Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Will Tim Pawlenty Be Romney's VP?

Though it may be several weeks before Mitt Romney officially announces his selection for vice president, rumors abound that Tim Pawlenty will be chosen. The increased buzz about Pawlenty has been driven by a new report from ABC News that the Romney campaign is not putting Marco Rubio through the vetting process. According to the report, Rubio has not been asked to complete questionnaires or provide basic information to the Romney campaign. If Romney's campaign were even considering Rubio, these would be the first steps they would take; since they aren't taking these steps, the conclusion being drawn is that Rubio is not in the running for VP.

The Intrade market on the VP choice has reacted swiftly to the news. Only a few days ago, we reviewed the latest Intrade odds for president and VP: Rob Portman was at 23% for VP, with Rubio at 19%, and Pawlenty at 8.2%. Now, Portman is trading at 24% (little change), but Pawlenty has skyrocketed to 19.9% and Rubio has crashed to 6.8%.

But why is it Pawlenty in particular who would benefit from a Rubio crash? During our review of the Intrade markets last week, Elephant Watcher detected some slight upward movement in the Pawlenty for VP Intrade market and offered an explanation: Pawlenty may be viewed as an even "safer" version of Portman, given that Pawlenty doesn't have ties to the George W. Bush administration.

This month, we thoroughly examined the reasoning behind the "do no harm" theory for VP, the same theory that had brought Portman to the top of the Intrade market. Pawlenty is the epitome of the "do no harm" candidate, as he has no offensive qualities and (presumably) no skeletons in the closet. During the 2012 Republican primary, he had the opportunity to become the consensus candidate, exciting no one but alienating no one, either. But Pawlenty ran a terrible campaign, and he senselessly dropped out of the race early.

The basic problem with the "do no harm" theory is that choosing a VP is a trade-off. If Candidate A helps the ticket, Candidate B hurts the ticket, and Candidate C does neither, both Candidates B and C do harm, because they represent a missed opportunity to help the ticket by choosing Candidate A. Thus, choosing Pawlenty would harm Romney's ticket even if Pawlenty doesn't offend anyone, if Romney loses the opportunity to help the ticket by choosing someone better able to attract votes.

Another way to judge the impact of a Pawlenty VP selection is to consider the reaction of Democrats. If Pawlenty were chosen, how would Democrats feel when they heard the news? Most likely, they would be delighted. Democrats do not fear Pawlenty because they know he will not energize Republicans or broaden the appeal of Romney's ticket.

Is there anything positive about a Pawlenty vice presidential nomination? To the extent that the "do no harm" path should be followed, he fills the role well. It's unlikely that anyone will have real misgivings about Pawlenty or question whether he is qualified for the job. Pawlenty's selection would not help Barack Obama attack Romney as "Bush's Third Term." Pawlenty is not a conservative firebrand, but he will not be seen as a RINO except to the most extreme elements of the right. Nor is Pawlenty too old.

Even so, the selection of Pawlenty would leave many conservatives cold. Pawlenty may not be a RINO, but he will not inspire anyone. Conservatives' lack of enthusiasm for Romney is a problem, one that the VP slot is needed to fix. Pawlenty would not fix the problem. A cautious approach is not always the safest one.