10 Left-Field Names as Romney Seeks Right VP

If this week’s news that Mitt Romney is waiting until after the Olympic Games to announce his vice presidential pick is correct, it would be poignant timing indeed for the man who’s made his chairmanship of the Salt Lake City Games part of his business-acumen platform.


And with all of the speculation buildup — and anxiety in many corners over whether Romney’s pick will buoy or bore the GOP — the eventual pick might as well be stepping up to the podium to pick up the veepstakes medal.

The vice president may or may not have been chosen, but two days ago the Romney camp named a director of operations and a communications director for the mystery veep hopeful. The office is being stocked and the open chair is just waiting for that perfect break in the news cycle to drop the balloons, send pundits into a tizzy, and maybe send extra-jazzed delegates to Tampa.

The Romney campaign also got a bit of free water-testing when the Drudge Report headlined the possibility of Condoleezza Rice being added to the ticket, igniting a firestorm of protest from many on the right. If they leaked enough names, that could actually take care of any vetting worries one by one.

We know the names that are generally agreed to be on the top of the list right now: Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Also in the running appears to be Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose poor response to Obama’s 2009 congressional address is mainly just remembered by policy nerds like yours truly by this point, and who went to Ohio yesterday to hold a “repeal and replace” rally for Romney. And let’s not forget Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).


Imagine for a moment, though, that Romney had a wild streak and unveiled a running mate from left field, someone who had been vetted without a single leak to the media, someone so off the radar that the media hadn’t even thought to ask about this person as a nominee — but someone who had something to bring to the ticket.

J.C. Watts
I mentioned the former chairman of the House Republican Conference on a radio show this week, and the response was as if the heavens opened and choirs sang. Before Allen West and Tim Scott, this former Oklahoma congressman was paving the way for black Republicans on the Hill post-Reconstruction, asking famously in the title of his 2002 book “What Color is a Conservative?” Watts strikes a strong balance between rejecting identity politics while chiding his party for not doing enough outreach to minority communities. A Baptist minister, he would excite conservative Christians. Since 2003, he’s run J.C. Watts Companies, lobbying for businesses like John Deere and serving on the boards of other companies such as Clear Channel. You’d get the Washington acumen and the grass-roots excitement with Watts, with a double-businessman ticket.

John Bolton
This isn’t so far from left field, as the former ambassador to the United Nations flirted with a presidential run himself — and endorsed Romney after deciding against his own run. The timing is excellent to bring in this sage of foreign policy, given the post-Arab Spring crises, rapidly escalating Iranian nuclear program, and failed Russian reset — all left to fester under the Obama administration. While Bolton would fill the bill of balancing out the Romney ticket — bringing both Washington know-how and international brilliance — voters unfortunately have put the world falling down around their ears rather low on the list. But the straight-talking ambassador does have a solid fan base and would wipe the floor with either President Obama or Vice President Biden in a debate.


Gale Norton
The conventional wisdom this go-round is that the well is essentially poisoned for women candidates. But in the year of Keystone XL, there’s a candidate who could seriously get in the craw of environmentalists. George W. Bush’s former Interior secretary, the first woman to hold that position, also has the distinction of surviving Eric Holder: in 2009, the Department of Justice investigated Norton’s past at Royal Dutch Shell in conjunction with leases later awarded to the company, but closed the investigation the following year without pressing charges. Big Oil-wise in terms of Democratic attacks, she’d be the female Cheney. But it would be helpful to send her out on the trail to tear into Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy, the Solyndra adventure, Keystone, and more.

Donald Rumsfeld
Perhaps it was just a bit of wishful thinking after seeing the former secretary of Defense disassemble the Law of the Sea Treaty in front of John Kerry last month. But the 80 year old who served under both presidents Ford and Bush 43 would bring a wealth of worldly wisdom to the ticket, as well as his signature wit. And there’s really nothing else a hungry DNC could dig out from his past, so they’d simply attack him as a warmongering Bushite. Just imagine Rummy facing off with Joe Biden in the vice presidential debate. That could possibly be the best debate ever. Ever.


Darrell Issa
The Democrats and the media would have a field day with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman, guaranteed. But one of the things that endears this California congressman to the base is that he just doesn’t care who attacks him. In fact, he wears it as a badge of honor. And he goes after everything from stimulus waste to Attorney General Eric Holder and Operation Fast and Furious with gusto and savvy, endearing himself to those Americans frustrated with politicians who don’t get anything done in Washington. Actually, an Issa-Biden face-off could be the best debate ever. But Issa is so no-holds-barred that it would likely prove to be a combustible combination with cautious Romney.

Rod Paige
Bush 43’s former education secretary is already on Romney’s panel of education advisers. He’s not so much a politician as an educator who rose from classroom teacher to be the first African-American to serve as the country’s schools chief. His background has something for everyone: he’s a Navy vet, former head football coach at Jackson State University and Texas Southern University, and an accomplished superintendent who closed in on the achievement gap plaguing urban areas (he calls closing the black-white gap in school achievement “the greatest civil rights issue of our time”). Plus, he once referred to the NEA as a “terrorist organization,” which is pure catnip to the base.


Judd Gregg
The former New Hampshire senator — and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee — has resurfaced on the Hill lately as a deficit ninja of sorts, counseling Republicans through the tricky talks of cuts and revenue. Gregg would be more of a candidate for moderates than conservatives, as he was on the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction commission, still pushes the plan they came up with (which Obama now disavows), and clashes with Grover Norquist. He accepted an advisory position with Goldman Sachs shortly after his retirement from the Senate last year, which would give the OWS crowd a nice heart attack. He could also handily compete with Biden on quotables: In 2010, he called Social Security a “milk cow with 310 million tits.”

Mike Mullen
Republicans have talked about wanting to pull a military superstar like David Petraeus onto a ticket, but this former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would also be a worthy pick. Bearing in mind that career military men don’t automatically translate to political men — why you don’t see Petraeus on a campaign trail — Mullen was appointed by Bush in 2007 and served through last September, retiring with 43 years in the Navy under his belt. He told NBC News in April that he didn’t want the killing of Osama bin Laden to become overly politicized in the 2012 election. “I do worry a great deal that this time of year that somehow this gets spun into election politics,” he said. “I can assure you that those individuals who risk their lives – the last thing in the world that they want is to be spun into that.” And since it has been spun into that — with tit-for-tats over whether Romney would have made the “gutsy call” — it would be nice to see a military man in the conversation. It also makes one wonder about all the Mullen advice Obama didn’t take.


Jon Kyl
This pick would rank as some seriously handy political timing: The Senate minority whip decides to retire and gets pulled onto the GOP ticket. And yeah, it crossed his mind: “I wouldn’t close my mind to being a vice presidential candidate,” Kyl told reporters upon announcing his retirement. “Having said that, I expect the chances of that are zero.” The Arizona senator has been a fixture of conservative causes in Congress while also stepping out to try to broker agreements in some of the great standoffs of recent congressional times: He got an agreement out of the White House to modernize the nuclear force in return for START treaty approval (an agreement Obama hasn’t kept), but wouldn’t let a bad deal go through the deficit-reduction super committee. And if candidates are picked to bring his or her geographic region along, Kyl could prove valuable in Nevada and New Mexico. Out of this list, Romney would likely see him as the safest pick.

Fred Thompson
Is there life after succumbing to commercials for reverse mortgages? Considering Thompson’s likeability, within the base and beyond, it makes sense to pull the former senator and Law & Order star back onto the campaign trail for another go-round. As he showed with his announcement in 2007, he’s a Tonight Show candidate in a social-media world — which never hurts in the quest to oust an incumbent.


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