When was the last time that a nominee for President chose a good running mate? I am somewhat embarrassed that this question has not occurred to me before now. Let's look at the record. The last two Presidents got stuck with Joe Biden and Dick Cheney. Conservatives may admire Cheney for his council as VP, but it is hard to argue that he was anything other than a burden politically. As for Joe Biden, it is very hard to estimate his influence in the current White House. Politically, he has been a frequent embarrassment. Just ask yourself: when is the last time you have seen him lately?
Looking back at the losers over the same period, we have Sarah Palin, John Edwards, and Joe Liebermann. We now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that John Edwards was a disaster waiting to happen. Thanks to the protection of a sympathetic press, this scoundrel came perilously close to the Oval Office. Palin was a disaster that did happen, at least to John McCain. Maybe she was badly handled, but it is hard to think that she was not a very bad fit for the job. Joe Liebermann is the only one of the five who wasn't a drag as a running mate and might have been a good Veep and maybe even a good President. Of course, his own party tried to sabotage his reelection to the Senate. I am not sure whether that weakens the case for him or strengthens it.
Going back a bit further, we have Al Gore, Jack Kemp, Dan Quayle, and Lloyd Bentsen. That's a much better run: three serviceable picks and one disaster. Quayle was not ready for prime time and was dead weight. Kemp and Bentsen were good enough. Indeed, Bentsen was a lot better than the candidate Dukakis. It's hard to fault the choice of Al Gore. He was not a drag and won the popular vote in his bid for the White House.
That is a pretty mixed record: four reasonably good choices and five obvious mistakes. It is especially troubling when you consider that when a major party nominee picks a running mate, he comes as any one person ever comes to choosing the next president.
Rumor has it that Mitt Romney will announce his choice this weekend. Here is the shortlist, in no order, if the media is right:
- Rob Portman (Senate-Ohio)
- Marko Rubio (Senate-Florida)
- Tim Pawlenty (former Governor-Minnesota)
- Paul Ryan (US Rep-Wisconsin).
There are three obvious ways to divide this list. One is by disaster-detector. None of these choices look like Sarah Palin. Rubio is probably the least vetted, but he looks solid.
Another is by "swing state" influence. If it comes down to counting electoral votes, Portman and Rubio might make the difference. If Romney is counting on Wisconsin, he is probably counted out.
Finally, there is the choice between safe and daring. Portman and Pawlenty look safe. Rubio is daring. He might help Romney with the Hispanic vote. More plausibly, he might help Romney with independents or crossover Democrats who want to believe that Romney is a big tent kind of guy.
Paul Ryan would be the most daring choice of all. Ryan is a very articulate, personable, and intelligent politician. He looks good on camera. He is also the author of the Ryan Plan. That involves terrible risks. The Obama campaign will run hundreds of ads showing Romney/Ryan pushing grandma over the cliff.
It would also mean that Romney has decided to make this election about the real problem that faces these United States. Whatever you think of the Ryan plan, it is a plan. It is the only plan that anyone has offered that seriously addresses our long term fiscal problems. Maybe it's cruel and unusual, but neither the President nor the Democrats in Congress have offered any alternative.
As I was writing this post, AP reported that Romney has chosen Paul Ryan as his running mate. If so, the choice was an act of statesmanship on Romney's part. It means that this election will be about something. It will be about the fiscal solvency of the United States.
The Obama organization will continue to do what it has done so far: demonize the opposition. Obama may even be compelled to offer his own plan for reducing the budget deficits, but no one on either side will pay attention to it. We know by now what his promises are worth.
The election will then come down to fear vs. responsibility. I wouldn't bet my own money on the latter. If fear wins and Obama is reelected, we are in for four more years of trillion dollar deficits and denial. If responsibility wins, well, the Romney will have to take responsibility. Either way, this is the greatest show on earth.