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.)
Former Gov. Frank Keating, Okla. -- Pro: Tremendous pre-gubernatorial career in law enforcement and as deputy to Jack Kemp at HUD, plus acclaimed crisis management after the Oklahoma City bombing. Con: No geographical advantage; lobbyist for insurers and then for bankers, plus a legal but still attackable record of accepting personal gifts from mutual fund honcho Jack Dreyfus.
Former Attorney General, U.S. Senator, Gov. John Ashcroft, Missouri -- Pro: I have promoted him from my "Crazy Eight" list, for all the reasons listed there. Con: Despite heroic hospital-bed stand, still suffers from utterly unfair media image as humorless right-wing prig.
Former Attorney General and federal judge Michael Mukasey, New York -- Pro: A completely surprise pick, he could really do damage, with great credibility (including extravagant praise from Chuck Schumer, of all people), to Obama on terrorism issues and on Eric Holder's lawlessness. Unquestioned integrity. Con: No geographical advantages, no experience as a campaigner, and of utterly uncertain conservatism on any issue other than law-and-justice.
Former U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, Col. -- Pro: Another surprise pick, this solidly conservative and personally upright political veteran (and former veterinarian) has never lost an election in his highly significant swing state, and has the credibility of abiding by a personal two-term-limit pledge. Con: A back-bencher and, like Thune, is not known for national leadership on any major issue or cause.
(Note: These last two picks in this column come closest to meriting a bump up to the "Top Ten" list that will be featured in the next installment of this series.)
Judge Janice Rogers Brown, U.S. Ct. of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, from California -- Pro: It's not that she is a black woman (although that fact alone might so freak out the left that they over-attack and reveal their essential viciousness, to Obama's detriment), but rather that her principled libertarianism could strongly energize Paulite libertarians, who really do form (along with suburban professionals and blue-collar whites) the third major "swing group" in American politics. Con: It would be a big conservative sacrifice to take her off the bench, plus there's doubt as to whether she could curb her outspokenness enough to be adequately politic (in the adjectival sense) for a close election.
U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Wash. -- Pro: Incredibly impressive and likeable rising star, wonderfully conservative, with a useful portfolio of issue leadership including women's health, child-support enforcement, health, and education. Con: Probably no geographical advantage, as Washington State seems a lost cause, plus as just a four-term U.S. House member (albeit the House Minority Leader in her state legislature before that) she might strike some as not quite yet qualified for the job.
Ten names remain for the next two installments of the series. Frankly, the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of McMorris Rodgers. Maybe the next installment will include her as choice 10B. I'd sure like to see how she polls in Washington State as a whole, and how focus groups in more likely swing states respond to her.
Meanwhile, if readers have other out-of-the-box suggestions (please no obvious Ryan/Portman/Rubio entries, etcetera, because of course the front-runners will all get covered in my next column), please post them in the comments section.
Nationwide, I would guess no Veep choice can make a difference of more than about a point-and-a-half, but in the right states the difference could determine the winner and loser of the entire election, and the future of this great nation of ours. That's why this decision by Mitt Romney is so vitally important. And it's why any reader with a brilliant idea should be bold to act as a "Great Mentioner," doing your part to help these United States survive and thrive.