by Dr. Darrin Hanson (aka “Professor Knowsome)
People keep asking me to do this for them, so here it goes. For what it’s worth, these are my thoughts on the most talked-about people on the so-called “veep shortlist”:
Gov. Pawlenty is what you might call the “super-safe choice”. No one really dislikes him, but no one gets too excited about him either. He comes from a working class family (contrast with Romney), is an evangelical Baptist (contrast with Romney), and is generally likeable even if not charismatic (contrast with Romney). In spite of barely winning election as governor o fMinnesota twice, he is generally well-received in his home state. He would not alienate the conservative Republican base but would not overly offend independent voters either.
Basically, no one has a problem with him, except for what may be one significant issue: Pawlenty’s another white guy. The GOP really needs to get away from its image of being the party run by white men. It isn’t demographically sustainable for much longer. Pretty soon, the large majority of voters who are not white men will start asking questions.
Sen. Portman is another safe pick, but perhaps a more substantive one. He is impressively popular in Ohio, and might be just popular enough to swing that state Romney’s way. As the former head of the Office of Management and Budget, there are few elected politicians in Washington who understand taxing and budgeting issues as well as he does. In a debate with Vice President Biden, Portman might make Biden look like a little kid. In essence, he’s the “grown-up” pick.
The downside with Portman is that he may be a little too similar to Romney. Portman, too, is a white man. Portman also is the son of a successful businessman, with the added opportunities that affords. Portman’s policy strengths are also in economics and business. Social conservatives are also wary of Portman’s credentials on their issues. A problem Portman has differs from Romney is baggage from George W. Bush. Portman was a Bush guy, and worked for him in a number of capacities. The Obama team is licking their chops at the chance to bring up Bush as much as possible in this election.
I know a lot of you are asking who this is and how I could possible put him in the top tier of candidates. Sen. Thune represents South Dakota. His claim to fame nationally is beating then Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Just by doing that, he became something of a hero in the GOP. Thune is generally well-liked and well-respected in Republican circles. He is a by-the-book conservative without any areas of heterodoxy of which I am aware. He is one of the most knowledgeable politicians in Washingtonon energy policy, and generally would make the Republican base happy. He would especially please the evangelical Christians, who feel like they have been taken for granted lately. Thune’s open Evangelical worldview would go a long way to alleviate discomfort among Evangelical Republicans about Romney’s Mormon faith.
There honestly isn’t much down-side to Thune, which is why I put him in this top category. The biggest problem is that he is, again, a white guy. He’s a boring pick, but the Democrats would have a hard time making him look like a bad guy.
The Less-Favored Favorites
(Full disclosure–I have had meetings with Gov. Jindal on a couple of occasions and am authentically impressed by him. Hopefully this won’t color my evaluation.)
Gov. Jindal of Louisianais the archetypal “policy wonk”. His knowledge of policy issues is almost encyclopedic. To be honest, it’s almost scary. There are very few politicians who can make most public policy professors look bad, but Jindal definitely does. If his political career goes awry, he can jump into academia very easily. No one could accuse him of being another Sarah Palin. Jindal is also not another white guy, being an Indian-American elected to a state in the South. The conservative base of the Republican Party generally likes him. He supports conservative issues and frequently out-debates liberals in doing so. He is also, arguably, one of the most successful governors in the country. Given that he governor ofLouisiana, that is really saying something. These would all be positives in a potential Romney Vice Presidential pick.
Here, from my perspective, is Jindal’s big negative. Jindal is horrible at giving speeches. I mean really bad. He seems incredibly uncomfortable saying words in front of an audience that are pre-written. He seems much more comfortable in debate situations, but even here he runs into problems. If he were debating in front of a group of college professors (such as myself), then he would be tremendous. The problem is that he is not good at translating his vast knowledge into language that a general audience can understand. That is probably not good for someone running for national office.
Picking Rep. Ryan would make a lot of Tea Partiers happy, especially the ones focused on budget issues. Ryan is the bulldog in the House of Representatives who every year proposes the Republican budget that goes nowhere. He would energize a large portion of the base and might even bring along some libertarian-leaning independents. Ryan is also very well-spoken and generally leaves people with a positive image after hearing him.
But I think Ryan would turn into the whipping boy of the campaign. The Democrats would have a field day with him, attacking him on things such has wanting to take money away from Medicare and Social Security, thus hurting the elderly. Your personal likeability can only take you so far when you are constantly being accused of trying to take money away from grandma.
Gov. Christie is another potential candidate that would energize the base. It isn’t because he is particularly conservative (how conservative can you be as the governor ofNew Jersey?) but because he is very blunt. He will tell you exactly what he thinks and do it in a way that gets attention. In that respect, he is similar to Vice President Biden, and a debate between the two would be entertaining, if nothing else.
But the comparison with Biden is where we run into trouble. Biden knows a lot more than Christie and is better at explaining it. I think Biden would make Christie look almost as bad as Biden made Sarah Palin look in 2008. There is also the problem that Christie might lose the support of the conservative base once they learn his specific views on a lot of issues.
Sen. Rubio gets a lot of attention. He is Latino, so that might siphon off some Latin American votes from Obama. Rubio grew up working class. He is well-spoken and good looking. He is popular in his swing state ofFlorida. He gives members of the Tea Party warm fuzzies all over. In these respects, he could be considered the “anti-Romney” in Republican circles.
What’s the problem? He lacks experience. We also don’t know that much about him. No one is quite sure what may come out if he is vetted for the Vice Presidency. People are afraid of a Sarah Palin repeat performance.
The Long Shots
The former Secretary of State is the first person on this list with foreign policy expertise and experience. That is somewhat astounding when you are talking about a running mate for a presidential nominee with no foreign policy experience. Normally if your candidate lacks experience in foreign policy, the vice presidential candidate has to have it. Think about it. Joe Biden for Obama. Dick Cheyney for G.W. Bush. Al Gore for Bill Clinton. Condi Rice is the only person on this list so far with foreign policy experience. (Someone might argue that Portman does as well, but his experience is limited to commerce, so I don’t count it.) She is also neither white nor a man.
But, Secretary Rice will not get the nod. At least I would be shocked if she did. There might be a riot on the floor of the Republican convention if the veep spot is filled with someone who is admittedly “moderately pro-choice”. She also has the “Bush” label on her, so that could also hurt in the general election.
I honestly don’t know much about Sen. Ayotte, except that, she seems to be a down-the-line conservative Republican, which is surprising given that she is from New England. Being relatively new to the Senate, she lacks any real experience, having spent most of her governmental career as a prosecutor and state attorney. Again, picking her might give voters flash-backs to Palin, except that I imagine Sen. Ayotte comes across as more intelligent and thoughtful.
Nikki Haley is the second governor of Indian descent elected in the United States(the first being Bobby Jindal). She is a Tea Party favorite and comes across very well in interviews. She would definitely make the ticket look diverse. She is a hero among those who want stricter immigration law enforcement, as both a strong advocate of those views and the daughter of immigrants. However, I think we might again venture into Sarah Palin territory here. Gov. Haley arguably has less experience than Palin did, even if she comes across as more intelligent than Palin in the media.
As I told a number of my friends (although I don’t remember if I ever said it on this blog), if the Republicans were smart, they would nominate Huntsman. He has foreign policy success. He has domestic policy success. He was a successful governor. And, if the Obama team tries to attack him on his positions, he can retort, “Then why did you hire me to be ambassador toChina?” A lot of Democrats I know authentically like Hunstman more than they like Obama, even though ideologically Huntsman is clearly a Republican. In many ways, if the GOP was going to nominate a Mormon candidate, Hunstman would have been the smarter choice. (But I would never accuse the electorate of either party of being particularly smart.)
So, here’s why Huntsman won’t get the nod for VP: 1) Demographically, he looks way too much like Romney (I think they are even distant cousins). 2) Huntsman used to work for the Obama administration, which makes him unpalatable to most die-hard Republicans. 3) I have friends who know both families well, and apparently Romney and Huntsman don’t like each other at all.
And, with that, I am officially out of ideas about who might end up as Romney’s running mate. If you have any more ideas, please comment or email me (especially if I missed someone obvious).