Stumble over Rubio vetting highlights opportunity in VP selection process.
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Let’s start with the obvious.
The very first president was a rich guy. What Americans learned in the day — and revere today — is that George Washington had a lovely home called Mt. Vernon. In fact, Washington, who began so many of the nation’s presidential traditions (it was he who spurned the idea of calling the chief executive “Your Excellency” or “Your Highness” in favor of the plain “Mr. President”) began with Mt. Vernon an American affection for the private homes of presidents. As the centuries passed, from Jefferson’s Monticello to Jackson’s Hermitage and on through to TR’s Sagamore Hill, FDR’s Hyde Park, Ike’s Gettysburg farm, JFK’s Hyannis Port, Reagan’s ranch (and LBJ’s and George W.’s ranches) — the private residences of presidents have been used to communicate the personal nature of the president in question. For Lincoln, his stately Springfield, Illinois home was not only used to signify his acceptance of the role as leader of the Republican Party when prominent Republicans dutifully trekked to Springfield to formally notify Lincoln of his nomination. From that moment forward until his departure for Washington as President-elect, Lincoln’s Springfield home became, in the words of the National Park Service, “the center of [the nation’s] attention.”
So too with Jimmy Carter. In the summer of 1976 tiny Plains, Georgia, became the place to be if you were a Democrat — with the American public taking it all in on television. Plains became the set of a political reality show playing out every night on the nightly news, telling the story of Jimmy Carter and his David versus Goliath challenge to win the presidency. There was Carter with Muskie. With Glenn. With Mondale. There he was getting a national security briefing. There were important economists paying a call. And when there were no meetings, the potential new president was seen on TV playing softball, hosting cat fish fries, draining a pond — communicating the simple American values that many in the day thought had been lost in the Nixon era. Who could forget that rascally brother Billy and Jimmy’s motorcycle riding sister?
So where does Mitt Romney hang out? Is it that farm in the incidentally-key-state of New Hampshire?
Great. Then the 2012 political reality show should spend some time there. As the summer moves along, let the American people see Mitt Romney-in-command. Burn the image of Mitt at rest in New Hampshire into every televised image available. Show him on a tractor. Show him being Mitt. Make that farm for Romney what Lincoln’s Springfield house became, what Plains became — the center of national attention.
Most importantly, show Romney with those prospective vice presidents. Stop with the secret squirrel business. If the Romney list is, say, Rubio, Ryan, Christie, Portman, Pawlenty and whomever else…. bring them to that New Hampshire farm for one-on-one’s with Mitt. When the meeting is done, walk out to the assembled press and chat — give America a feel for what the next four years might look like. Get Americans accustomed to the idea of the Romney version of Plains or Hyde Park. In other words — the next Summer White House.
Communicate. Don’t make a dog-and-pony show of it, cynically including people who Romney wouldn’t choose but are put on a list to please some pol or interest group. Let the American people in on the process. Let them know that Romney or Beth Myers are talking to Republican leaders, business leaders, religious leaders, and others. Tell them that all the finances and other details are being examined. See to it that Romney’s pollsters are quietly doing match-ups that test the strengths and weaknesses of a Romney-Rubio or Romney-Ryan or Romney-Pawlenty ticket. Don’t discuss the results — just include the American people on the journey. And among other things, there will be no more awkward stories that X isn’t being vetted when he or she is — or vice versa. Because Mitt Romney will have plainly said — here’s my list. Then… show up in Tampa and announce the winner.
Communicate leadership. Command.
In a very real sense, what Mitt Romney has the chance to do is tap into the zeitgeist that lies behind the popularity of American Idol — just as Jimmy Carter did decades ago before the popular show even existed.
Mitt Romney as a political Simon Cowell. With Marco Rubio and the rest trying out for the newest political version of American Idol. Marco Rubio — or whomever — as a vice-presidential Susan Boyle. As Susan Boyle appeared in this now-famous episode of the British version of American Idol called Britain’s Got Talent, hopefully Romney’s choice will leave Americans standing and cheering at the recognition of sheer talent and ability.
But the real reality show?
The real contest for the political version of American Idol is the one for which Mitt Romney has spent years auditioning. And it’s time to use the vice-presidential selection process once again. This time to show the American people that Mitt Romney is ready for his close-ups.
To be the next President of the United States.
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