Fifteen names, to start with, including a Washington state congresswoman.
The great parlor game of guessing, suggesting, and obsessing about Mitt Romney’s pick for a running mate will continue for three more months — which is all the more reason for political junkies to weigh in early, because any names or arguments mentioned now actually have time to be considered and analyzed by a campaign whose research on this topic ought to be exhaustive.
In that light, let’s get started with some real names to add to my “Crazy Eight,” while keeping in mind the considerations that should guide the process: experience, philosophical soundness, and definitely the ability to politically help the ticket. Right now my list includes a nice, round 25 names. Today we’ll count down, in no particular order, the 15 choices who should begin on the list but who, for now at least, don’t look likely to crack the top 10 — which isn’t precluding the potential for further consideration to reveal particular strengths that could vault them to the top of the list. This list does not include a number of people who fail my Two-Year Rule for the bare minimum of highly relevant experience (in politics or in very high business or military posts) — among whom, alas for their fans, are South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, U.S. Rep. Allen West of Florida, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
I’m also excluding people who will be on Romney’s list but whom conservatives should oppose: Jeb Bush (please don’t give Obama a chance to make this a referendum on Bushes and on political dynasticism), Mike Huckabee (ethics and especially pardons would provide too much fodder for devastating attacks from the Obamites), and Condoleezza Rice (her record with Bush wasn’t actually very good; grassroots conservatives would not be energized).
Before beginning, one other note: At least in theory, I think there is an alternative way to imagine a Veep choice. Obviously, one way, probably the better one (as will be seen in most of my picks), is to choose somebody young enough to succeed Romney as nominee/president — in short, to choose the “next in line” regardless of whether Romney wins this autumn or not. But the alternative is to pick an elder statesman, somebody in his late 60s or early 70s, who will never run on his own but who could easily step in as president were something to happen to Romney — thus mitigating the political repercussions of the pick for the future, and concentrating only on the here and now. Another advantage of such a choice is for him to raise a new issue in the campaign, specifically identifiable with him and credible specifically because of his recognized experience with the issue, as a secondary avenue of attack against Obama that the Veep choice can make his own while the presidential nominee focuses on the economy.
Without further ado, let’s list the names, with one sentence why they should be on the list and another about why they might not be the strongest choices.
U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, S.C. — Pro: Nobody in the country would better energize Tea Partiers, and his libertarianism would help bring Ron Paulites into the fold. Con: No geographical advantages, questionable appeal to swing voters either in suburbia or among non-southern blue-collar workers.
Gov. Luis Fortuño, Puerto Rico — Pro: Superb, free-market record as governor combined with impressive communications ability, plus at least a somewhat significant extra presumed appeal to the 434,000 people of Puerto Rican heritage in semi-swing state New Jersey and 366,000 in semi-swing state Pennsylvania. Con: Unknown nationally, might look like a gimmick pick, plus would take him away from his own tough re-election race in its final two months.
Gov. John Kasich, Ohio — Pro: If (and only if) his approval ratings in Ohio have risen significantly by August, he could help in this most crucial of states, plus would enjoy tremendous credibility for federal budget-balancing work in the 1990s — and he has proven blue-collar appeal. Con: Approval ratings remain underwater right now, plus the Obamites would try to make hay of his post-Congress career with Lehman Brothers.
U.S. Sen. John Thune, S.D. — Pro: Acceptable throughout Republican Party, doesn’t scare anybody, and looks the part. Con: No geographical advantages, and has no signature accomplishments in office and no record of highly significant leadership.
Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Minn. — Pro: Safe, broadly acceptable, plus might help make Minnesota more competitive. Con: Uninspiring, and there is little evidence from his two sub-50 percent gubernatorial-election vote tallies that he would really be able to deliver Minnesota for the ticket from his perch in the number two spot.
Former Gov. John Engler, Mich. — Pro: Was a wildly successful governor of a state Romney really thinks he can snatch from the Dems, plus has a huge national fund-raising base from his stint as head of the National Association of Manufacturers. Con: Sixteen years after first being considered for Veep, he could come across as old news, and his post-gubernatorial career on K Street might be a political vulnerability.
Gov. Terry Branstad, Iowa — Pro: Would almost certainly deliver the swingiest of swing states in which he has won an astonishing five (!!) elections for governor. Con: Opinions differ considerably as to whether he is conservative enough to avoid depressing Tea Party enthusiasm.
Former Gov. Matt Blunt, Missouri — Pro: Produced a splendidly conservative record as governor of a state without which Republicans can’t win the presidency, but which remains anything but in the bag for Romney. Con: Strangely declined to run for re-election despite young age and growing poll ratings; and, as the son of U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, he could extrude a bit too much of a whiff of a dreaded “establishment” legatee.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, Mich. — Pro: Like Engler, would help Romney compete in an otherwise blue state, and his record on taxes and welfare is excellent. Con: Despite powerful post, has nearly no national profile, and his record on spending is more moderate than conservative.
(Note: Here starts the four-person list of “elder statesmen” possibilities.)
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