It's always been inevitable, at least to me, that former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts would emerge as the Republican nominee for President. And while he hasn't been coronated yet--and while I don't want him to be because it would bring the hilarious circus to an abrupt end--I find it highly likely that he will be.
That then raises the obvious question: Who will he select as his running mate?
It's the most important question that a successful presidential primary campaign faces, and Mitt Romney faces enormous challenges in finding the answer to that question. On the one hand, he has serious problems with social conservatives and Tea Partiers--he's just not conservative enough. On the other hand, he's seen his popularity with moderates and independent voters plummet--he's too out-of-touch and he's ensconcing himself further and further to the right. Both of these problems are contradictory. In order to fix one problem, he exacerbates the other problem. It's a catch-22. So expect Mitt Romney to give this question more thought than John McCain did, but don't expect that he'll come up with a better answer.
Below, I determined the fourteen most likely candidates that would be selected as Mitt Romney's vice-presidential nominee and evaluate their pros and cons. Most of the names have been circulated already by talking heads and commentators, but some names are ones that I've definitely never heard before. I'll openly admit that my list is not perfect, and it probably includes long-shot candidates who will never see the light of day.
And naturally, I'm always receptive to critiques, both positive and negative. Enjoy! (I hope)
Gov. Bill Haslam (R-Tennessee)
Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee hasn’t appeared on many talking heads’ short lists, but there’s a reason that I put him on my list. He is, to a degree, the kind of running mate that Romney, I think, would like to have—he’s undoubtedly conservative, but he displays some degree of reason, he has a business profile, he is popular in his home state, and he doesn’t seem to have too many skeletons in his closet. However, he was recently elected, albeit in a landslide, and undoubtedly, the Democrats would raise issues about the fact that he earned his millions through oil companies. That’s not exactly helpful in a campaign that could revolve around gas prices. Furthermore, there’s a reason that he hasn’t appeared on many lists—he isn’t known for having an overwhelming amount of charisma and he was just sworn in last year. And finally, he has the potential to be another Mitt Romney. He doesn’t seem to have an interesting, sizzling personality and he can easily be painted as an out-of-touch businessman.
Gov. Luis Fortuño (R-Puerto Rico)
Governor Luis Fortuño of Puerto Rico is an unorthodox candidate, mentioned as a long-shot by some commentators. The real reason that he’s on this list is because he’s the only Hispanic Governor who has held his post for more than a year. He’s young, Puerto Rican, and could potentially help Mitt Romney out with Hispanic voters. However, what he lacks is a national profile—nobody has any idea who he is. He also can’t vote for Romney, because Puerto Rico doesn’t vote in presidential elections, and he’s not well-known among conservatives for having a rock-solid record. He’s also up for re-election this year, and he may be loath to give Democrats the opportunity to pick up his seat.
Gov. Brian Sandoval (R-Nevada)
Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada is the Hispanic candidate on this list most likely to be selected as Mitt Romney’s running mate, but even then, his chances aren’t so hot. What’s working in his favor? He’s young, popular in his home state of Nevada, charismatic, and Hispanic. What’s not? He’s only in his first year as Governor, and some limited polling has shown that he wouldn’t be a great help to Romney in winning his own home state.
Gov. Susana Martinez (R-New Mexico)
Governor Susana Martinez is a less popular, female version of Brian Sandoval, which is why she’s on the list. She is the first Latina Governor in the history of the United States, which would make her an interesting pick, to say the least. However, her popularity in New Mexico isn’t overwhelming—she wasn’t elected over Diane Denish, her 2010 opponent, by a wide margin, and she hasn’t been able to make waves as Governor due to a Democratic-controlled legislature. Though she has a strong law and order background as a prosecutor and district attorney, the fact that her ancestors illegally immigrated to the United States might hurt Romney among conservatives.
Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-Minnesota)
We all know former Governor Tim Pawlenty for his overwhelmingly successful run for President, where he inspired millions with his charisma…not. Tim Pawlenty was almost picked by John McCain as his running mate in 2008, but there is a good reason why he wasn’t—he’s not particularly inspiring. Though conservatives hailed his “bold” economic plan, they didn’t hail it enough to actually vote for or support him. There’s something to be said for being one of the first candidates to drop out of an uninspiring group of candidates. Pawlenty’s name will probably end up on Romney’s short list, though, which isn’t to say that he’ll be selected. He’s quite similar to Romney in that he doesn’t have an interesting personality, he ran as a moderate candidate for Governor of a blue state and now proclaims to be a conservative, and his own home state won’t vote for him for higher office. And why would Mitt Romney pick a less popular clone of himself?
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida)
Senator Marco Rubio will undoubtedly be on Mitt Romney’s short list, and for good reason. He’s Hispanic, young, popular with voters in his home state, popular with Tea Partiers, and, most importantly, he’s from FLORIDA, debatably the most important swing state. However, people on the Rubio Train will run into a few obstacles—first off, he was only sworn in last year. He has less experience than Barack Obama did in seeking the White House, which works against him. There’s a reasonable argument to be made that he won’t help the Romney ticket with Hispanic voters because he’s Cuban. Furthermore, his family story, though inspiring at first, is inundated with some fabrications, which may not go over too well with voters. Limited polling suggests that he won’t be a huge boon to Romney in Florida.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky)
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky will also appear on Romney’s short list, and, again, with good reason. He’s the son of the legendary libertarian Ron Paul, obviously, and he may end up on the ticket as the result of some “grand bargain” between Romney and Paul. Don’t start printing his name on the ballot, though, because he runs into some huge issues. Though he has the potential to inspire enthusiasm among young voters due to the popularity of his father, his record will be less than impressive to traditional suburban conservatives, a crowd that Romney already has issues with. They don’t exactly want to hear about Paul’s lack of support for the drug war, and moderates all across the country will be unnerved by his questionable record on supporting civil rights—if he’s selected, everyone in the country will have seen the infamous interview with Rachel Maddow by the end of the campaign. He was also just recently sworn in, and he’s angling for a run in 2016, so he could be seen as more willing to put his national ambition above Romney by the campaign.
Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Louisiana)
Governor Bobby Jindal’s lack of endorsement following Rick Perry dropping out is quite telling—though he promised the people of Louisiana that he’d stick around for a full term if elected, there are a number of reasons that he could be everything that Romney is looking for. He’s Indian, so there would be a certain spark to his election. He’s solidly conservative and immensely popular with his home state—Democrats didn’t even try to put up a top-, middle-, or low-tier candidate against him in 2011. What works against him is that he is also angling for a 2016 campaign, the fact that he’s so far to the right on social issues has the potential to turn off moderate voters in swing states, and he might be too young at this point. Governor Jindal, however, is the man to watch.
Gov. Nikki Haley (R-South Carolina)
Governor Nikki Haley is similar to Governor Susana Martinez—she’s the less popular, female version of another candidate. Conservatives fell in love with Haley, and in the case of Will Folks and Larry Marchant, perhaps TOO in love with her. She was elected Governor in a closer race than most expected, and she’s been underwhelming as Governor, both in terms of policy and popularity. Her questionable marital issues could cause concern among social conservatives, but she’ll probably end up on Romney’s short list anyhow. However, if he wants the spark that her Indian heritage will light, he would probably defer to Bobby Jindal.
Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-Virginia)
Governor Bob McDonnell was a leading candidate for Romney’s vice-presidential selection. Was. The controversy over the transvaginal ultrasound put a dent in his popularity with Virginians and being on a national ticket would energize pro-choice voters all over the country to support the President’s re-election. However, McDonnell has some factors working in his favor—he’s from a swing state where he has a reasonable level of popularity and he’s conservative with a decent record. His inexperience might be an issue, but he’ll end up on Romney’s list.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio)
Senator Rob Portman would be among Mitt Romney’s ideal running mates, if he were only elected a few years earlier. His lack of experience probably pushes him out of serious consideration, but he has a lot of factors working in his favor. He’s recognized by conservatives as a leader on the budget, he’s a popular Senator from one of the most important swing states in the country, Ohio, and he’s conservative. What works against him? His lack of experience, but, more importantly, the experience that he DOES have. He was Bush’s budget director, which could hang a noose around his neck, seeing as Bush was the first President to authorize a trillion dollar deficit. Furthermore, he appears to be looking at a 2016 run, which could push him to prioritize his own profile over that of Romney’s campaign.
Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-Indiana)
What can be said about Mitch Daniels? A lot of conservatives begged him to enter the race for President due to his record of “reasonable” conservatism. He’s had an unorthodox political career that could be a boon—a businessman who was selected as Bush’s first budget director before running successfully for Governor of Indiana. He’s amassed a profile that conservatives clearly like, and the fact that he engaged in the anti-union rhetoric of his neighbors in Ohio and Wisconsin works in his favor with Republicans, but not so much with moderates or unionists. He’s a natural candidate for Romney to pick as his running mate, but watch for Democrats to attack him, just as they would with Rob Portman, for running up deficits for Bush. His record on unions would probably push the Romney campaign to lose any chance in Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, which the campaign may not be willing to risk. Either way, he’s a leading candidate, and he’s another man to watch.
Gov. Chris Christie (R-New Jersey)
Governor Chris Christie is a combination of Mitch Daniels, Bob McDonnell, and the cast of Jersey Shore—he was begged by Republicans to enter the race, he has potential experience issues, and he’s quite aggressive and pushy about getting his way. There’s a reason that conservatives love him, but I’ve had difficulty understanding it. He’s perceived to be a guy who can work with both parties to get things done—notice the word “perceived.” He’s a reasonably conservative Governor of a reasonably blue state, but don’t be tricked into thinking that he helps Romney win it. He doesn’t. His moderation on social issues, especially gay marriage, could be a turn-off for social conservatives already unsure about Romney, and his overly aggressive personality when it comes to politics—calling a veteran an “idiot,” for example—doesn’t seem like it’ll play well with moderates.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tennessee)
Senator Bob Corker, like his state’s Governor, hasn’t appeared on many short lists made by political commentators, but I see a number of reasons why he could potentially be selected. He has the potential to give Romney the shoring up that he desperately needs in the South, he has an interesting resume—businessman, mayor, Senator—and he has a limited history of bipartisan workings with Democrats like Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, while still maintaining a conservative voting record. All of that works for him appealing to both moderates and conservatives. On the flip side, he has no national profile. Seeing as he’s up for re-election this year, his lack of presence on the ballot for his current position could entice some popular, moderate Tennessee Democrat like Phil Bredesen to seek his seat, which Republicans wouldn’t want. And finally, though he is conservative, he doesn’t offer the kind of red meat that Tea Partying voters really want. However, he’s an interesting potential pick, and he shouldn’t be written off quite yet.
I considered listing a number of people—Idaho Governor Butch Otter, former Alabama Governor Bob Riley, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, to name a few—but I ultimately decided not to. All of the candidates that I did not include on this list were rejected because they were too old, too obscure, too alienating, too extreme, too inexperienced, and too impractical of selections if Mitt Romney would actually care to win. Rick Santorum is a name that I’ve heard to a degree, but trust me when I say that he won’t be selected—Romney has said that he wouldn’t pick him, for one, and their attacks on each other have been quite brutal. It has the potential to have a unifying effect on the Republican primary voters, but the traditional, business, law-and-order conservatives and moderates that Romney needs to win over in order to win wouldn’t be impressed. If Barack Obama didn’t pick Hillary Clinton, and if their campaigns were much less brutal, personal, and nasty than the Romney and Santorum campaigns are right now, then there is no reason to believe that Romney would pick Santorum.