Mitt Romney needs to do something serious to break free of the narrative right now. He has a huge message problem; it's hurting him in the primary (more than he expected), and it's hurting him in the general (some would say dooming him, but whither Citizens United?); he seems to basically be a bored rich guy with no apparent core principles who has decided he really wants to be president but he doesn't particularly know why. Romney is a punchline; if nominated, he will be the most unpopular major-party candidate entering a general election in modern U.S. political history.
I've been thinking Romney's risk-averse nature is going to prod him toward making a bland, safe pick as vice president, someone like Sen. Thune (yawn), Gov. McDonnell (double yawn), or Sen. Portman (yawn times infinity). Then again, everything at this point looks like a transparent calculation for Romney. If he picks a woman, whoever she is will be compared relentlessly to Sarah Palin; if he picks someone like Gov. Jindal or Gov. Sandoval, he's going to be criticized for picking a candidate who isn't white but with whom only whites identify in meaningful numbers.
ETA - A "diva" pick, someone with a forceful personality and strong presence who is obviously just posturing for 2016 (say, Sen. Rubio or Gov. Christie, though neither seems very interested), or a "shotgun wedding" pick, choosing a rival or rival's son (Sen. Rand Paul, who is also a diva for that nice double-whammy) in order to win a potential convention floor fight, would just feed into the narrative that Romney is opportunistic, craven, and soulless.
There's not a lot Romney can do that would really be a "game change" just because the popular perception of him is so cynical. So what if he were to take the ultimate risk and make the ultimate pander - and completely turn this campaign inside-out?
Enter Gov. Luis Fortuño of Puerto Rico, who is currently running for reelection and trying to shepherd the Commonwealth toward a vote in favor of statehood this year.
Fortuño endorsed Romney in Florida back in January, and he's refused to rule out vice presidential speculation. He has strong conservative credentials; somewhat whimsically, George Will floated him for president himself a few years back. He's basically the Puerto Rican...well, if not their Gov. Walker, perhaps their Gov. Kasich or Gov. Corbett. This is a conservative guy. He just happens to be Puerto Rican.
Meanwhile, Romney is a vocal supporter of the Puerto Rico statehood movement (who knows what that means in terms of what he actually believes, but in other news, the sun will rise tomorrow morning). There are 5 million Puerto Ricans living in the United States, and about one-fifth of them are in Florida.
Romney is trying to argue that he will "restore America's greatness", whatever the hell that means. He boasts of turning around the scandal-plagued Salt Lake City Olympics (well, aside from the scandals that occurred during his tenure, but ya can't get 'em all) and he talks about, in effect, building a nation out of the apocalyptic, dystopian hellscape that President Obama has reduced the United States to since seizing the reins of power three years ago.
By picking Fortuño, Romney nationalizes Puerto Rico. He turns it into a Republican cause celebre, a microcosm of how his administration will, like Fortuño (and, you know, all those other, more competent governors who came before him) has built Puerto Rico into a viable candidate for statehood out of being, presumably, a malarial jungle island where cannibals cavorted with pirates and ran around all in the nude. Or something.
And that's an argument that can be made. Yes, Puerto Rico has a lower per capita income level than any of the 50 states, but the gap has been generally narrowing, and quite significantly. The government remains corrupt, but Fortuño has adopted that quintessential and strangely popular Republican strategy of simply firing as many people as he can (including lawmakers; the territorial legislature is set for a significant downsizing next year, if voters assent) to "solve" that problem. The island has industrialized, and infrastructure projects are ongoing across Puerto Rico. Some are popular, some aren't. But it is developing.
So, what if Romney eschews what is safe or what is expected? What if he concludes his message problem really is a millstone to which he's bound in adamantine chains? What if he concludes, and probably rightly so, that a dull pick like Gov. McDonnell or Sen. Portman, or a gimmicky-but-predictable pick like Gov. Martinez or Sen. Ayotte just isn't going to pry those chains loose? What if Fortuño is the pick?
Well, it changes the game. It gives Romney a cause. And it just might net him Florida, which he needs to win, and repair just a little of the extensive damage the Republican Party has done to its relationship with Latinos.
And if Puerto Rico does become a state on the back of a Romney/Fortuño ticket revitalizing the status question as a priority for national Republicans, as it once was under the Ford, Reagan, and Bush I administrations, it might not end up being as blue as we expect.