Commentary Magazine


Topic: vice presidential nomination

The GOP’s Under-the-Radar Veep Candidate

With half a year left in the presidential election, the intrigue surrounding Mitt Romney’s eventual selection of a running mate has given political prognosticators an outlet for their energy that doesn’t require analyzing much polling data. It’s a human-interest story set against the background of the 2008 election, in which the GOP’s vice presidential nominee was a genuinely fascinating political personality and the Democratic nominee was an avuncular, gaffe-prone senator the president is constantly being encouraged to drop from the ticket this November.

But it is highly unlikely the public will be treated to such a spectacle this time around. Romney is pretty much defined by his aura of caution and his devotion to data and analysis, and has never shown a desire to make splashing headlines if he can avoid it. Even when he seems to be dipping his toes in the water of identity politics, there is an empirical approach to it. For example, if he were to select a woman for the ticket, the name that has come up the most has been that of Condoleezza Rice, and the most common Latino name suggested for the vice-presidential nod is that of Marco Rubio–a swing-state senator. But another distinct possibility is Ohio Senator Rob Portman, and the Washington Post profile of Portman calls attention to just how surprisingly under-the-radar Portman has flown throughout his career:

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With half a year left in the presidential election, the intrigue surrounding Mitt Romney’s eventual selection of a running mate has given political prognosticators an outlet for their energy that doesn’t require analyzing much polling data. It’s a human-interest story set against the background of the 2008 election, in which the GOP’s vice presidential nominee was a genuinely fascinating political personality and the Democratic nominee was an avuncular, gaffe-prone senator the president is constantly being encouraged to drop from the ticket this November.

But it is highly unlikely the public will be treated to such a spectacle this time around. Romney is pretty much defined by his aura of caution and his devotion to data and analysis, and has never shown a desire to make splashing headlines if he can avoid it. Even when he seems to be dipping his toes in the water of identity politics, there is an empirical approach to it. For example, if he were to select a woman for the ticket, the name that has come up the most has been that of Condoleezza Rice, and the most common Latino name suggested for the vice-presidential nod is that of Marco Rubio–a swing-state senator. But another distinct possibility is Ohio Senator Rob Portman, and the Washington Post profile of Portman calls attention to just how surprisingly under-the-radar Portman has flown throughout his career:

A young trade lawyer steeped in Republican politics, he honed policy ideas for the administration of George H.W. Bush as an associate White House counsel. Soon, he rose to become the president’s chief liaison to Congress, as director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs.

In no small part since, he has ascended on the strength of his connections to two different Bush administrations. During the 2000 presidential campaign, the staff for then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush asked him to play the part of Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph I. Lieberman in mock debates that the Bush team had arranged for Richard B. Cheney, its desired running mate. Portman proved so formidable that, before the last of Bush’s three debates, he found himself in the dining room of the Texas governor’s mansion, playing Al Gore against Bush. He had prepared for the practice session by watching tapes of virtually every Gore debate he could find….

In 2008, Portman served as a sparring partner for John McCain during a presidential debate practice, playing the role of Barack Obama. A Portman friend recalls receiving a phone call from a glum McCain aide shortly after a mock debate ended. “Portman just annihilated our guy,” the aide said. Adds former McCain strategist Steve Schmidt, who also watched the practices: “Anybody who saw Rob Portman in the role of Barack Obama during debate preps has no doubt about his ability to compete, debate and campaign effectively at the highest levels.”

Portman comes across as intensely prepared, steady, and creative. He has been an ideas man for much of his career—though that may well be a double-edged sword as it calls attention to his ties to the Bush administration.

The full profile is worth a read, and is notable for the absence of what has become something of a staple for the Post’s profiles on up-and-coming Republicans: bizarre, unfounded accusations of bigotry or crude, obsessive investigations that turn up nothing but are published along with a headline claiming something the story never proves. It is, in other words, a piece of serious journalism about a serious public servant.

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Rep. West’s Incendiary Comments

There has been a lot of chatter about Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) as a potential vice presidential nominee. These comments he made at a town hall meeting yesterday are a good example of why that’s unlikely to happen:

Moderator: What percentage of the American legislature do you think are card-carrying Marxists or International Socialists?

West: It’s a good question. I believe there’s about 78 to 81 members of the Democrat Party who are members of the Communist Party. It’s called the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

To be fair, it’s hard to tell whether or not West is joking. His last sentence seems like it could be some sort of punch line, i.e. “Sure, there are Communists in Congress” [beat] “they’re called progressives.” Unfortunately, in all the videos I’ve seen, West’s last sentence is cut out, and it’s impossible to determine without actually hearing it.

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There has been a lot of chatter about Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) as a potential vice presidential nominee. These comments he made at a town hall meeting yesterday are a good example of why that’s unlikely to happen:

Moderator: What percentage of the American legislature do you think are card-carrying Marxists or International Socialists?

West: It’s a good question. I believe there’s about 78 to 81 members of the Democrat Party who are members of the Communist Party. It’s called the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

To be fair, it’s hard to tell whether or not West is joking. His last sentence seems like it could be some sort of punch line, i.e. “Sure, there are Communists in Congress” [beat] “they’re called progressives.” Unfortunately, in all the videos I’ve seen, West’s last sentence is cut out, and it’s impossible to determine without actually hearing it.

Joke or not, West’s spokesperson offered a clarification today:

“The congressman was referring to the 76 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The Communist Party has publicly referred to the Progressive Caucus as its allies. The Progressive Caucus speaks for itself. These individuals certainly aren’t proponents of free markets or individual economic freedom,” Angela Melvin said in a statement to The Huffington Post.

Okay, but West said these were members of the Communist Party. If that was just colorful language for effect, West should say so, but he needs a bit more evidence if he’s trying to stand by his claims.

West may have actually been referring to a document that listed 70-or-so members of Congress as official members of the Democratic Socialists of America, which made its way around conservative blogs a couple of years ago. According to the DSA, the list is fraudulent, and there hasn’t been an official card-carrying member of the DSA in Congress since 1998.

Whatever the reason for West’s comments – joke, bad information, or his honest opinion – this latest flap brings back memories of similar firestorms he’s been involved in. The fact that he speaks his mind even when it’s not politically correct is why conservatives love him, but it’s hard to imagine a politician as cautious as Mitt Romney choosing a running mate with such a penchant for incendiary comments.

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Paul Ryan’s Timely Endorsement

Coming as it did months after the Florida primary, Senator Marco Rubio’s endorsement of Mitt Romney earlier this week could be said to be more an indication of the frontrunner’s inevitability than a gesture that provided any tangible assistance. But the same cannot be said of Rep. Paul Ryan’s announcement today that he is supporting Romney.

With just four days left before the Wisconsin Primary on Tuesday, Ryan’s backing is a telling blow to any hopes Rick Santorum might have harbored about an upset in the Badger state. Ryan is a popular figure in his home state, and while endorsements do not guarantee votes, there’s no denying it will give Romney a boost at a time when he is maintaining a steady but not overwhelming lead. The warmth of the endorsement and the way Ryan addressed the fears of conservatives about his candidate’s moderate tendencies should also go a long way toward putting a fork in a GOP race that appears to be winding down.

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Coming as it did months after the Florida primary, Senator Marco Rubio’s endorsement of Mitt Romney earlier this week could be said to be more an indication of the frontrunner’s inevitability than a gesture that provided any tangible assistance. But the same cannot be said of Rep. Paul Ryan’s announcement today that he is supporting Romney.

With just four days left before the Wisconsin Primary on Tuesday, Ryan’s backing is a telling blow to any hopes Rick Santorum might have harbored about an upset in the Badger state. Ryan is a popular figure in his home state, and while endorsements do not guarantee votes, there’s no denying it will give Romney a boost at a time when he is maintaining a steady but not overwhelming lead. The warmth of the endorsement and the way Ryan addressed the fears of conservatives about his candidate’s moderate tendencies should also go a long way toward putting a fork in a GOP race that appears to be winding down.

Given the fact that Romney has been more supportive of Ryan’s entitlement reform efforts as well as his proposed budget, the endorsement should have surprised no one. But Ryan’s attempt to draw a distinction between Romney and past GOP losers who tilted to the center is noteworthy. As Politico reports:

Ryan told Wisconsin radio host Charlie Sykes that Romney, unlike past GOP presidential nominees Bob Dole and John McCain, is a true conservative.

“I was not a fan of Bob Dole being our nominee in ‘96, I didn’t support John McCain throughout the primary, I supported other people last time,” he said. “This is not the same kind of candidate.”

Ryan also said that his decision to support Romney isn’t him “settling,” saying the candidate won’t “cut and run” from conservative principles if he’s elected.

“I do believe we’re not settling,” he said. “If I did, I wouldn’t do this.”

Of course, Democrats will regard the Ryan endorsement as a kiss of death to Romney as they fully intend on running in the fall on the same sort of Mediscare tactics that they have employed in the last year. Demonizing Ryan will be a cornerstone of the Obama campaign. But the idea that the reformist congressman will hurt Romney and the GOP nationally is based on an assumption that most Americans are more afraid of losing their entitlements than they are about the economic future of the country.

They would also be delighted should Romney tap Ryan for the vice presidential nomination. But while Ryan is not viewed as being as much of a potential asset as Rubio, Democrats would making a mistake if they think they can do to the Wisconsin congressman what they did to Sarah Palin four years ago. Ryan is brilliant, articulate and deeply principled. The more Americans are exposed to his ideas, the less Democrats are going to like it.

Ryan’s proposals may be controversial in Washington, but the Democrats’ belief that they can duplicate the success throughout the nation they had with this issue in one special congressional election in Western New York last spring may not be justified. His presence on the GOP ticket might play into Obama’s strategy of making the election a referendum on the GOP’s budget. But it would also allow Romney and his running mate to stake out a position on the nation’s future that could galvanize mainstream support.

Paul Ryan may be an important factor in the Wisconsin GOP primary. But he might turn out to be even more important in the fall.

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Rubio’s Endorsement Makes Romney That Much More Inevitable

The ranks of those who have any doubt about the outcome of the Republican presidential race got a bit thinner yesterday when Senator Marco Rubio endorsed Mitt Romney. The Tea Party favorite’s backing of Romney is yet another sign that even hard-core conservative Republicans have come to the conclusion the only way to win in November is to close ranks behind the frontrunner. With Rick Santorum looking at almost certain defeat in the next round of primaries to be held next week and Newt Gingrich having basically thrown in the towel, the prospect of Romney as the GOP nominee has now gone from being likely to almost certain.

Rubio’s endorsement, along with recent comments from other Senate conservative stalwarts like Jim DeMint and Pat Toomey vouching for Romney’s bona fides, should help ease the way for the rest of their party’s right-wing to start coming back in from the ledge onto which they had walked during the winter. As many on the right have spent much of the last year speaking of Romney in the most harsh terms, it’s not going to be easy for them to walk back the charge that he is indistinguishable from President Obama and a certain loser in November. But as is always the case in politics, once the bandwagon starts rolling, it gets easier to hop on. But even as he formally put himself behind Romney, Rubio also continued to discourage talk of the vice presidency.

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The ranks of those who have any doubt about the outcome of the Republican presidential race got a bit thinner yesterday when Senator Marco Rubio endorsed Mitt Romney. The Tea Party favorite’s backing of Romney is yet another sign that even hard-core conservative Republicans have come to the conclusion the only way to win in November is to close ranks behind the frontrunner. With Rick Santorum looking at almost certain defeat in the next round of primaries to be held next week and Newt Gingrich having basically thrown in the towel, the prospect of Romney as the GOP nominee has now gone from being likely to almost certain.

Rubio’s endorsement, along with recent comments from other Senate conservative stalwarts like Jim DeMint and Pat Toomey vouching for Romney’s bona fides, should help ease the way for the rest of their party’s right-wing to start coming back in from the ledge onto which they had walked during the winter. As many on the right have spent much of the last year speaking of Romney in the most harsh terms, it’s not going to be easy for them to walk back the charge that he is indistinguishable from President Obama and a certain loser in November. But as is always the case in politics, once the bandwagon starts rolling, it gets easier to hop on. But even as he formally put himself behind Romney, Rubio also continued to discourage talk of the vice presidency.

Twice on Wednesday, Rubio characterized the notion of his being nominated for the vice presidency as something “that’s not going to happen.” The manner in which he said this went way beyond the usual attempt of potential veep candidates to deflect attention from their obvious desire to be picked. Listening to him both on the Sean Hannity show (where he made his endorsement of Romney) and with Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC, you got the feeling Rubio meant it when he said he had no intention of leaving the Senate.

Yet, it must also be understood that Rubio’s comments stopped well short of a Shermanesque refusal to serve under any circumstances. And given the fact that he has attempted to get out ahead of the various smears that have been circulating in the blogosphere, there is still reason to think a Rubio vice presidential nomination is a possibility. There is also the fact that by getting behind Romney while there is still some value to be had from such endorsements, Rubio has, whether he likes it or not, increased speculation about his future.

But whether Rubio is serious about not wanting the vice presidency or not, his endorsement is just one more reason for Republicans to believe the endgame of the nomination battle is at hand. Though Rick Santorum can still talk about winning primaries in May and Romney’s delegate math not adding up, with leading conservatives now conceding the race is over, it’s going to be harder for any challenger to maintain any momentum. Though Santorum will continue to try to sow doubt about Romney in the upcoming weeks, the inevitability factor is now at the point where it has become a serious impediment to his hopes to win any primary, including his home state of Pennsylvania.

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What Can Santorum Offer Gingrich?

After last night’s twin triumphs in the Deep South for Rick Santorum, the future of the Republican presidential race has come down to one question: is there anything the Pennsylvanian can do to entice Newt Gingrich to drop out and endorse him or to just suspend his campaign? Though the delegate math still favors Mitt Romney, next week’s Illinois primary looms as yet another do-or-die test in much the same way Michigan and Ohio did. Santorum fell short in both of those states, allowing Mr. Inevitable to survive, though just barely. With polls showing Santorum only trailing Romney in Illinois by a few percentage points, the question is what can he do to make up the gap this time?

The obvious answer for Santorum is to somehow persuade Gingrich to get out of the race. I wrote last week detailing seven reasons why I thought the former speaker wouldn’t do it. I still think I’m right about that, but after defeats in Mississippi and Alabama, there is no longer any conceivable scenario by which Gingrich could be nominated. His mere presence on the ballot helps divide the conservative vote and might, as it did in Michigan and Ohio, allow Romney to squeak out a victory. If Gingrich is at all inclined to bargain with Santorum then his bargaining power will never be greater than it is at this moment. That leaves us to ponder whether the speaker might be willing to accept a promise of a place on the ticket or a cabinet post in exchange for backing Santorum.

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After last night’s twin triumphs in the Deep South for Rick Santorum, the future of the Republican presidential race has come down to one question: is there anything the Pennsylvanian can do to entice Newt Gingrich to drop out and endorse him or to just suspend his campaign? Though the delegate math still favors Mitt Romney, next week’s Illinois primary looms as yet another do-or-die test in much the same way Michigan and Ohio did. Santorum fell short in both of those states, allowing Mr. Inevitable to survive, though just barely. With polls showing Santorum only trailing Romney in Illinois by a few percentage points, the question is what can he do to make up the gap this time?

The obvious answer for Santorum is to somehow persuade Gingrich to get out of the race. I wrote last week detailing seven reasons why I thought the former speaker wouldn’t do it. I still think I’m right about that, but after defeats in Mississippi and Alabama, there is no longer any conceivable scenario by which Gingrich could be nominated. His mere presence on the ballot helps divide the conservative vote and might, as it did in Michigan and Ohio, allow Romney to squeak out a victory. If Gingrich is at all inclined to bargain with Santorum then his bargaining power will never be greater than it is at this moment. That leaves us to ponder whether the speaker might be willing to accept a promise of a place on the ticket or a cabinet post in exchange for backing Santorum.

On Santorum’s side of that equation, there are two good arguments against making such an offer.

One is that it is possible Gingrich is about to fade out of the picture anyway. Why pay a high price for his support when it might not be worth much in the coming months?

The other is a bit more principled. Having seen what Gingrich was like when he was Speaker of the House, could Santorum really bring himself to put such an inconsistent and often unfocused person only a heartbeat away from the presidency?

Gingrich may also reason that his bargaining power will increase rather than decline if neither Romney nor Santorum wins a majority of delegates by the time the primaries end. Though he may not be so foolish as to believehe could be a compromise solution in a brokered convention, it’s hard to imagine Gingrich being willing to toss in the towel at this moment when he still thinks he might be able to play the kingmaker this summer.

Yet, if Gingrich really wants to remain a factor in the presidential race, a deal that made him Santorum’s running mate might be his best bet. Indeed, one can actually imagine him getting the equally loquacious and egotistic Vice President Joe Biden to agree to Lincoln-Douglas style debates.

As for Santorum, as unpalatable as the prospect of getting into bed with a prima donna like Gingrich may be, he also needs to ask himself how much he really wants to be president and whether he is willing to pay any political price to win.

If Gingrich stays on the ballot rather than on the sidelines, the odds are Romney finds a way to win Illinois and still manages to take the nomination. For all of his bravado about the delegate math not mattering, Santorum understands at this stage, it is everything. Unless he can get his one-on-one matchup with Romney and get it soon, Santorum will probably fall short of the mark. A grand deal with Gingrich that promised him the vice presidency might actually be the only way he can achieve this scenario.

Of course, all this is pure speculation. It will probably never happen due to Santorum’s reluctance to deal with Gingrich and the former speaker’s delusions about his own non-existent chances. But if Santorum and Gingrich really believe Romney must be stopped, then sooner or later they are bound to think about the possibility of a deal.

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