Thursday, January 26, 2012

Picking VPs

There's a hit piece up on Reuters today attacking logical GOP vice presidential choice Marco Rubio, hitting him on everything from his personal finances to his (supposed) lack of appeal to non-Cuban Hispanics. Among other things, it has him voting against Sonia Sotomayor, which is flat-out wrong (she was confirmed in 2009 and he didn't arrive in the Senate until 2011), so I have no idea how accurate the rest of the stuff that's being thrown at him might be.

Will Rubio be the VP choice? I don't think anyone can predict it; these choices are highly idiosyncratic. As far as I know, all we can say is that sometimes the nomination runner-up gets the pick (Lyndon Johnson, George H.W. Bush, John Edwards), and sometimes it's someone else. But Rubio would seem to be logical in some senses, what with being from a large swing state and presumably appealing to a large, important demographic group, whatever Reuters wants to tell us.

Logical, except as the article reminds us, for one thing: he hasn't been vetted by a presidential nomination campaign. As I've said, that's really the thing that's separated the awful selections (Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Tom Eagleton, Gerry Ferraro, Dan Quayle, Sarah Palin) from everyone else. In which "awful selection" means that they either were significant campaign problems or, if elected, resigned to avoid jail time. There's simply no better vetting process than a presidential campaign. Of those who went through one, only John Edwards really turned out to be a serious problem, and that was years later; he was fine during 2004. VP candidates Jack Kemp, George H.W. Bush, Joe Biden, and Al Gore all were just fine (as were Lloyd Bentsen and Walter Mondale, each of whom had previously sort-of run, although I wouldn't count those races for this exercise.

The problem, for the Republicans, assuming Mitt Romney is the nominee, is that they're not doing a great job of producing a pool of presidential candidates who have been vetted by a campaign while also holding orthodox views on policy positions the party cares about and having conventional credentials. This round, we have Rick Perry, who was vetted but found wanting; he seems an unlikely pick. Tim Pawlenty diminished himself with his run, and at any rate really didn't stay in long enough to have received the press attention that vetting requires, although it's probably better than nothing. Maybe Rick Santorum? He doesn't really have conventional credentials, since those usually don't include an electoral drubbing, but maybe.

OK, last time around. Fred Thompson is old and hasn't been in office for almost a decade; nope. Rudy Giuliani? Obviously not. Not the fringe candidates, or the ones who dropped out very early (Sam Brownback ran? Oh yeah). There is one, though: Mike Huckabee.

If you go back to 2000, you could add Lamar Alexander, except that he's even older than Fred Thompson, and you could also perhaps add John Kasich.

If Romney asked me for advice, I'd probably say that the do-no-harm list is Pawlenty and Huckabee, and I'd be very much leaning towards the Huck. But the other part of this is that if for whatever reason Romney or important GOP groups find both of them unacceptable, then Romney will wind up with someone who hasn't been through the process. And while that certainly can work, it's a risky move with very little upside.

10 comments:

  1. There are some counter-examples of non-vetted candidates who nonetheless performed adequately as VP candidates:

    Dick Cheney
    Sargent Shriver
    Bob Dole
    Ed Muskie
    William Miller

    I think the best rule of thumb is "don't pick a governor". There have only been two (Palin & Agnew), and they've both been disasters

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    1. Don't pick a governor? There go my suggestions. I suppose the invisible primary isn't enough vetting, but I'd suggest Daniels as a logical choice, and Christie as a gutsy choice. But since Romney isn't gutsy, I guess that won't happen.

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    2. Mitch Daniels would be a counter-example because he had Washington experience before becoming governor. So maybe modify that to "pick someone with experience in Washington".

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  2. Lee Sigelman had an absolutely awesome piece on Veeps in the APSR years ago.

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  3. I doubt it's Huck:

    Romney, Huckabee, writes, was "anything but conservative until he changed the light bulbs in his chandelier in time to run for president.”

    At another point, Huckabee portrays a Romney proposal to encourage more investment in the market as, "Let them eat stocks!”

    The aborted ad slams Romney for misrepresenting his own record on fiscal and social policy, then concludes, "If a man's dishonest to obtain a job, he'll be dishonest on the job,'' a comment that echoes Huckabee's recent remarks to Iowa voters.

    And there's a lot more of it on Teh Google.

    What do you think about Petraeus?

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  4. I largely agree that previous Presidential contenders are the best pool to draw from. However, I also think that heavily-vetted or long-term national figures are a close second. Just because Lieberman and Cheney didn't previously run for President doesn't put them in the same camp as Palin or Quayle.

    My advice would be to go with a known quantity. You want the country to feel safe with your choice, and confident that this person could take over the Oval Office if the unthinkable were to happen. You don't want to spend the closing weeks of the campaign introducing a newbie to an unsure nation.

    It's funny - Obama made an excellent Presidential candidate in 2008, but if he hadn't run he would have made a terrible VP choice. I suspect Rubio, Christie, et al are much the same.

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  5. Another tip: don't pick an heir apparent. Primaries are excellent ways to vet presidential candidates for electability in a Darwinian fashion. Selecting someone as VP gives them a huge advantage over potential primary rivals that they didn't really earn and that is difficult to overcome by someone without that advantage. Then they end up as the nominee without having had to exercise real political skill to get there.

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  6. Is vetting more the issue, or campaign chops? If it's campaign experience, does it make a lot of sense to pick an also-ran who failed for one reason or another? If it's vetting, wouldn't people who've had to go through vetting for federal appointments make sense (like Gov. Daniels for OMB, Gov. Sandoval for his federal judgeship, and Sen. Johanns for his cabinet post)? I'm not sure how many of those there are, but I'd think there'd be at least a handful.

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  7. Huckabee has suggested creating a Palestinian state somewhere other than Palestine. Am I wrong to think that's a problem?

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  8. This is an anecdotal observation, but conservatives (especially Deep South evangelicals) don't seem to like Huckabee as much as the political media seems to think that they do. I don't understand why he is taken seriously as a political contender. He's a good TV bomb thrower (you can't hate the guy) but he can't close the deal when it comes to actually bringing voters to the table.

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