Author’s note: This is the first of a two-part column, which itself is the last of a multipart series of columns, on the topic of John McCain’s vice presidential options. The final installment will run on Monday.
It’s hard to pay much attention to Number Two. But (as I argued here in the case of the vice presidency), conservatives this year ought to understand that the conservative movement’s future depends on it. Call it the Prince of Wales theory, named after the heir to the British throne: Whoever is the Republican nominee for vice president becomes the front-runner for the presidential nomination the next time around. That said, (and noting that I’ve already written plenty about my own take on the subject), it’s time to ask other conservative veterans what they think about who John McCain should pick for a running mate:
David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union: “A home run: Mark Sanford” (governor of South Carolina). Another good choice: Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. “If he wants to anoint or push ahead to the next generation of conservatives, then he might go to a Paul Ryan [U.S. Rep. from Wisconsin] or Mike Pence [U.S. Rep. from Indiana].” “A single, if he just wants somebody who won’t hurt his chances”: Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Keene’s criteria: “First, it must be somebody who could be president. Second, it should be someone who won’t hurt you and may help you, and who might be able to get along with him. Next, if the choice can patch [McCain] up in some part of the country where he’s weak, and maybe give you some outreach. But if McCain wants to solidify his base, he has to realize the Right has energy problems with him and fears he wants to re-shape the party in his own image.”
Jeff Bell, longtime Republican strategist and author of the forthcoming book Social Conservatism: “My first choice would be [LA Gov.] Bobby Jindal. I think he does the most for McCain through his demonstrated knowledge and abilities in domestic issues. He’s head and shoulders above other choices.”
Former Ambassador Jerry Carmen, onetime key Reagan strategist: “Two choices. One would be [former Mass. Gov. Mitt] Romney. I’ve always been interested in how government is managed, and Romney would add a lot in that area. The other one…is [former Arkansas Gov. Mike] Huckabee, who would go a long way to solidifying the base while McCain would move to attract independents.” Others who would be good: Sanford and Daniels.
Grover Norquist, president, Americans for Tax Reform: First choice: Jindal. “He’s young, he’s got an incredible record of accomplishment in a very difficult state. He has four times the managerial experience of Obama; even though Obama is ten years older, he’s accomplished next to nothing. So if Jindal is more accomplished even though he’s younger, that’s a double-whammy against Obama. Also, our guy speaks very well without looking at a script; unlike Obama, he is AWT, which means ‘articulate without teleprompter.'”
Other acceptable choices: Pawlenty and Romney.
Lee Edwards, PhD., Heritage Foundation Fellow and conservative movement historian: Edwards would not name names. But his criteria were rather specific: “Somebody with executive ability. Somebody with some young legs. Somebody preferably from the Midwest.”
Al Regnery, publisher of The American Spectator and author of Upstream: The Ascendance of American Conservatism: More interested in criteria than names, but the first names he mentioned: Sanford, and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Chris Cox. Also mentioned Romney as being acceptable.
Criteria: “First, it cannot be a member of Congress. Second, it needs to be a Reaganite conservative. It probably should be a governor or somebody who has run something big; and the last criterion is that it needs to be somebody who just exudes responsibility and American traditional leadership. Obama’s worst points are that he is just not trained to do this sort of job. It used to be a key thing that people had to feel confident that the president could sit down across from the head of the USSR and not get hoodwinked. I think there is that sort of feeling again, and that Obama just doesn’t meet that test…so our choice needs to be somebody of real substance.”
Conservative strategist and author Craig Shirley: Sanford. “The only choice. A reformer. He can united the base. He’s an outsider, and he’s not afraid to take on a fight.”
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum: “It doesn’t matter. I’m a believer that John McCain can’t win the race, but that Obama has to lose it. This is not a knock on McCain; I don’t know of any Republican candidate who can overcome the Democrats in this environment without the Democrat disqualifying himself. But McCain has to remain an acceptable alternative if voters do disqualify Obama, so his V-P choice has to be safe — somebody who can’t disqualify McCain. At the same time, he can’t tick off conservatives. The answer, long story short, he’s got to pick a safe, conservative Republican. There are probably ten members of the U.S. Senate, and some governors, who are conservative, who have solid records, who are good people, who would not stir controversy.”
Pressed, Santorum mentioned as examples Richard Burr of North Carolina, John Ensign of Nevada, John Thune of South Dakota. He said Pawlenty “wouldn’t hurt.” Two other names he liked, once he was asked about them: former House Budget Committee chairman John Kasich of Ohio, and current House Budget Committee ranking Republican Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. “I like Paul Ryan. He’s a great guy. I think he would be a good choice.”
Finally, I decided it would be good to move outside the Beltway, to a judge and two heads of state conservative think tanks….
Former U.S. Appeals Court Judge Charles Pickering of Mississippi: Criteria: Conservative, young, and with proven leadership ability. He said he hadn’t given the subject much thought, but that Romney and Pawlenty both seemed acceptable.
Gary Palmer, president of the Alabama Policy Institute: “I would have said Mark Sanford….[but he might be better four years from now]. The ideal candidate is not only a fiscal conservative but a social conservative. He needs to infuse some personality in the campaign, and somebody who will run on ideas and issues.”
Palmer volunteered Kasich and Pence as “guys who fit the mold.” And, when asked, said Cox “would be an attractive candidate” if he would raise his profile.
John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation (North Carolina): Caveat: “I’m not sure there’s a lot of historical evidence for the importance of a vice-presidential choice. But McCain, for obvious reasons, needs to pick wisely.”
“A month ago, I would have picked Mark Sanford, but I’m persuaded that McCain is not going to pick him. The most important thing is, who is qualified to be president. He should be perceived as being capable of stepping into office and running the government without a year or two of tutorials. Probably the best choice is Romney. He was the governor of Massachusetts and an accomplished private sector manager. And arguably Romney has some appeal in Michigan.”
Another good choice: Kasich.
IF YOU ARE KEEPING SCORE, of ten people who mentioned names, there were six mentions of Sanford as acceptable (two as first choice) five for Romney (two as first choice), four for Pawlenty (none with real excitement), three for Kasich, two (both first choices) for Jindal, two each for Cox, Ryan, Pence, and Daniels, and one each for Thune, Ensign, Burr, and Huckabee. Of the qualities listed by top conservatives as essential, executive ability seems to top the list. Conservatism and immediately recognizable qualifications came next. Geography played only a small role in the considerations. Making moves to the political “center” was scoffed at: McCain, these conservatives think, does that all by himself without needing help from a running mate.
Come back to this space on Monday for my final column in this intermittent series on this topic.
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