We Pick A Veep
You have probably been obsessing, as I have, about who is going to be the next Vice President of the United States.
If you are convinced it is Martin O’Malley, as much as it pains me to say this, and as important you are to me as a reader, I have to tell you this piece will not be about Democrats. That is not to say I am expecting a GOP sweep in 2016, but rather the GOP field is so much more “interesting” that it draws me like the Sirens did to Jason and Odysseus.
The enormity of this task should not be underestimated—with this week’s entry of Ohio’s Governor John Kasich there are currently sixteen announced candidates for the GOP nomination and there are others who may be “praying on it.” Several are actually competent and sane.
So, what goes into picking the person for the job that John Nance Garner (FDR’s for his first two terms) held in lower esteem than a bucket of warm spit?
The most obvious is balancing the ticket, both intraparty and to the public at large—contrasts in age, ideology, geography, and possibly, gender or ethnicity. Obama and George W. Bush picked Biden and Cheney for their experience and gravitas, while Romney went for Paul for his youth and vitality. Reagan picked George H.W. Bush, his most formidable primary opponent, to send a signal to moderates that he wasn’t a crazy war-mongering ideologue. Kennedy picked LBJ, even though the men didn’t like each other, because the South was leery of a Massachusetts liberal, and a Catholic one at that.
Sometimes, candidates try to reinforce the brand—Clinton’s choice of Al Gore was seen as a clear statement of a generational change away from twelve years of senior citizens as Presidents. Nixon had pivoted to a Southern Strategy (and the mainstream media can’t-be-fair trope) in 1968—his selection of Spiro Agnew doubled down on both. McCain aimed for an age contrast, and went “maverick” in picking Sarah Palin (her last few years as self-absorbed reality queen dim memories of just how effective she was for most of 2008.)
How about our Gaggle of GOP-ers? Not unlike an all-you-can eat buffet? The easiest way to start is with the obvious.
Donald Trump is going to be the next…Donald Trump. He’s not going to be Vice President. He would probably suffer ego breakdown if forced to lower himself that way.
Ted Cruz is not going to be a Veep. He fails the first few tests, regardless. He’s not a ticket-balancer—Texas is solidly Red, as is the rest of the South. He’s not really a generational change agent—his demeanor lacks the optimism of youth and is energetic only in negativity and disruption. He’s not a logical pick for a more moderate Presidential candidate because he might adversely impact the ticket’s potential crossover appeal. And Teddy doesn’t work and play well with others. This past week he called Mitch McConnell a liar. Cruz has a better chance of wresting the Presidential nomination through some quirk of the primary system then having any of the other candidates tolerate him sufficiently to pick him.
Mike Huckabee is not going to get it, although that’s what I think he’s really aiming for. Huck has veered too populist on core Republican issues such as cutting spending for the poor and elderly. And he’s turned very edgy of late—his desire to appeal to the base is eroding his attractiveness to convincible moderate conservatives who took his social positions as an almost a pastoral function—as a minister, he would be expected to do so, but in a kindly manner. Huck has tossed that identity over the side.
Chris Christie is not going to make it. First of all, he’s following the career arc of Rudy Giuliani—his gigantic ambition has led him to sacrifice his state to get conservative street cred, so he’s unpopular at home. It’s not at all clear he would turn Blue New Jersey even the hint of Purple. Second, while Christie does have a sort of plain-speaking-kick-the-blank-appeal that’s worth considering, his appearance at the 2012 GOP Convention was not a winning one—one would have thought he was the nominee. Politicians have very strong egos, but I don’t see any of them happy sharing with a guy who craves the top job as much as Christie does.
Bobby Jindal isn’t even worth discussing. He’s at war with his own legislature, the credit rating of the state has crumbled, and he adds nothing to the ticket—both McCain and Romney carried the state by nearly 20 points. He’s below the “Fox” threshold for getting into the debates. Rick Santorum is also barely registering. He claims to have blue-collar appeal, he says he will put Pennsylvania in play, but it’s illusory at best—he was crushed in 2006 when he ran for reelection to Senate. Santorum might have a long-shot chance of being a “moderate” Republican nominee’s choice as a sop to the social conservatives, so I wouldn’t rule him out entirely, but there’s not enough light in his sun.
George Pataki is barely a blip. I can’t see what he adds, except a calm temperament meant to balance a very conservative nominee. New York is not going Red, and if it does, it won’t be because of George Pataki. Lindsay Graham is like Pataki—he can’t break 1% and he’s charisma-challenged. He could conceivably give some foreign policy credentials to a Governor, and so shouldn’t be ruled out entirely, but the base doesn’t like Lindsay, and South Carolina wouldn’t exactly be a “get” for the GOP.
Rick Perry intrigues me. He is the one guy who took Donald Trump on, and he did it forcefully. I don't think his “oops” moment is relevant—if anything it might turn into a plus if others pile on. He is just on the fringes of the Fox threshold and maybe won’t make it to the debate, has no chance of becoming the Presidential nominee, but I wouldn’t write him off completely as a Veep choice. His Texan without the Cruz, and his language on certain hot-button topics, immigration and social issues, is less censorious than many of the nominees, and might allow him to pivot with credibility into the general election—on the border, he actually knows what he’s talking about. He could be useful to a nominee from another region. He’s a long shot at best, but it’s not impossible.
I’m pairing Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina because neither have any governmental experience. Carson was an esteemed pediatric surgeon before retiring to become a conservative luminary. He’s at roughly 6% and will make the Fox Debates. Fiorina (at 1.3 %, and “out”) ran HP (some say into the ground) and had an unsuccessful candidacy for Barbara Boxer’s California Senate seat in 2010. Neither has any chance whatsoever of getting the Presidential nomination, but they are “diversity” candidates (although the GOP is adamant about not playing “identity politics”) and Fiorina is especially skilled at needling Hillary Clinton, and would be an excellent surrogate. I expect both to remain on the “short list” for a very long time, even if the ultimate nominee has no intention of picking them.
Rand Paul isn’t going to be the guy. His appeal to the young is diminishing with each double down on conservative social issues. He has some ideas that are not welcome to the business interests than help fund the GOP, and he’s way too isolationist on foreign policy. Rand is a true third party candidate—if he can’t win the nomination on his own, he’s not going to be picked by anyone who fears having to reconcile his positions. They will be nice to Rand in the debates, hoping to attract his followers. But he’s not going to get invited to the dinner-dance.
Let’s move to the top tier, and then the dark horse. Bush, Walker, and Rubio, and newest entrant John Kasich. It gets more interesting.
I am ruling out Jeb Bush (for Veep), although I might be in the minority. I just don’t see it. Bush will be nearly 64 at the 2017 Inauguration. If the GOP nominee loses and Bush is on the ticket, he loses stature. If the nominee wins, Bush won’t be able to run until he’s 71, and while Joe Biden is thinking about it, I don’t find it credible. Bush needs to run and win now. Otherwise, he can either go back to earning a fortune, or take a Cabinet post in a Republican Administration.
Scott Walker will not be the Vice Presidential nominee—if the GOP is smart, and I think they are. He may be the single most polarizing candidate not named Cruz the Republicans have. He could win the Presidential nomination, and he could win the general if all the pieces fell into place, but he adds absolutely nothing positive to a GOP ticket. He’s a pure party operative—a man who takes scalps and hands out favors. A couple of weeks ago he tried to sneak language into the budget that would gut Wisconsin’s Open Records Law and keep his personal dealings private until after the election. His entire campaign rests on his destruction of public service unions and cuts to higher education. He defines every battle in terms of taking on the unions—and equates his ALEC-funded battles with them as the equivalent of succeeding against ISIS. He clearly has many supporters, he excites the base that wants to kick Democrats as hard as possible, but few people engender more pure hostility than Scott Walker. He shouldn’t be ruled out—even his fiercest enemies admit he is cunning, but I think he’s too much of a chance to take for any GOP ticket that doesn’t decide to go scorched Earth negative. He is just not the guy you add.
Rubio. Ah, Marco. Telegenic, well spoken, from a critical swing-state, and also a base-broadening diversity pick. He has run a very quiet campaign so far, curiously so. His recent polling numbers have been trending down. He is going to make the debates, but his arc is a little disturbing. He has four vulnerabilities that might keep him from the Presidential nomination. He was Jeb’s protégée, which makes it hard to take him on directly—and they can’t be on the same ticket. He’s young, with a thin record of accomplishment (I know, that didn’t hurt Mr. Obama). He either bungled or sabotaged or, as a matter of principle, scuttled bipartisan agreement on immigration (whatever the adjective, it hasn’t raised his stature.) And, he has some questionable finances, including a major contributor hiring his wife. I don’t think any of these things are killers. He might still get the Presidential nomination—his path is far simpler than many of his opponents—and he would be a formidable opponent, and contrast, to Hillary. But I have a hunch there is something else out there. I think Rubio is trapped by his own image. It’s hard to know what’s authentic in any politician, but Rubio has built a brand that is attractive, and tampering it is a risk. Rubio shot back at Trump, but his response sounded peevish compared to Perry’s. And he just called Mr. Obama “classless” which is a gratuitous insult I think he will come to regret. Still, he has significant assets, and I think he is the only top tier Presidential candidate who is also in the top tier of Veep candidates.
Now, to my dark horse. Ohio Governor John Kasich. Kasich actually has the best resume of any of the candidates. He spent 18 years in the House, and was chair of the Budget Committee the last time we actually had a balanced budget, and spent time on the Armed Services Committee. After working in the private sector for ten years, he was elected Governor. He also tried an attack on unions when he came in, but when Ohio voters rejected it, he backed off and prioritized other things. He speaks of his faith with conviction, but uses it to buttress a more compassionate approach to the poor and on immigration. He balanced the Ohio budget without raising taxes and without crippling cuts to popular domestic programs. He was reelected in a genuine landslide in 2014, in a state that went for Obama twice, and, unlike Walker, Jindal, and Christie, retains high home-state approval ratings. Kasich has some issues. He is decidedly not telegenic, not scripted, and not groomed, and he has some shortage in the charisma department. He’s not going to rev up crowds. He may not be sufficiently conservative for the primary activists, but if I were Fox News and I had the stake they do in getting a Republican elected President, I would want Kasich on the podium. All the cards would have to fall perfectly for a Kasich Presidential nomination (and they won’t) but he would be a formidable Veep candidate.
That’s the Sweet Sixteen. Actually, it’s the Formidable Fifteen. In deference to your patience I left out others with their eyes on the prize: Rick Snyder, Peter King, Jim Gilmore, and John Bolton.
I also, as a matter of kindness, omitted Bob Ehrlich.
Martin O’Malley beat Ehrlich. Twice.
It seemed like the right thing to do.
July 28th, 2015
Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)
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