Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Romney's Pick for Vice President? Part III

In Part II, we discussed the possibility of Rob Portman being chosen as Mitt Romney's VP. The conventional wisdom is that Portman would be a "less risky" option, and that Romney hopes to avoid a repeat of the Sarah Palin debacle. But as we explained, none of Romney's choices carry similar risks to Palin--because they will all be fully vetted and have all participated in numerous televised interviews. But what are the potential upsides and downsides to potential VPs like Marco Rubio and Chris Christie, and what other options are available?

According to the Intrade odds on vice presidential nominees, the next most likely option after Portman is U.S. Senator Marco Rubio from Florida. Rubio served in Florida government for a little over a decade, rising to the office of Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. In 2010, he ran for the U.S. Senate against the Republican governor, Charlie Crist. Rubio was viewed as the Tea Party challenger in the race, and he won overwhelmingly.

There are a number of reasons why Rubio is presumed to be high on Romney's list of potential VPs. First, Rubio would be the first Hispanic ever to be on a major party presidential ticket. The question of what effect this would have on the Hispanic vote in the general election is very controversial (and very important), and will be addressed in a future post. For now it's enough to say that Rubio would help Romney's ticket appeal to the Hispanic vote, a demographic where Romney is currently weak.

Rubio is from Florida, the nation's largest swing state. Unlike Romney, Rubio represents the conservative or Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. At age 41, Rubio belongs to a younger generation of Republicans, while Romney would return the presidency to the first wave of Baby Boomers. And while Romney was raised in a wealthy background, Rubio has working class roots.

In all of these important ways, Rubio would balance the ticket. The downside to Rubio is that he has only been a U.S. Senator for about a year and a half. According to conventional wisdom, Rubio's inexperience will undermine Romney's central theme, which is that Barack Obama had too little understanding of the economy before rising to the presidency. To be sure, this is Rubio's biggest weakness; if Rubio had been elected to his current office a few years ago, he would be guaranteed the VP position.

On the other hand, Rubio was in an important office in Florida prior to his being a U.S. Senator. And Rubio's intelligence, along with his strength in interviews and debates, will greatly--or entirely--offset his lack of experience, even if it doesn't stop Obama's attacks. Indeed, if the Obama campaign overreaches by comparing Rubio to Palin, it may backfire terribly, offending many Hispanic voters. In addition, Rubio's youth helps reinforce the idea that Romney will take the country in a new direction, rather than being a return to the days of George W. Bush.

What about Chris Christie? Christie served as Attorney General for the District of New Jersey during the 2000s, until he was elected New Jersey Governor in 2009. Christie considered running for president in 2012, but he had been governor just a bit too briefly. Though somewhat new to the national scene, Christie would not be vulnerable to claims that he lacks experience; he is several years older than Rubio and has accomplished much during his two and a half years as governor.

On the surface, Christie does not appear well-positioned to balance Romney's ticket. They are both from the Northeast; there is little hope of bringing many Northeastern states into the Republican fold. Though considered more conservative than Romney, Christie does not represent the Tea Party wing of the party in the same way that Rubio or a traditional conservative would. The fact that Christie is from the Northeast tends to amplify conservatives' concerns. And, of course, Christie is another white male.

Upon closer examination, there is a case to be made that Christie would balance the ticket. While Romney exudes wealth and privilege, Christie appeals to the common man. In New Jersey, Christie has been unusually effective in winning over working class voters--essentially the "Reagan Democrats" that Romney had trouble with during the Republican primary. Christie has unique rhetorical gifts. Unlike Romney, he is charismatic and adept at talking tough while sounding reasonable enough to persuade. Christie's aggressiveness on particular issues (taxes, spending, teachers' unions) has gone a long way toward persuading conservatives that he is one of them. Like Rubio, Christie represents a new direction and a genuine effort toward limiting the size of government.

There are a number of other potential VPs Romney could pick. If Romney is inclined to pick someone who is not a white man, it's likely that his options are "preempted" by Rubio. For example, the 2010 midterm saw the election of several women and minorities, but they would be vulnerable to the same criticism about inexperience, while lacking Rubio's strengths. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has a bit more experience, but is also young. An Indian-American, Jindal wouldn't appeal to an extra ethnic group with many votes; he is not nearly as effective a communicator as Rubio. (Jindal also endorsed Rick Perry for president.)

Finally, Romney could go with "none of the above," picking someone at the top of nobody's list. But Portman, Rubio, and Christie each make sense from different perspectives. In Elephant Watcher's view, either Rubio or Christie would help boost the Republican ticket in 2012, while Portman would do it some harm.