Romney campaign event two weeks ago in Park City, Utah. Rice is qualified, would be a poised (if novice) candidate, and would complement Romney in terms of area of expertise, gender (obviously!), and life experience. Rice offers an unusual combination of being at once a reassuring pick (she served at the highest levels of the federal government for eight years) and an exciting one.

What’s more, while the other VP possibilities have decent but middling favorable/unfavorable ratings (and are mostly unknown), Rice’s favorable/unfavorable, according to a Rasmussen poll a couple of months ago, is a pretty staggering 66-24. Rice has said she’s not interested—but Dick Cheney said he wasn’t interested at this point in 2000.

There would be many benefits of choosing Rice (particularly the “exciting” but “reassuring” qualities that Kristol notes), but she also carries her own risks. She has little practice on the campaign trail, and Romney seems to want someone who is capable of campaigning independently. It’s hard to tell at this point if Rice is a serious consideration for Romney, or if this is a way to change the subject during a difficult week for the campaign.

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Reservations About Rice

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.

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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.

While Rice will be great at advocating for Romney’s record, behind the scenes she may once again sow the seeds of rebellion. Bush administration officials used to joke that Rice’s personnel picks represented 2004 Democratic challenger John Kerry’s farm team. She appointed a number of officials—Flynt Leverett, Hillary Mann, and Rand Beers, to name just a few—who may be very competent in their fields of expertise—but used the credibility gained from their perch in the Old Executive Office Building to work against the Bush agenda both privately and then publicly, often directly on behalf of Kerry.

So, Rice was not a great administrator, but the job of the vice president is not to run bureaucracy, so perhaps Romney will forgive her. He should, however, worry about her instincts given her lead on the North Korea issue. In the waning days of the Bush administration, with both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars going poorly, Rice was desperate to leave Bush with a foreign policy legacy about which he could brag. Somewhat arbitrarily, she chose North Korea to be that issue, and almost single handedly pushed reconciliation with North Korea through the bureaucracy, regardless of North Korean behavior. For example, she led the drive to lift North Korea’s state sponsor of terror designation, even though, according to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, Pyongyang was still aiding the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and Hezbollah in Lebanon (where North Korean engineers have helped Hezbollah build their network of underground tunnels and arms caches). Like Madeleine Albright before her, Rice’s outreach to the Dear Leader was poorly conceived and motivated, and did little but to cede America’s strategic leverage and make North Korea more dangerous.

This election will not be about foreign policy. The repairs Romney will need to make to the American economy and defense must begin on day one. Rice is a talented individual, and her voice as a senior statesman is one that should be listened to, but her track record of management, while at the National Security Council, and her policy decisions while secretary of state are both topics which she has never adequately addressed.

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If Rubio’s Out, an Explanation is Necessary

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.

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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.

Rubio seemed to back off his more Shermanesque statements about being selected in recent months, leading some observers to wonder whether his earlier negativity about the nomination was mere posturing so as to not seem too eager. But if Rubio is really not even being asked to go through the routine preliminaries of the search, that has to mean either the senator or Romney has made a decision.

The Republican vice presidential nomination is the last piece of this year’s election puzzle to be filled in. The closer we get to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, the more intense the focus on the search will be. The mere appearance of some vice presidential possibilities on Romney’s Middle West bus tour is being treated as nothing less than an open audition for the role of running mate. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, Wisconsin’s Rep. Paul Ryan, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and Rubio are all supposed to take their turns on the bus.

Whether the tour is actually part of a trial run whereby Romney discovers whether he can bond with the various hopefuls or just a noisy distraction from the actual search going on outside of the glare of the political bright lights is yet to be seen. But whether the road show is more of a charade than a real audition, it is curious that Rubio would not be paid the courtesy of a vetting even if Romney is sure he will go in another direction. The senator is clearly a rising star within the party and the subject of so much attention on the vice presidency.

Why either Rubio or Romney have made this decision is a question that may be as interesting as the actual name of the nominee. Because Rubio is still a relative newcomer on the national stage, this story will increase the rumor mongering about the senator and lead some to wonder whether there is some real impediment to his presence on the GOP ticket. That means that despite the blanket of official silence about the search from the Romney camp, somebody is going to have say something about Rubio’s suitability if for no other reason than to avoid the impression that the leading Republican Hispanic is not being ill-treated.

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Rubio and the Mexican-American Vote

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.

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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.

Rubio is a strong candidate and there are plenty of other reasons for Romney to consider him. He’s charismatic, serious, bridges the conservative grassroots and the Republican establishment, and has a compelling personal narrative. Of course, there are plenty of other potential VP choices out there with comparable qualities. As Karl Rove argued persuasively in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, choosing the best person for the job should outweigh political considerations when picking a VP. Rubio’s ability to help Republicans make inroads with the Hispanic vote shouldn’t be the chief factor in the equation.

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Rubio Blasts Republican Isolationists

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.

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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.

The far-left and far-right don’t just agree on the embrace of American decline, but also on the other problematic attitudes that tend to go along with isolationism and non-interventionism, including antipathy toward Israel and indifference to human rights in other countries. As a young senator elected with Tea Party support, Rubio is in a prime position to rebut creeping isolationism/non-interventionism among the conservative grassroots.

Rubio gave a broad outline of his vision for U.S. foreign policy, which is heavily influenced by Robert Kagan’s arguments on the myth of American decline (Kagan has also advised Romney on foreign policy). Rubio spoke passionately about human rights and called the spread of political and economic freedom across the world “a vital interest” for the U.S. He acknowledged that working in coalitions with other countries is often helpful, but added that these coalitions are most successful when the U.S. takes the lead. And he argued that if military action needs to be used against Iran, then Israel shouldn’t be left to shoulder the burden on its own.

Still, this is a speech that Rubio could have delayed for a few months. The fact that he decided to give it today, at the height of speculation over his possible VP nod, seems to indicate that he’s either interested in the job, or just wants to give the impression that he is.

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Rubio’s No Cheney, But He’s Also Not Palin

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.

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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.

According to Dickerson, Rubio is similar to Palin in that he hasn’t any executive experience. Therefore, because Romney is running on the issue of competence, Rubio’s presence on the ticket will undermine the Republican campaign. Of course, it should be pointed out that Palin actually had a lot more executive experience (both as mayor of Wasilla and her 19 months on the job as governor of Alaska when John McCain tapped her for the nomination) than Rubio. But the problem with this argument is the issue with Palin was not so much her relatively thin resume (though not when compared to Barack Obama) but her lack of comfort discussing the major issues of the day in depth and at length. Rubio is a relative newcomer, but he is not someone who will flame out and play the fool in a one-on-one interview with Katie Couric.

Rubio may not be the second coming of Dick Cheney — a man who was picked to run with George W. Bush because of his extensive Washington resume and ability to govern — but he is ready to debate on the national stage, something that, for all of her considerable political gifts, Sarah Palin was not prepared to do in 2008.

But Dickerson is on to something when he hones in on Romney’s obvious desire to have someone run with him who has executive experience or at least possesses the ability to approach the issues with the same systematic method Romney prized during his business career. If that is what Romney is looking for — and Cheney is right when he says the priority should not be on superficial political advantages that might attach to possible running mates — then the edge will go to the only sitting governor on the presumed short list: Chris Christie.

However, the other two main contenders also bring something to the table in this regard that should not be discounted. As the chairman of the House Budget Committee and the architect of the Republican proposals for entitlement reform, Ryan clearly has the vision and the understanding of how the federal government works to help Romney govern. And Portman, who currently sits in the Senate but was George W. Bush’s budget director, has the same sort of credential. But both also have negatives attached to their resumes. Ryan is considered radioactive to some because of the way Democrats have demonized his proposals, and Portman’s service in the last administration will link Romney to Bush.

Dickerson is also right to discount the edge that Rubio would bring with Hispanic voters. As I wrote yesterday, most of what is assumed by pundits about that is probably untrue.

As for Rubio, the jury is still out on whether his efforts to tamp down speculation about his candidacy were genuine. He had me convinced when he repeatedly said that “it wasn’t going to happen,” which sounded like he had a reason why he didn’t want to run (or why Romney shouldn’t pick him) rather than the usual coyness that we expect from vice presidential contenders. But his recent efforts aimed at self-promotion as well as a memorable Freudian slip about the subject have left me thinking maybe he wants it after all.

In the first century of the history of this republic, it was customary for presidential contenders to pretend they weren’t candidates and bad form to do anything that could be construed as campaigning for the job. But though that silly masquerade is no longer part of the presidential election process, it is retained for would-be vice presidents. But we’d all be better off if there was more candor about the veep search.

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Does Christie Help Romney the Most?

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.

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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.

Of the others polled, Jeb Bush comes closest to Christie with a result that would be only a one-point edge for Obama. Both Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee would produce a two-point win for Obama.

All of the others polled would increase the GOP’s problems. Ron Paul is shown as creating a four-point loss. Paul Ryan would make it five, Marco Rubio six and Sarah Palin comes in last with a seven-point disadvantage.

Given the fact that some of these people are better known than others, one shouldn’t give any of these figures too much weight. Common sense dictates that a lightening rod like Santorum would wind up being a much bigger problem for Romney than a less controversial pick. And an outlier like Ron Paul could single-handedly generate a Democratic landslide in November. That is why Romney would never consider him or Santorum. And the less said about a rerun of a Sarah Palin candidacy the better.

Ryan and Rubio each have strengths that would only register once they are better known. And it should be noted that one man who is all but certain to be on Romney’s short list of nominees — Ohio Senator Rob Portman — wasn’t even included in the survey.

Nevertheless, the numbers pointing to an edge for a Romney-Christie ticket will not go unread in Republican councils. The New Jersey governor remains a hot commodity in political circles, and while it is unlikely that even he could help flip the Garden State to the Republicans this fall, his dynamism is a factor that could give some much needed oomph to the GOP ticket.

That said, Republicans would be well-advised to concentrate their attention on building up the top of ticket rather than worrying about the bottom. No vice presidential nominee has ever won a presidential election, and this year’s contest isn’t likely to be the first.

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How Vanilla Are the GOP Veep Hopefuls?

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.

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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.

Analyzing this list, I agree with Barone that Marco Rubio should be taken at his word. If Rubio says that running with Romney “isn’t going to happen,” I assume that is going to be the case. Moreover, as Barone points out, the idea that Romney must have a Hispanic on the ticket to win is overblown. It certainly wouldn’t hurt, but it won’t make the difference between winning and losing.

Looking at the other four, both Daniels and McDonnell bring a lot of competence and intelligence to the ticket but not much in the way of charisma. Despite being as dull as dishwater, Daniels remains the idol of many conservative ideologues, but the same reasons that caused him to stay out of the presidential race are likely to keep him off of Romney’s ticket. McDonnell would help the Republicans take back Virginia, a key swing state, which will be a not insignificant factor in his favor.

In recent weeks, there’s been something of a boomlet for Portman. The senator from Ohio has the perfect background to appeal to a technocrat like Romney. As a former budget director and trade representative, he has the knowledge of key areas of economics that will be Romney’s priority if he gets to the White House. And though it’s not clear that he could ensure a Republican victory in Ohio, anything that would put that state back in the GOP column would weigh heavily on his behalf.

Paul Ryan also should appeal to Romney’s inner policy wonk. Ryan is his party’s leader on budget and tax issues and a powerful voice for reform of entitlements. Barone thinks his role, as chairman of the House Budget Committee, is so essential to the passage of any future legislation in a Romney administration that it constitutes the most powerful argument against him being picked to run for vice president.

But Ryan’s leadership on issues of substance also makes him something of a lightening rod for Republicans. Whether or not he winds up on the ticket, he will be an issue in the general election. Democrats will seek to demonize his reformist agenda and brand Romney as being as willing to destroy Medicaid as they claim Ryan is. To some that constitutes a powerful reason not to choose him, but if Romney is looking for a game changing choice for vice president, Ryan is the man.

For those who recall the last time a GOP candidate picked a “game changing” vice presidential nominee, rest assured that Ryan is no Sarah Palin. He’s among the smartest people in Washington and used to the give and take of debate in the big leagues of American politics.

Though all of the other potential veeps bring a lot to the table, Ryan is the top ideas person in his party and a perfect foil to Romney in the sense that he can’t be accused of flip-flopping on his principles. Far from hiding him in a congressional corner, Republicans would be well advised to put him center stage where he can wage the battle for conservative principles in the limelight. Ryan may be controversial, but he’s anything but vanilla, and that may be exactly what Romney needs.

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