It’s important to remember one central truth about Mitt Romney and another truth about the political environment when considering who the man will choose to be his No. 2 come August.
Romney is an incredibly plain, boring and personally conservative individual who has constantly surrounded himself with people of the same ilk. No. 2 is that, after the Sarah Palin readiness to be president fiasco, Romney must make his decision based less on politics and more on competence.
Basically, team Romney’s vice presidential choice will likely be someone quite similar to Willard Mitt himself. This person will be square, but highly competent, and for political reasons, probably quite a bit more consistently conservative.
With these baseline criteria in mind, it’s easy to offhandedly eliminate a couple of popular choices: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). Both would be great choices if Romney himself was not so boring, but he is, and the vice president cannot completely overshadow the man at the top of the ticket.Conventional wisdom among the political elites is trending toward southwest Ohio’s very own, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio).
However, it would behoove anyone who sees Portman as the number one option to remember the degree to which Portman is a Washington insider (current senator, former congressman, former U.S. trade representative, and former Office of Management and Budget director).
Romney’s rhetoric toward the so-called Washington insider crowd has been quite harsh, and to run quickly into the arms of a D.C. insider after railing against them since 2007 would be awkward and politically tone deaf to say the least.
No matter how popular and competent he is, Portman’s selection seems unlikely for this reason. It’s unlikely Romney will choose anyone currently serving in Congress because of the anti-Washington sentiment across the country (my apologies to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.).
This is in conflict with the idea Romney needs to choose for presidential readiness first and foremost, but political implications will always play the largest role in this process.
Plus an experienced governor is probably more ready to be president than someone who has simply represented a congressional district or even served as a senator. The missing element in the 2012 presidential election is populism. Team Obama can pretend like Vice President Joe Biden relates to the common man, but he’s no populist. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama? They are basically both elitists.
Both have degrees from Harvard College (although Romney has more), and both worked in an elite field before entering politics (management consulting for Romney and teaching law school for Obama).
With these two at the top of the ticket, the populist crowd is still looking for someone to rally behind, and a populist would almost certainly change the game in the 2012 election for the Republicans.
That’s why I think Mike Huckabee, who is basically populist-in-chief, is Romney’s best choice for vice president. He is a likeable guy and a little goofy, without coming off as a joke. Most importantly, he could not be more popular with the base of the party. The big problem here is these two completely hate each other (stemming from some negativity in the 2008 campaign), so it is a highly unlikely scenario, but there couldn’t be a better option for Romney if he truly wants to win.
More likely options to fill this role, though less effective than Huckabee, are politicians like Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), who isn’t particularly well-known nationally, but would quickly shed the Bush stigma after people heard him talk for five minutes, or Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), another conservative darling from the South. The unfortunate truth of the veepstakes is that every prediction is probably wrong.
In 1996 Jack Kemp came out of nowhere, same thing with Dick Cheney in 2000 and Sarah Palin could not have been a bigger shock in 2008. But there are always traits the candidate looks for to shore up their weaknesses.
For Romney, this will be difficult because of his natural draw toward those similar to him, but if he wants to win, it will be important to embrace a populist Southern Governor, not a safe Washington insider, or he’s almost certainly going to lose in November.