The Vice-Presidential Puzzle Box

Rumor has it that Governor Romney has settled on – and will soon announce – his vice presidential candidate.  The conventional wisdom is that the list is down to Ohio Senator Rob Portman, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and – maybe – Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.  Florida Senator Marco Rubio and former Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice were floated either as trial balloons or to demonstrate the alleged breadth of their selection process before they pick the white guy (no, Jindal is not a “white guy” but read below why he won’t be picked according to the logic of vice presidential picking).

What a yawn fest.  Any group in which Tim Pawlenty is judged to be the most dynamic and energetic member has a serious personality deficit.

In truth, though, vice presidential nominees tend to be on the uninspiring side of the ledger and are usually picked for one or more of the following reasons:

  • Safe (i.e. no skeletons, no surprises)
  • Bland (doesn’t overshadown the top of the ticket)
  • Balance (geography, experience, political spectrum, age, religion)
  • Key attribute (ethnicity, swing state residency)

Let’s review the list of some of the most recent vice-presidential nominees and see where they fit:

  • 2008:   Biden – balance (age, experience), safe; Palin – (see below)
  • 2004:   Edwards – key attribute (swing state), balance (geography, religion)
  • 2000:   Lieberman – balance (political spectrum); Cheney – balance (experience, geography, age), safe
  • 1996:    Kemp – balance (political spectrum, geography), safe
  • 1992:    Gore – safe, bland, balance (experience)
  • 1988:    Quayle – bland, balance (age, political spectrum); Bentsen – balance (experience, political spectrum, geography), safe
  • 1984:    Ferraro – (see below)
  • 1980:    Bush – balance (age, political spectrum, experience, geography)

Thirty-two years of electoral politics is enough to make the point, but the pattern is discernible in every election.  The most common reason for picking a vice president is “balance” in terms of geography, experience, etc. Only rarely does picking a vice presidential candidate deliver that person’s home state – Lyndon Johnson being the only example that comes to mind.  Other attributes come into play when there are particular flaws at the top of the ticket.  George W. Bush, for example, had to pick a Cheney-esque figure to counter the perception that he was too much of a lightweight to be president.  By contrast, George H.W. Bush picked Quayle in part because he was so lightweight that there was no possibility that he would overshadow his boss.

Which brings us to the last reason why vice-presidential candidates are chosen: as “game changers.”   There are only two people in this category in the last eight presidential elections – Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Sara Palin in 2008.  Both were picked by campaigns desperate enough to throw Hail Mary passes in the hope of an end zone miracle.  Both failed: Ferraro’s selection couldn’t possibly hold back the landslide that re-elected Reagan in ’84 and Palin made the ’08 loss a little worse (though a “safe” pick from one of the traditional categories wouldn’t have made a difference).

Mitt Romney is NOT John McCain and even without the immediate example of Sara Palin as a warning there is no chance of him picking a game changer.  First, he has an actuary’s dislike of risk and has never as far as I can tell taken a high-risk step in either his personal or professional life.  Second, he’s in no way desperate; the election is still a jump ball and he has $1 billion or more on his side to help him jump higher than the other guys.

So…applying the logic of vice-presidential candidates to the current crop, Jindal is out.  Portman is tempting, but I think in the end our own Tim Pawlenty will be the guy bounding onto a stage somewhere in a swing state sometime soon to tell us how proud he is to have been asked to join Mitt Romney in reclaiming America.


– Austin

16 thoughts on “The Vice-Presidential Puzzle Box

  1. PM says:

    In addition, i understand that there is some “chemistry” between T-Paw and Mitt. And T-Paw sits well with the conservative, pro life evangelical base. But there would certainly be a lack of “Washington experience” in that ticket, which is what Portman would bring. Of course, Portman has a pretty significant reputation as a policy wonk, so maybe that would be seen as threatening.

    The great thing about trying to read tea leaves is that you can find support for pretty much anything…. I think the real bottom line is that the choice will mean far less than the media will read into it when the Veep to be (?) is announced.

  2. Jeremy Powers says:

    With the way Republicans have treated Hispanics and a general dislike for anyone without a country club membership, the only hope Romney has in getting “extra” votes would be to pick Jindal or Rubio.

    Pawlenty may have grown up middle class, but like many of these guys: He’s never me a rich man he didn’t like. That mullet hairdo and corny jokes aren’t enough to endear him to the number one thing the Republicans have to overcome – the appearance that they’re unfathomly rich and made that money shipping jobs overseas at an alarming rate.

  3. You can’t spell “Pawlenty” without “yawn.” That said, I like your math; Rubio has a lot of baggage and for both him and Jindal, its too soon. Either if not both of these guys will have the GOP establishment swooning over them to run in 2016.

    Right now, though, with Romney having one bad week after another, its tempting for most of these folks – Pawlenty the exception – to possibly say “no thanks” or would prefer they not be asked.

    1. Yeah. If you could buy an “N” you could make YAWN PLENTY out of it. I
      ‘ll tell you why TPaw would be a good fit for Romney Rex. TP is from “the Midwest,” that great amber-waves-of-grain zone that plays as swell as baseball, hotodogs, apple pie and Chevrolet. Powers-that-be on the Coasts don’t know where it is and don’t really want to know ( similar..) but there are plenty of others who would find it endearing that Paw told the NYTimes today he was too busy working on his yard to worry about phone calls from anyone. Snap. Great answer.

  4. PM says:

    Say, I wonder how many years of tax returns Romney asked each potential VP candidate to turn over?

    just wondering…..

  5. Newt says:

    Did you guys see Cruella de Pelosi’s reaction when asked by reporters if she had any offshore holdings? She threatened to have them audited.

      1. Erik says:

        Paul Pelosi is the president of a private equity firm. The Pelosi’s are worth tens of millions. We don’t have to wait for Nancy to run for President to assert with certainty that they use the same tax advantages the Romney’s do.

        We can also assert with certainty that Nancy Pelosi is a hypocrite, and that your righteous indignation is pretty selective, eh?

      2. I think there should be much greater disclosure for all members of Congress. I think an even higher standard should apply to those running for President. One compromised member of Congress – even the Speaker or Minority Leader – is not as worrisome as a compromised POTUS.

      3. PM says:

        I think the issue isn’t whether or not those tax advantages are legal, but rather whether those preferences should exist in the first place.

  6. Ellen Mrja says:

    Romney is still overseas; no VP in sight. Wife Ann (..”You people have been told all you need to know”) is at his side as her horse is in the dressage category.

    Poor Mitt did not endear himself to the Brits, however, when he was asked by Brian Williams Thursday what he thought about the preparation for the Games.

    “There are a few things that were disconcerting. The stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials—that obviously is not something which is encouraging.” Adding insult to injury, he also appeared to question whether the British people were behind the Games, saying, “Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment? And that’s something which we only find out once the Games actually begin.”

    Read more

    The Daily Telegraph, a conservative paper, called him a “wazzock,” who is a bumbling, stumbling fool and/or bull penis. Oh those wacky English …

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