It has been a slow news week in the campaign. And so the media has turned to speculation about who Mitt Romney should pick as his vice-presidential running mate. Movement conservatives have fixated on two options: Congressman Paul Ryan, the budget wunderkind and Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal.
The other likely candidates are former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and New Jersey governor Chris Christie.
No one has the inside track yet on who Romney will pick. There’s an app for that. And he may pick any of the above or even someone off list.
But I think the correct pick–if the goal is winning–is Tim Pawlenty. More on why in a moment. I don’t endorse Pawlenty, and his addition to the ticket would actually make me more hostile to the ticket. Of all the candidates in this year’s Republican primary he was the most sold-out on Bush’s articulation of neoconservatism: that America’s global interests and its democratic values are aligned. My views do not reflect those of a majority of voters.
As Ross Douthat has pointed out, Paul Ryan and Bobby Jindal almost exclusively address the concerns that movement conservatives have about a Romney presidency. They are not going to reassure independent voters. I do think Ryan is good in the media, likeable. But if you like Paul Ryan’s budget reforms, you should want him leading that fight in the House, not exposed on the national campaign trail where the Democrats will tie cuts to Medicare into a narrative about Romney’s vulture capitalism, stroking fears about the complete annhiliation of the American middle-class.
Bobby Jindal is simply not a very good speaker. He has an interesting pedigree, but even with his qualifications he comes across as green nationally. I don’t know how to put it more nicely: he has no charisma.
Chris Christie’s selection would potentially put the most interesting political type at the bottom of the challenger’s ticket. That didn’t work out last time. It would also inspire weeks of media stories about whether it is responsible to have a morbidly obese vice-president. Followed by a derecho of conservative backlash about how mean and wrong it is to talk about it. Simultaneously we’d see very well-edited clips of Chris Christie berating people and looking like a bully. I don’t think that is the kind of newscycle the Romney campaign wants.
The case for a Florida or Ohio pick is strong. The GOP ticket probably has to win both states to win. Portman is the quintessential “boring white guy,” normally a good strategy when you’re trying to project competent management. Portman may be too boring.
Rubio is a fine and effective speaker. But he is suspected of not really being fothright about his personal biography, or not even knowing it. There have been questions about when his parents actually immigrated from Cuba and why and also what religion he actually believes and practices. You want to avoid “Who is the real Rubio?” ads.
I think Pawlenty hits the sweet-spot. Movement conservatives recognize him as one of their own, but he doesn’t alienate independents. He is an Evangelical. He was the governor of a large purple state. He has middle and working-class roots, meaning the GOP wouldn’t be running an all plutocrat ticket. He is the candidate best-positioned to speak to the kind of voters Romney needs to convince: the white working class from Scranton through Iowa. He can almost match Joe Biden’s appeal to that bloc. Pawlenty has also been a dutiful and effective Romney surrogate since dropping out of the race.
Let’s answer the objections. Pawlenty ran a lackluster presidential campaign. So have other effective VP choices like George H. W. Bush and Lyndon Baines Johnson. Pawlenty is yesterday’s news. That’s right, he’s established and sort of vetted already. Vice presidents need to be attack dogs and he backed off of using the word “Obamney-care” in a debate. True enough, but Pawlenty understood that going negative in a crowded primary field was extremely risky. He wisely didn’t burn his bridges with Romney. He is perfectly free to go at Obama.
So there you have it. I’m not particularly fond of Pawlenty, and would slightly dread his ascendence to the presidency. But he’s the correct choice.