M & M Atop the Ticket?
I expect to have plenty to write about in this historic clash of titans through at least early June, so I'll turn to the buzzworthy topic on the GOP side of the race, the Veepstakes. McCain certainly has many intriguing prospects to consider for his running mate, and trust him to take the time to vet the field thoroughly and pick a candidate who will serve him best in the fall. The presumptive GOP presidential nominee has said that he has no short list to date, nor a process by which he will make the selection. He said he plans to research past decisions, learning from both success and failure.
Historically, vice presidential picks have served to balance the ticket in terms of region (Kennedy-Johnson, Massachusetts, Texas) age (Bush-Quayle), gender (Mondale-Ferraro), or ideology (Reagan-Bush). Balancing can also take the form of relevant expertise, be it economic, foreign policy, etc. They can also be selected with a single swing state in mind, hoping a native son or daughter candidacy will deliver the state on Election Day. Others have turned this notion on its head. Bill Clinton, for example, doubled down by selecting Sen. Al Gore, like his running mate a Southern Baptist Baby Boomer.
Looking at McCain, he hails from Arizona, would be the oldest president to ever enter the White House for his first term, and is known as a maverick in a party with a conservative base. The GOP is without question the party of the South and Mountain West, while Democrats dominate the Northeast and West Coast. The Midwest is often seen as the political bellwether, with Ohio and Missouri as the best-performing barometers. Buckeye State residents have picked the presidential winner correctly since 1964, bested only by the Show Me State (1960). McCain may well look here, with Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Missouri Gov. Roy Blunt, and former Ohio congressman John Kasich and ex-White House budget director Rob Portman in the mix.
Pawlenty and Blunt enter any discussion about age as a balancing factor, too, and are joined by South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and just inaugurated Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Sanford has much credibility among fiscal conservatives, some of whom are wary about McCain's past objections to the Bush tax cuts, and Jindal is a young Indian-American seen as a rising star in the party. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, long a hero of GOP stalwarts for knocking off then Senate Majority Leader Tom Dashcle, also would provide McCain with street cred amongst his conservative detractors. Moreover, one cannot forget the importance of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's late endorsement of McCain that probably delivered the Sunshine State and the nomination to McCain.
Looking beyond the short list peddled by the national press in recent weeks, a handful of wild cards have emerged. Consistent with the double-down philosophy, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge may enter the mix, potentially producing a team of sage political veterans with formidable national security experience (Ridge was the first Sec. of Homeland Security), and perhaps delivering the Keystone State in the process.
What about a woman, potentially offsetting the Democrats' likely advantage if Clinton tops the ticket? Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson comes to mind, as does another pick that defies conventional wisdom, Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice. Not only would she neutralize the gender gap, she would also take some of the luster away from an Obama-led team. Her ties to the unpopular Bush administration and Iraq War make the pick unlikely, along with her support of abortion, but McCain has embraced both the President and the War, and candidates of years past have been known to change positions to join a ticket. None other than George H. Bush went from fiscal critic of Ronald Reagan (voodoo economics) and pro-choice to an overnight conversion to a supply-sider and Roe v. Wade detractor.
Is a bi-partisan ticket in the works? Abraham Lincoln pulled it off in 1864 as an attempt to unite the country. Might McCain do the same with strong supporter Sen. Joe Lieberman, the man who held the #2 spot on Al Gore's ticket in 2000? I consider the prospect highly improbable given McCain's problems on his right flank, but Lieberman is Republicans' favorite Democrat given his staunch support of the Iraq War, and McCain is a maverick. The AZ Senator himself entertained Sen. John Kerry's offer of a joint ticket in 2004 before turning him down and campaigning for his opponent.
The recent buzz has steered away from all of these possibilities and returned to McCain's former rivals in the race for the GOP nomination. Gov. Mike Huckabee was long touted as a possible running mate, but he probably overstayed his welcome, not to mention the fact that conservatives have problems with him on both fiscal and national security issues. Former Sen. Fred Thompson proved a lackadaisical campaigner and looks even older than McCain, and former NY Mayor Rudy Giuliani is arguably more moderate than McCain.
That leaves us with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a man that pundit Fred Barnes promoted in an article in the Weekly Standard. Barnes reminds us that Romney is thoroughly vetted, gained the support of the conservative establishment during the course of his campaign, and is known as an economic turnaround agent at a time the national economy is faltering and given that McCain has admitted he has little expertise on this front.
Most have suggested that Romney's Mormonism was a non-factor in his failed campaign, attributing his disappointing finishes to his alleged flip-flopping on a host of issues important to the conservative base of the GOP. Michael Medved goes so far as to suggest that a VP's religion is usually a non-factor (Lieberman was arguably an exception), and that Romney's "flexibility" on key issues would help him conform to McCain's platform (see Bush I).
Maybe the larger question is whether McCain would embrace his former bitter rival as a running mate, and for that matter, whether Mitt would say yes. Romney did provide the AZ Senator with one big Valentine's Day present: an endorsement one week after leaving the race, and all of his delegates. Moreover, Romney is said to be open to serving as #2 on any Republican ticket.
McCain, for that matter, campaigned furiously for Bush's re-election in 2004, allowing the bitterness of 2000 to serve as little more than water under the bridge. Perhaps this giant olive branch was an effort to line himself up to succeed Bush in 2009, and he is on target at this juncture. Such pragmatism may lead him to an M & M ticket if he believes it would give him the best chance of measuring the White House drapes come January.
McCain-Romney? Well, politics does make interesting bedfellows.