Campaign 2012: The Republican Veepstakes


Stumped: Senator Rob Portman, of Ohio, seen speaking to Representative Xavier Becerra, is one of several names being floated as possible picks for the Republican Party's vice presidential candidacy.


Brendan Hoffman

Seldom has so much been written by so many about so little. Mitt Romney’s possible choices for vice president have been dangled in front of the electorate for so long that it might create the illusion that it actually matters whether Ohio Senator Rob Portman, or Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, or Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan is on the other side of the ticket.

If nothing else, the speculation about names and timing helps to distract from the distasteful schoolyard brawl that surrounds Romney’s tax returns. When have we ever had high party officials call the Senate majority leader “a dirty liar” on national television?

Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus recently compounded his original insult, telling Fox News that he would “triple down” on the “dirty liar” slam against Harry Reid, who perhaps injudiciously told The Huffington Post that he had a secret source who said that Romney did not pay taxes for 10 years.

Reid himself has some answering to do: Leveling a serious charge against an opposing candidate without proof is not exactly Queensberry rules.

"He didn't pay taxes for 10 years! Now, do I know that that's true? Well, I'm not certain,” said Reid.

The claim earned Reid “Four Pinocchios” on the Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” scale, and a “Pants on Fire” designator from Politifact.

Of course, Romney could settle the whole dispute tomorrow by releasing his tax returns, which was doubtless Reid’s aim all along. The Democrats are demanding it, the Republicans are advising it, and the public, I think, just wants to be left alone to watch the rest of the Olympics.

More Highway 2012: In an Oregonian state of mind

But back to the Veepstakes. Keeping everyone on tenterhooks about the possible VP pick is good strategy, given the overwhelming yawn that is the Romney campaign. Despite a hefty advantage in fundraising, Romney is still having trouble generating positive energy.

We can always hope for a “game change” moment: the choice of Michele Bachmann would certainly jazz things up, and instantly catapult a new crop of Saturday Night Live comediennes to the fore. But Bachmann seems to have put herself beyond the pale with her ill-considered comments on health care, same-sex marriage and other hot-button topics, so Romney will be forced to look elsewhere for some spice.

If Romney biographers Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, authors of “The Real Mitt Romney,” are to be believed, the candidate has a bit of an ego problem that will prevent him from choosing anyone who might overshadow or outshine him.

Given Romney’s much-noted plastic demeanor, that leaves out most of the pack. Out of the names most often bruited about, Florida Senator Marco Rubio is too appealing, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie too electrifying, and Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan just too damned smart.

Condoleezza Rice never seemed to be under serious consideration. Although Bush’s former secretary of state will be a “headline” speaker at the Republican convention in Tampa later this month, she has little to bring to the ticket. Her affiliation with one of the more unpopular presidencies of recent memory would not exactly be a plus.

Matt Drudge has tried his best to inject some pizzazz into the debate by mentioning the possibility that Romney could tap CIA chief David Petraeus for the post.

Petraeus, a four-star general who served as the czar of the military surges in both Iraq and Afghanistan, has pooh-poohed the idea.

He is widely believed to have political ambitions — something he has also vehemently denied — but, since Drudge’s source is supposed to be someone in the Obama campaign, I am inclined to trust the general on this one. The president’s team has limited credibility when it comes to Romney rumors.

More Highway 2012: Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Romney is cautious, risk averse, in addition to that touchy ego mentioned earlier. He’ll look for someone who will help give him something he really needs — Ohio, for instance.

Most experts put Ohio in the “must-win” column for Romney, and conventional wisdom says that Senator Rob Portman could help deliver that all-important state.

The facts do not exactly bear this out: According to numerous sources, a VP’s name on the ticket does not necessarily mean a win in a close race.

Another good pick, although her name is not often heard any more among the hopefuls, would be Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Youngish, bland, and from a swing state, she ticks a lot of the necessary boxes.

Of course Romney could shock us all and make a bold decision: go for ethnic diversity with Indian American Bobby Jindal, try to bolster his economic clout and put Paul Ryan on the ticket, or try to woo Hispanics — an extremely important demographic for this election — with the winsome Mr. Rubio.

In the end, though, how much will it really matter? This race has been deadlocked for months, with armed camps on both sides barely budging. Negative ads are serving only to depress overall turnout, as voters become disgusted with the whole mess.

The wrong VP nominee can certainly hurt a campaign — just ask John McCain — but there is little evidence that the second-in-command can shore up a shaky candidacy.

Short of some major development, such a great economic leap forward or, conversely, another crash, almost nothing is going to change the equation appreciably from where it is today.

More Highway 2012: What’s the matter with Idaho?

FDR’s first vice president, John Nance Garner, famously told LBJ in 1960, “I’ll tell you, Lyndon, the vice presidency isn’t worth a pitcher of warm spit.”

Johnson took the job regardless. So may Portman, Jindal, Rubio or Ryan. Or someone we have not yet even thought of. My money is on Portman, but what do I know?

Once the announcement is made, the news will fade quickly. After a brief flurry of excitement, things will go back to the long, hard slog of the campaign.

Nov. 6 cannot come soon enough.