Friday, December 16, 2011

Veepstakes Musings (Yes, I Know I Shouldn't)

There was some conversation over twitter during the debate last night about the strange fact that no one seems to want to attack Mitt Romney, and someone said it's because they all want to be vice president. Could be! You never know what nutty thing a politician might be thinking.

But really: the VP nominee almost certainly wasn't up on the stage in Iowa. Candidates who are outside the GOP mainstream (Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman, to some extent Michele Bachmann) are not going to be selected. Newt Gingrich? C'mon. He'd be just as easy a target as a VP candidate as he is now in Iowa. Not gonna happen. Rick Santorum, despite his Google problem, would seem to be a plausible VP nominee -- but then again, it's a bit hard to see why anyone would want him, especially if we assume that he never does catch fire in Iowa.

That leaves Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. Both, I think, would be perfectly reasonable running mates, at least assuming that they survive the remainder of the nomination contest without hurting themselves. Still, neither seems especially likely. If Romney wins, he probably wants someone who will spark genuine enthusiasm among conservatives. Should Perry prevail (or I suppose if Newt or one of the others wins after all), it's a little hard to see Romney as the logical choice. Sure, there would be an impulse to make nice with Washington Republicans who didn't support the campaign. But Romney, while gradually winning the support of Washington Republicans, isn't really "of" them in the way that George H.W.  Bush was in 1988 or Bob Dole in 1996. Plus he'd be a two-time loser (granted, so was Joe Biden).

But the real story here is that the energy of the GOP isn't up there on stage in the presidential nomination fight; it's among the new crop of Governors and Senators, especially the ones elected in 2010. There's going to be a lot of pressure from Tea Partiers and others to select one of them. It's risky -- my advice to all presidential nominees is to select someone who has already been vetted by the presidential nomination process. And perhaps the experience of Sarah Palin will put a little pause into the selection this time around. Still, I'm finding it hard to see any of the current contenders winding up in the #2 spot.


  1. Huckabee, maybe?
    Affable, social conservative, vetted.

    Of course, I've heard that there was bad blood between Huck and Mitt in/after '08, so....

    The problem with the new crop is that so many of them are lightning rods. Smith, gets pretty polarizing. Maybe a Nikki Haley, but I think some of the bloom is off that rose as well (though that's just a vague recollection)

  2. IMHO, Paul Ryan will be the VP candidate no matter who they nominate. He's one of the few people in the party with credibility among both the establishment and the Tea Party.

  3. The rule seems to be that the veep choice can never help you, it can only hurt you. And Sarah Palin's selection was a hail mary from a doomed McCain campaign; the 2012 nominee is, to say the least, not likely to be as far behind.

    Of all the possible permutations, a Romney-Perry ticket is probably the likeliest. Perry has had his heresies (it's not possible to govern a large state, even Texas, for 10 years without offending right-wing ideologues), but he's pretty good with the cowbell.

    If Romney can find a running mate who fires up conservatives and is house-broken, more power to him. But I don't think such a creature exists (if he loses, Romney is the natural veep choice but he might not be willing to accept it).

  4. What happened to Marco Rubio? I thought the VP slot was his to lose.

  5. To what extent, if any, does attacking the eventual nominee really make it harder to later be picked for vp spot? There are many well-known cases of running mates who had previously said things to undermine the top man (Bush Sr. and "voodoo economics"; Biden's remark that Obama isn't ready to be president; the LBJ-JFK rift; and so on). But the tradition of picking former rivals remains strong, suggesting that there are factors more important than settling past scores.

  6. Matt Jarvis -- VA Gov Bob McDonnell probably fits that bill. He's generally popular in the state, and other than a few early blunders, hasn't been an extremist or a lightning rod. I think he's pretty popular with conservatives, and he's a swing-state governor. (Plus if he gets elected, his lieutenant governor and chosen successor gets to play governor for a year before running for the office.) He's definitely running for the position, too.

    As a VA Dem, I'm not sure what I think about the prospect.

    Oh, and I was just reading yesterday that Nikki Haley has gotten pretty unpopular in her state, and has developed a reputation for massive corruption, so she seems less likely.

  7. Granted, it's better, all other things being equal, to have a vetted rather than an unvetted vp candidate. But is it clear that the dangers of unvettedness override the benefits of having a vp who can energize the base? The polling high point of McCain's campaign, after all, was contemporaneous with his selection of Palin. I can't think of a case where a presidential candidate got a comparable boost out of selecting a vetted vp candidate since Kennedy-Johnson--and that was back when regional balance still made a big difference.

  8. I tend to trust Nate Silver that McCain's polling high point (and drop-off) was a fairly standard post-convention bounce, not a particular benefit from picking Palin.

  9. The polling high point of McCain's campaign, after all, was contemporaneous with his selection of Palin.

    In addition to recalling the convention bounce, it's also worth recalling the brief moment before the external vetting of Palin when she still maintained the image - looks BizarroWorld from here, I know - of bi-partisan reformer (and star performer, too) who could peal off members of core Dem constituencies. She was "in," though the McCain campaign's plans for using her were almost completely overturned by the financial meltdown and, of course, by her poor performance in the famous interviews. I think the heavy bonding with the base took place mainly after the trial by fire had begun.

    The THEORY behind Palin wasn't as bad as it looks now. It just came off poorly after multiple collisions with reality.

  10. The problem with the 2010 class is that it includes some incredibly unpopular governors (Kasich, Scott, LePage), a bunch of tea party folks in the Senate who I can't imagine any nominee would ever want within 100 yards of his or her ticket (Paul, Lee), and some other Senators who barely got elected in a great year for Republicans and will be top targets in 2016 (Toomey, Kirk). The GOP still has a very thin bench after a really good year. Insane way to run a party.

  11. VA: I think the VP slot it Rubio's if he wants it, but Rubio is looking at his own run in 2016 or beyond.

    I think Santorum would be a fairly plausible choice in the fall, he's solid with the base voters to reassure them if it's Romney. Downside, he would be approximately like Pawlenty four years ago. Not so exciting. But the media would accept Santorum.

  12. I don't think Santorum is likely at all. He is too easily reviled for his man-on-dog comments and got thrashed in his last general election campaign. One could compare his presence on the ticket to Biden's I suppose, but Biden was a stereotypical elder statesman candidate still in the Senate. Rick's been out a long time. Then there's the Google problem. Santorum is the kind of Republican who repels independent suburbanites who voted Obama in 2008 but might be ready for a change in 2012.

    Rubio, McDonnell, Chrsitie, etc. are all more likely.

  13. Sorry to poke a hole in your advice to presidential candidates to select as a running mate "someone who has already been vetted by the presidential nomination process," but John Edwards was thus "vetted" and selected by John Kerry in 2004. It took a second run in '08 for properly thorough "vetting" to take place in Edwards' case.

  14. @TapirBoy - I didn't say "likely". I said "plausible", and that the media would accept Santorum as a (broadly-speaking) reasonable Republican choice.

    Also, too: It would have been somewhat difficult for the Kerry campaign to vet John Edwards for an affair that started in 2006.

  15. Who will Newt pick as a running mate? Well, Newt is a southern firebrand that appeals to the older set. But Newt is also quirky.

    So, from a political standpoint, he might be better off reaching for somebody with more appeal to younger, not quite so pasty white voters.

    However, Newt is a super-genius who probably will blow us out of the water with an insanely brilliant VP choice. Frankly, there's no way for any of us common thinkers to match Newt's wise maneuvers.

    I'd guess Newt picks some governor from somewhere, possibly in the North although it could be from the West if not the South.

  16. So to narrow it down:

    Newt/Huntsman 2012

  17. Romney has personally donated a lot of money to Bachmann's House campaigns in the past, and if you watch the debates closely he's always careful to be polite to her, and even bring her directly in to the narrative. Yes, that'll be partly due to wanting to look respectful to women, but I can't help thinking that she could be his VP candidate. She is a lot more capable than Palin, is conservative to a fault, is from the Midwest, and is female: all great criteria, which most importantly of all balance the Romney profile perfectly. If it's not Bachmann, expect it to be someone else with most or all of those qualifications.

  18. After reading this post and the comments, I have to add my two cents. I believe that the GOP nominee's selection of a running mate will be slightly like the Washington Generals selecting a point guard.

  19. I could see Santorum. Veeps often are picked because they bring one specific quality to the table. Usually that means that they shore up some perceived weakness of the candidate.

    In this case, Santorum could could be the nod to the conservative Christians who have a problem with Mitt's Mormonism. Bachmann would serve that function as well, but despite the fact that well informed liberals hate him, Bachmann is just objectively crazier than Santorum.

    I despise Santorum, but I don't think he is crazy. He just holds a lot of offensive opinions. Bachmann has offensive opinions as well, but if you had to pick the current Republican candidate most likely to claim to be abducted by aliens .... well, fine, it's a three way tie. Still, the tie is between Bachmann, Paul, and Gingrich. Santorum is a jerk, but he is also polished and predictable. Who knows what you would be getting from Bachmann.

    It's also important to remember that voters that would be repelled by Santorum aren't going to vote for the Republicans anyway. It's hard to come up with some voter who would be willing to vote Republican but somehow the VP pick (in a case less extreme than Palin) turns them off so much it trumps his or her other reasons for voting.

  20. >Santorum could could be the nod to the conservative Christians who have a problem with Mitt's Mormonism.

    That assumes that Mitt's Mormonism will be a big problem for him in the general election. I have my doubts about that, and I don't think Mitt is going to be too worried about it, either. Sure, a few evangelicals might stay home on Election Day--or, less probably, vote for Obama to keep a Mormon out of the White House--but I think the GOP will have more pressing concerns, and besides, it's not clear that picking an evangelical running mate will do much to solve this problem.

    >It's also important to remember that voters that would be repelled by Santorum aren't going to vote for the Republicans anyway.

    I disagree. There are a lot of socially moderate/liberal voters who might be attracted to Mitt's candidacy but would be vastly turned off by Santorum (the person).

    And anyway, I think Mitt will look for a running mate with some Tea Party cred. For whatever reason, Santorum hasn't been embraced by that movement.


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