Under the context of the God-awful mess that helped destroy John McCain the last time a Republican made this decision, we can be sure that they'll at least attempt to do a decent job of it this time. The establishment certainly doesn't want to elevate any "game-changing" moments. That being said, Mitt Romney finds himself in somewhat peculiarly screwed up circumstances that are forcing his choices in a way that will only make his decision even more challenging than McCain's.
Romney's nominee is going to have to clear a number of hurdles that look increasingly unlikely any Republican will be able to clear with ease.
1. Romney's choice will have to be a hard-core conservative.Okay, I admit this one will be easy. Obviously Romney is no position to pick anyone other than a clearly recognized conservative due to his own Etch-a-Sketch political soul.
2. Romney's choice will have to have foreign policy experience.Here is where things get tricky. Because Romney himself has no foreign policy experience, his first task is to choose a vice president who has some. This is almost always the case in every winning presidential ticket. If the top of the ticket is light on foreign policy, as it often is, they make it up on the bottom. Reagan/Bush, Clinton/Gore, Obama/Biden.
The only way the top of the ticket can nominate a VP without foreign policy experience is if he himself has it. As was the case with Bush/Quale, Kerry/Edwards, and McCain/Palin.
The problem for Romney is that there are no national republicans of note who have foreign policy experience who are also recognized conservatives that excite the base. All of the current mentions—be it Govs. McDonnell, Christie or Daniels—all have no foreign policy experience at all. Marco Rubio has but one year on the foreign relations committee. Speaking of which, there are some Republican members of that committee that could make for possible Republican vice presidential nominees. The problem is those members are also some of the most far-right members of the GOP leadership: Jim DeMint, James Inhofe, or Johnny Isakson. Perhaps the only dark horse in the bunch is Bob Corker. But none of these folks are distinguished Republican foreign policy heavyweights. Furthermore, only DeMint has a national constituency as well as five years on the committee.
Simply put, the GOP has no elected foreign policy heavyweights except for two: Lindsey Graham and Dick Lugar. Well, Dick Lugar is likely going to get kicked out of the party for not being conservative enough. He can't clear the first hurdle. And Graham. Well, lets just say he may end up having a vetting problem with no wife and no kids. He can't clear the first hurdle either.
3. Romney's choice will have to be ready for a national campaign.Obviously, what we're talking about here is three things: vetting, rollout, and debate. That's really all a good VP candidate has to do as far as the mechanics go. Clear a thorough vetting, handle a national rollout, and win the sole VP debate. But of the three, the most important one is the vetting. Sarah Palin has proved that no matter how good a rollout and debate performance a VP nominee gives, if the vetting fails, you've got a disaster on your hands.
4. The person has to be the opposite of Palin.The movie Game Change almost certainly had a strong impact on the political class, from campaign consultants to the Washington press elite. Next time, they're going to pay extra close attention to the thoroughness of the vetting. Both the campaigns and the press have self-interest in doing so. There may be even be some people who genuinely feel strongly that the VP nominee should be ready to be the president if the moment called for it. I mean, that is the VP's job. That's why we have the job in the first place.
Even in the case of Rubio, if one could get him over the first, second, and third hurdles, may not clear the fourth.
In the end, the Romney campaign may consider going outside of elected officials, which limits his options even more. There are no Dick Cheneys out there gathering dust, except perhaps Condoleeza Rice. And methinks the Romney campaign may not want to give their foreign policy flag to a marquee face of the Bush administration.
Take stock of what Romney needs: a well-known and proven social conservative who has foreign policy experience, but is not heavily identified with the Bush administration, who also is squeaky clean, and has the political experience to perform well in a national campaign. Surveying the GOP bench, I don't see anyone who fits the profile perfectly.
Except Jim DeMint. After considering all the previous points, I think only Jim DeMint gets Romney over the four hurdles, and provides the bonus of bringing in a party uniter and base exciter. There is just one huge problem with Jim DeMint—he puts the GOP right back in the demographic box they have to expand from to win: old, straight, white males. DeMint fixes none of Romney's problems with women and minorities. On the contrary, he makes them exponentially worse.
Which introduces me to the fifth and final hurdle, which is possibly impossible to clear:
5. Romney's choice has to resonate with women and Latinos.Both will be watching. And if they aren't, we Democrats will see to it that they are. Otherwise, Romney will have to win back these two groups with his ... (cough cough) charming personality ... (ahem) ... since the primary has made it impossible for him to change his policies.
It is entirely possible that all these factors of a good decision will get tossed out the window as Mitt Romney seeks first and foremost to gain a political edge against a sitting president. President Obama is a champion campaigner and will likely amp up the pressure on Romney's decision, putting heat and spotlight on Romney and elevating the consequences of Romney's choice. Romney has proven before that he is unable to perform under serious pressure from quality politicians. It's likely he will fumble this choice even more than McCain did.
Romney's first big presidential test, his choice of VP nominee, could be as damaging to him as McCain's was. Or worse.