Both the Wall Street Journal and Politico have stories today on the rising stock of Tim Pawlenty as a surrogate for Mitt Romney, and whether that increases his odds of being asked to join the GOP ticket. Though the Romney campaign claimed at first it was casting a very wide net for the VP slot, that doesn’t appear to (still) be the case. If, as recent reports indicate, Marco Rubio is out of the running, Pawlenty’s buzz seems to have survived a process that has narrowed the field quite a bit; that alone is reason to think he’s being considered seriously.
And the Journal and Politico stories note the obvious Pawlenty appeal: modest roots; easygoing and personable; executive experience; blue-collar bona fides; and his friendship with Romney. Pawlenty has always been a charmer–in person. But one of the main reasons his candidacy’s value didn’t translate from the paper to the stage was his seeming inability to project his charisma to a national audience. In Mike Allen and Evan Thomas’s e-book about the GOP presidential primaries, the authors write that Pawlenty didn’t seem to be enjoying the national circus at all:
One of Pawlenty’s top advisers questioned whether the candidate’s heart was really in the race. Pawlenty always seemed to want to get back to the hotel to see if there was a good hockey game he could watch in the sports bar with this body man, this adviser said. On the day before the Ames, Iowa, straw poll on August 13, 2011, which the Pawlenty team had targeted as make-or-break, with thousands of hands still to shake, Pawlenty wanted to quit early, said this adviser. His spokesman, Alex Conant, did not dispute this, though he offered a more benign explanation. “Unlike every candidate I’ve ever worked for, he wanted to make sure that there was ample downtime and that the days were not so long that by the end of them he was not making sense anymore,” said Conant.
Mitt Romney is laughing off the reports that Marco Rubio isn’t being vetted for a VP spot. But also isn’t denying it (and neither are any anonymous campaign sources), which is telling:
Mitt Romney responds to an ABC News report that said his campaign was not vetting Sen. Marco Rubio as a possible running mate.
“I get a kick out of some of the speculation that goes on,” Romney said. “I’m not going to comment on the process, of course, but I can tell you this: Only Beth Myers and I know who’s being vetted.”
The speculation is tripping up the Romney campaign’s messaging on the last leg of its economic bus tour, which obviously isn’t ideal for them. One minor consolation is that it also seems to have squashed a lot of the media interest in his immigration plan.
It is a given that the Romney campaign knows it must not repeat the mistakes made by John McCain’s staff during his failed effort to head off a Barack Obama presidency. Of course, at the top of the list of McCain’s blunders was his choice of a largely unvetted vice presidential candidate who proved to be unready for the scrutiny of the liberal mainstream press. Thus, according to Politico, Romney advisers are determined that their man will choose someone who will be the polar opposite of Sarah Palin. But if, as Politico claims, they are really convinced the ideal Romney running mate will be “an incredibly boring white guy,” they will be doing him a disservice. Like generals obsessed with winning the last war rather than the one they are currently fighting, the GOP standard bearer’s staff may be learning the wrong lessons from 2008.
For those picking a vice president, a desire to “do no harm” is probably as apt a guiding principle for politics as it is for medicine. But the idea that the Republicans are best served by a vice presidential candidate who will neither provoke controversy nor give the Democrats anything to criticize is equally as wrongheaded as McCain’s desperate attempt to catch lightening in a bottle with Palin. It’s one thing to try and avoid a flashy clunker. To deliberately seek a dud who provides no excitement or buzz is to ask for a completely different kind of trouble. Even more to the point, the Politico story makes it appear as if some people in the Romney campaign are leaking this information in an attempt to head off the possibility that one of a few brilliant but possibly controversial veep candidates is squelched before the vetting process is even completed.