There comes a time in the vetting of vice presidential possibilities when a candidate for President already is known and his staff start finding out what is wrong with all the standard choices. At that point new names become enticing. That time is now for the Romney camp.
For months the most obvious choices have been Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan and Rob Portman. Any of them is qualified to succeed Mr. Romney as President and any of them would be a good campaigner. Rubio is solid on state, national and international affairs and, as our friend Michael Medved says, is the best speaker in the GOP. He would help with the increasingly crucial Latino vote, and the potentially crucial youth vote. A few points move in either of those groups could prove decisive this year. Ryan knows the budget better than anyone in politics and knows how to handle all the national issues that Joe Biden or the media would send his way. He would help Romney win the state of Wisconsin, where Obama now leads. Portman is such a good debater that he has been used to help prepare past presidential nominees, including John McCain in 2008, and while he is not well known in Ohio, his presence would encourage that key state to swing toward Romney.
Any in this group has problems, however. Rubio has a long political past as a state legislator in Florida that would be used against him (and Romney). He apparently also was in his youth a brief convert to the Mormon faith, which will raise suspicions in the present circumstances. Ryan is catnip to liberal critics because he advocates austerity, a political proof that Romney is going to put Grandma out in the cold. And Portman is relatively unknown, was budget director under George W. Bush, and will be tagged as another rich man--more white bread.
So now we start getting alternatives, people who have strong points, and whose weak points are not as well known--yet. Chris Christie is a fabulous, pugilistic campaigner; a bit like Giuliani. But he is also a quintessential Northeasterner, like Giuliani, and while that style is great for New Jersey or New York, which states Romney is unlikely to win, he may come across as abrasive in the Middle West where the Romney ticket must win. Bobby Jindal is very attractive as a personality and leader, but not a great speaker and lacks much name familiarity nationally. Some analysts think an "Asian" on the ticket will sell, but they don't know the groups that make up the so-called Asian vote. Jindal is Indian, so how does that help Romney with the much bigger Chinese, Filipino and Japanese constituencies? It's like saying that Ruddy Giuliani, who is Italian, would help with other "Europeans", like the Germans and Irish. Not necessarily so. Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana is smart, experienced and accomplished, but it is hard to see how the popular Hoosier helps the candidate strategically this year. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota has a fine, working class bio, but his state is not in play and Gov. Pawlenty's presidential campaign was notable for its lack of pizazz. Gov. Romney could use some pizazz.
So, at last we come to the "Hail, Mary" pass candidates, notably former Sec. of State Condaleeza Rice, Gov. Susanna Martinez of N.M. and General David Petraeus. The brilliant and well-known Dr. Rice might well turn off neo-cons and holds views on social issues that definitely would turn off the traditional conservative base. Gov. Martinez, though doing an outstanding job in her state, could be picked apart immediately on foreign policy, the way Sarah Palin was. Gen. Petraeus would help stimulate the conservative base, but actually hurt among those numerous voters who are naturally allergic to overseas US involvement. He would be so non-political as to be non-helpful in the partisan role normally assigned to vice presidential nominees. Suddenly the campaign would shift from the economy to dwell on defense and foreign policy; is that what Gov. Romney needs?
Few last minute choices for Vice President have done well. Think of Spiro Agnew, picked by Nixon in 1968 and later convicted of corruption in his home state of Maryland. Think of Sen. Thomas Eagleton of Missouri, Sen. McGovern's choice as nominee in 1972--who had to leave the Democratic ticket after stories about past psychiatric treatment for depression. Going back still further, an attempt at shrewd, last minute ticket balancing by Barry Goldwater led to Rep. William E. Miller of New York State, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, who turned out to be a total dud in campaigning that fall and had no positive impact, especially in his home state.
What you want in a Vice Presidential candidate first is someone who could become President and who will be recognized by the public as prepared. You want a seasoned campaigner with a quick mind, quick wit and physical stamina who can take the fight to the opposition. Anyone who is nominated will seem novel and fresh to most voters; don't worry about that. This year there is no big obvious national rival under consideration, as JFK had with LBJ or Reagan had with George H.W. Bush. But the second string of Republicans is the best I've ever seen. They all, being human, have drawbacks. Gov. Romney would be well-advised to pick one whose negatives can be blunted, who can help the Republicans and the nation transition to the 21st century.