Now that the Republican primary race seems to be effectively over as far as the pundits are concerned, they will have to fill airtime and newsprint with other sources of endless and mindless speculation. Brace yourselves because from this point onwards, you can be sure that nothing substantive will be discussed and the media will lurch from one ginned-up ‘controversy’ to the next, often about the most trivial things, with each one being framed in terms of its impact on the election.
One issue that we can expect to see until the Republican convention is the floating of a string of names as possibilities for Mitt Romney’s running mate. This is a media favorite since one can endlessly discuss the merits of a vast number of individuals. Our local newspaper has already started touting local boy Senator Rob Portman as being a likely choice and I suspect other states are also promoting the virtues of their favorite sons and daughters.
As I wrote before, I don’t think that the vice-presidential pick is that important except in a negative way, in that a bad choice can harm you more than good choice can help. If history is any indication, it seems best to go with a safe choice and pick someone who has been in public life for awhile, whose past has already been examined, and whose views are already well known.
This does not mean that one should more or less choose at random. Within that subset of safe candidates, it makes sense to pick someone who complements the nominee. As was pointed out in a comment in that earlier post, Lyndon Johnson probably helped John Kennedy in 1960 win Texas and maybe a couple of other states. But Johnson was already a well-known figure when he was selected, being a long-time congressman and Senate majority leader, so he met the criterion of being familiar and safe.
What Romney has to be concerned about are three things: women and Hispanic voters who have been turned off by Republican policies on issues that are central to them; how enthusiastic his supporters will be in canvassing for him; and how people who see themselves as ‘centrists’ or ‘moderates’ or ‘independents’ view him.
Romney strikes me as a cautious figure and I doubt him gambling like John McCain with Sarah Palin in 2008, especially given that disastrous outcome. His problem is different and rather unusual. While Romney will likely choose someone who is familiar to the public and will complement him in areas where he thinks he is weak, his problem is that his extreme swings on almost all major policy issues, especially social ones, puts him in a quandary because it is not at all clear how voters perceive him now. The problem with having been such a shameless political chameleon, giving the impression that he will say anything to win, that it is hard to gauge where the public thinks he is.
If he fears that voters still see him as the fiscal and social moderate that he portrayed himself as in his Massachusetts governor days, and that this will turn off the loonies, then it makes sense to pick someone who will fire up fiscal and social conservatives. But then those people who do not follow politics that closely and have only heard his recent rhetoric that he is a ‘severe conservative’ may be turned off by what they see as an extreme ticket.
If he thinks that voters have been persuaded by the primary campaign to see him as a born-again conservative, then he might pick someone seen as more centrist to try and allay the misgivings of minorities, women, and social moderates. But this runs the risk of those conservatives who already view him with skepticism becoming even more suspicious of his conservative bona fides.
I suspect that he will go with the second option, concluding that rank and file Republicans will vote for the party no matter what because they cannot conceive of voting Democratic and that Fox News can be relied upon to deliver these people. The extreme nutcases that are so vocal in the party have become so unhinged in their Obama hatred that they would vote for the Republican ticket even if Romney were to pick Charles Manson to be his running mate, now that Manson’s attempt at gaining the party’s nomination has ended with his latest parole bid being turned down. The danger here is that while they may vote for him, this bloc may not be enthusiastic about campaigning for him.
Meanwhile Stephen Colbert has what he thinks is an excellent vice-presidential suggestion for Romney.
(This clip appeared on April 9, 2012. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post.)