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:
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.
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.
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.