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Finding the right mix of politics and principle — and doing rigorous prep work the McCain campaign wasn’t up to.
Having listed a group of long-shots for Mitt Romney to consider as his running mate, we hereby continue a multi-column analysis of who Romney should pick, and how, and why. This column will examine those last two questions — the “how” and the “why.”
First, let it be understood just how important it is that the vice-presidential candidate be qualified and prepared to be president on Day One of the administration. This isn’t just a pro forma, substance-less requirement; it’s crucial. Being president is an incredibly difficult job — or, at least, doing a reasonably decent job as president is very, very hard. It’s far more than mere instinct or mere belief in the right principles. High-level politics, like the top rungs in just about any other field, requires a highly developed skill set and a deep reservoir of knowledge of policy, history, personnel, and procedural rules, among other things. It is absurd to the point of stupidity to think that high-level experience doesn’t matter. It is absurd to the point of stupidity to think that familiarity with the ways of Washington is completely unimportant. And it shows a lack of understanding of both history and of human nature to think that just a year or two as a conservative reformer is an indicator that a potential candidate really will be a conservative reformer over the long haul.
If Mitt Romney is inaugurated on January 20 but, Lord forbid, dies of a heart attack on January 21, will his vice president be ready to assume the office?
Here’s my rule: Everybody without at least two full years in a relevant position should be ruled out. Period. The political graveyard is littered with the bodies of people who looked for two full years to be hugely successful reformers, only to lose either their political touch, their moral compass, or their commitment to political principle, once the bad-old-gang who had been temporarily vanquished by the would-be reformer has had a chance to regroup, re-plan, reload, and counter-attack. Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer is a case in point: a good man and decent governor who bombed badly in his re-election campaign and in every subsequent run for office. Another was former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, being touted as the nation’s best governor one year and effectively in oblivion the next.
Just about anybody with moderate political skills can look good during a honeymoon period in office; what really tests the mettle is how one behaves, and fares, once the honeymoon has worn off. (Christ Christie fans: Take note.)
Remember, too, that the two-year rule is a bare minimum, not an automatic qualifier. Nearly four years as governor of a homogenous state like Idaho might be far less relevant to the presidency than two full years as speaker of the state House in, say, Michigan — not that the latter would necessarily be a qualifier, either, but just that it might require better political skills and an admirably thicker political skin.
The question then becomes, what experience is indeed valuable? Other than my hard-and-fast two-year bare minimum, what are the criteria?
Alas, it’s a sliding scale, requiring a somewhat subjective analysis rather than arithmetical precision. But common sense, combined with experienced understanding of politics, should make this subjective task more clear than opaque.
One thing to reject is the current vogue that insists there is some sort of magic in executive experience, combined with a denigration of a legislative background. We should also reject the “Washington is bad, elsewhere is good” school of thought. Case in point for both: Jimmy Carter. Governor, business executive, Navy officer. Never in Washington. Yet utterly inept.
Was Bill Clinton any more adept at presidential leadership in his first few years because he had been governor for 12 years? No; in fact, the early years of his presidency were an utter amateur hour.
Harry Truman, on the other hand, assumed the presidency just a few months after leaving his perch in the Senate — the legislative arena where, by virtue of chairing a key committee that provided essential oversight of military procurement during World War II, he developed highly valuable knowledge and experience. Yet despite often moving in the wrong direction philosophically (according to conservative tastes), Truman quite clearly had a skill set that allowed him to assert vigorous leadership and to navigate the shoals of the lawmaking process.
Much of this, of course, is a measure not of experience but of personal characteristics — but that’s my point exactly: Once someone has inhabited the realm of high leadership for enough time, what matters is more the leadership than the forum: legislative leadership can be as valuable as executive leadership; Washington leadership as valuable as outside-the-Beltway bona fides. And vice versa.
In theory, I would take a 14-year House veteran who has led the Budget Committee just about any day over a 20-month governor of Wyoming, if the adherence to conservative principle had continued with only a few apostasies during those 14 years. It is the totality and quality of the experience, not just the title, that matters.
Which leaves us, in terms of the requirements of experience… where, exactly? Well, to use names sometimes mentioned, it would leave South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley somewhat beneath Florida’s U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Why? Haley has had a decidedly bumpy ride in less than two years as governor of a barely mid-sized state, before which she served just six years in the state legislature, including as a majority whip. Rubio too has served less than two years in his current post — but, as a U.S. Senator from a mega-state, his involvement with larger national issues is a bonus, plus he served eight full years in Florida’s legislature, including a full term as Speaker of the House. Being House Speaker in a large and diverse and intensely competitive state outpoints being whip in a smaller, much more overwhelmingly conservative state. Anybody who doesn’t understand that legislative leadership is a major proving ground of political skills, and who doesn’t understand that legislative chairmanships are often de facto executive positions, has no real sense of how republican (small ‘r’), American governments work.
Likewise, major business leadership or military leadership or civic leadership, if it required a relevant set of personal skills, could also serve as significant training.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?