So it’s getting close to crunch time. John McCain by now should be cutting down his big field of vice presidential contenders to a short list of six to eight names. To stay a step ahead of him, then, in order to make sure our criteria and our favorites at least make the cut, we on the outside should be explaining how the candidate should be reaching his final choice.
Without further ado, then, as the final entry of seven columns on the subject (see here, and the links within in for the others), after five months of studying the subject and adjusting for developments, here’s my final word on how McCain’s campaign team should conduct the process of eliminationâ€¦.
First, I would adopt entirely the judgment of National Review’s John J. Miller, who explained why Joe Lieberman, Tom Ridge, Charlie Crist and Mike Huckabee should definitely not be McCain’s running mate. All that needs adding is that if Huckabee is the choice, his shortcomings on ethics, economics, and character should make conservatives seriously consider active opposition to the McCain candidacy.
That said, here’s a caveat: All criticisms of the following potential choices should be understood as nitpicking, because even a mention in this final list means I consider them to be admirable leaders and politically strong candidates. (An asterisk* means these are names that haven’t appeared in my previous six columns on the subject.)
*Choice #15. U.S. Rep. Candice Miller: The third-term Michigan congresswoman ordinarily wouldn’t pass the test of relevant experience, except that she has been in public office of one sort or another for 28 years, with her impressive local-office background giving her a good feel for the daily concerns of the American public. With Michigan shaping up as perhaps the single most important battleground state this year, McCain absolutely must be impressed that Miller carried every county in the state in her re-election campaign for Secretary of State, winning by an astonishing one million votes.
Choice #14. Fred Thompson: The former Tennessee senator actually wouldn’t be bad, despite his poor performance in the primaries. He would satisfy conservatives without scaring anybody anywhere; he has shown an ability to do extremely well in debates when he concentrates; and he would reinforce the idea that the McCain ticket means the country would be in safe hands under tough, seasoned leaders.
Choice #13. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal: He is the conservative rising star in this nation, and for good reason. Jindal is the real deal. But fergoshsakes, the guy really does need some seasoning. He has never stayed in any one job long enough — much less an elective political post — to be required to fight off a backlash by bad-ol’-boys who have had time to re-mobilize against him. And he still comes across, in a way Barack Obama doesn’t, as really young. Finally, the national press will be chomping at the bit to turn a few quirks from his admirable social conservatism into something that comes across as a little too extreme and weird.
Choice #12. U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint: The South Carolinian is one of the leading conservative reformers in the Senate. Extremely bright and principled, he would immediately energize the conservative base. But McCain needs no help in South Carolina, and a fellow senator might not be the best answer in this strongly anti-Washington year.
Choice #11. U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn: Substitute “Oklahoman” for “South Carolinian,” and every word of the DeMint explanation applies here.
Choice #10. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford: Another superb conservative reformer, he rates higher than DeMint because of his executive experience. But he’s quirky enough to make McCain nervous, and he had a disastrous performance last Sunday with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
Choice #9. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty: His conservatism on economics has been brought into doubt, and polls show Minnesota less likely for McCain to pick off than had earlier been supposed. Plus, every time I watch Pawlenty on TV I am struck by the impression that while he comes across pleasantly enough, five minutes later I can never remember a single point he made. He just doesn’t have the “presence” required. On the other hand, he seems perfectly safe and his Midwesternness can’t hurt — plus, McCain seems to really like him personally, so the synergy between them might play well politically.
Choice #8. U.S. Sen. John Thune: Ordinarily the arguments against DeMint and Coburn would work doubly strongly against somebody from lightly populated South Dakota, but Thune has the air of a giant-killer after knocking off Democratic leader Tom Daschle in 2004, plus he has the look and bearing of a leader.
Choice #7. Mitt Romney: The former Massachusetts governor is all the buzz right now — just as about four other people previously were the flavors du jour of the chattering classes. His strengths — business acumen/facility with economic topics, name recognition, executive experience, potential help in his native Michigan — are considerable. But he doesn’t seem to have the “common touch,” he is still heavily doubted by numerous conservatives (especially Evangelicals), and (unless there has been a recent change I missed) he has some of the worst favorable-vs.-unfavorable ratings among the general public of any national candidate this year.
Choice #6. Rob Portman: Former aide to the senior Bush, former congressman from Ohio, former U.S. Trade Representative and Budget chief under the current Bush, Portman gets high marks from just about everybody for his solidity, his intellect, and his personal decency. He actually fits the journalistic cliche of being “widely respected.” On the other hand (at the risk of giving away my higher choices), he adds less to the ticket on all fronts than a fellow Ohioan to be mentioned later on this list, and is probably too closely identified as a Bush family man.
Choice #5. U.S. Rep. Mike Pence: Few people in the country would make the conservative movement happier than this Indianan as Veep. He combines the thoughtfulness and solid principles of the think-tank leader he once was with the media savvy of the onetime radio talk-show host he also once was. His Midwesternness is an asset, although Indiana ordinarily should be as safe for Republicans as South Carolina. But if Obama puts Indiana into play by choosing Indiana’s U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh for his ticket, and if internal polls show that Pence can help keep that state safe whereas Bayh otherwise could steal it from McCain, then Pence should go to the very top of the list.
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