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Veepstakes: Should Romney Stay Away from Someone Too 2008?

A new face and maybe, just maybe, that future Reagan dreamed of by everyone on the right would be ideal, but there are many realities and variables at play.

by
Bridget Johnson

Bio

May 11, 2012 - 9:39 am

If I had to make one prediction about this year’s GOP veepstakes, it will be that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will not ask former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate.

The reasons for this are many, never mind Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) wryly quipping last month on CBS that Romney should pick Palin.

Simply put, no presidential candidate wants to align himself with a campaign that went oh-so-awry four years ago as Barack Obama sailed through on his wildly successful hope-n-change train.

Obama, however, is saying at every campaign stop that it ain’t 2008 anymore — in an effort to rally his faithful into the same frenzy as four years ago.

Even George Clooney and pals got the treatment at last night’s Studio City fundraiser. “2008 in some ways was lightning in a bottle,” Obama said. “That’s not going to be replicated.  …That passion that we brought to bear in 2008 is going to have to express itself maybe not in such flashy form, it’s going to have to be steady, but we’re going to have to keep those fires burning all the way through November and beyond.”

The Republican Party won’t be able to fully escape the brand of 2008 rehash considering that the nominee will be Romney, who unsuccessfully battled McCain for the nod. But talk of Romney potentially picking former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who finished in the 2008 delegate count between McCain and Romney before the senator’s challengers dropped out, is very 2008.

The reasons for a Huckabee pick range from wooing social conservatives (the HuckPAC quickly jumped on Obama’s gay-marriage evolutionary revelation) and mobilizing the grass-roots Tea Party to winning the South. And, to be on the safe side, he was already vetted in 2008, not just by campaign staffers but by the media. And we’ve learned what a distraction to a campaign anything less than thorough vetting can be.

But would picking an also-ran in the veepstakes be molding a powerful ticket or sinking voters’ minds back to that not-very-good year? Do you signal to the electorate that it’s time to try again, or time to move forward with new faces and maybe, just maybe, that future Reagan dreamed of by everyone on the right?

Moving forward would be Romney’s best option, not giving Obama a chance to cast the election as 2008 all over.

But what other variables are going to figure in to finding that perfect VP nominee?

Superstar or not too shiny?

Remember the movie My Fellow Americans with Jack Lemmon and James Garner, where the vice president was a dolt No. 2 to Dan Akroyd’s president? That fiction was based on a lot of fact, and not an accidental one. When you want to be president, you don’t want the country sobbing that your veep isn’t really the guy in the Oval Office.

Walter Mondale to Jimmy Carter — failed miserably at his own presidential bid. George H.W. Bush to Ronald Reagan — nice, smart guy, but couldn’t keep the Reagan fervor going for more than one term on his own. Dan Quayle to George H.W. Bush — everyone knew there was no bloody way he’d be president. Al Gore to Bill Clinton (who, I’m guessing, laughs harder at the “Manbearpig” episode of South Park than anyone else).

They picked veeps who were capable, who contributed to the ticket in some way, but who would never eclipse the first name on the campaign signage.

And, well, Joe Biden. You knew that Obama was not going to pick anyone who could remotely outshine the Obamagod.

You could also sense, especially in the waning days of the last campaign, that McCain and Palin were in a tussle for that spotlight, with very different fan bases — a tussle highlighted by nothing else like McCain’s SNL appearance with Tina Fey days before the vote.

But some have asserted that Romney needs star power to get him over the hump in November.

Those stars are Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who has been giving presidential-style addresses and leads the race on Intrade; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who would provide entertainment in debating Biden (shooting fish in a barrel) but everyone really wants to see him debate Obama; and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), whose baby blues and Path to Prosperity excite the base without abandoning the middle wherever he goes.

There’s been plenty of back and forth about whether Rubio would be Romney’s Palin — with the same results. But Romney may be willing to take that chance if his team believes the star power will help more than hurt.

Washington “insider” or “outsider”?

Palin has urged Romney to “go rogue” and nominate Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.). That would automatically bring criticism that the freshman congressman is too inexperienced, but many on the right would hail the selection of a Tea Party favorite as embracing a Washington outsider for the job.

The list of Romney’s VP potentials contains more than a few senators — Rubio, Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), even the retiring Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) — and Congress members, such as Ryan and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.). Cue the cries of whether someone is a “Washington insider” or an outsider deemed to be more in touch with the people.

It’s actually a pretty moot argument. Leading a state still means you served in politics, with all of the Washington backstabbing and deal-making on a smaller scale. Even many of the governors mentioned, such as Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, have Washington experience.

What’s important is how well you did on that political playing field — and if it will help you successfully navigate and conquer deadlocked legislators and some especially screwy government agencies.

A “war on women” warrior?

In this “war on women not really” year, there’s a crop of female potentials from which Romney can choose — McMorris Rodgers, Ayotte, Condoleezza Rice, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, retiring Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. And if he chooses a woman, it’s immediately going to draw comparisons to the McCain-Palin ticket, warranted or not.

The fact is that more women have given up looking for work now than since 1993 (only 57.6 percent of women are now in the labor force), and it would be powerful for a woman on the VP campaign trail to get up and tell voters, as a working woman who has climbed up the political ladder, that this is a travesty and the administration sending women’s progress backward.

With the women’s vote up for grabs and the Obama campaign ready to whip out Lilly Ledbetter and birth control at every stop, it’s worth more than a thought for the Romney campaign.

Swing-state homeboys

Of course, you’ve gotta think strategy when selecting a veep. Yeah, you have to govern with this guy for the next four years should you win, but what can he or she do to help you win?

This, of course, blends with the other categories: Rubio and Florida, Portman and Ohio, Gov. Bob McDonnell and Virginia.

Portman is a good guy, but then you’d have two campaign wives on the same ticket trying to convince the populace that their husbands are really wild and crazy guys. So here comes the Star Power vs. Old Reliable category, and his years in Washington as OMB director, U.S. trade representative and congressman bring up the “Washington insider” consideration.

Nobody’s perfect when it comes trying to find to a truly Teflon vice president. The deliberative process will weigh the pros and cons of the candidates against these and other considerations.

One thing’s for sure about Romney’s selection: we’re probably not going to have to wait until the convention to hear it. If it’s the right person, the campaign would obviously want him or her out on the trail ASAP.

But the reality is that there’s a “pretty significant group of people,” in Romney’s words, being plowed through by his selection team. Romney has said that he’d “want to take a very careful look” at the potentials — vet vet vet — and he wants “to select someone who has the capacity to become president if that were necessary.”

It will be interesting to see if that person has tried to be president in the not-so-distant past.

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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