August 10, 2012 Rob Portman for Vice President
The conventional wisdom (or at least a large chunk of it) is that Romney’s running mate should be someone “exciting”: i.e. a woman, a minority, or someone further to the right than he is (like all those people who he beat soundly in the Republican primaries).
I disagree. These arguments are based on assumptions that I find to be pretty questionable.
Assumption 1: Romney is losing and needs a “game-changer.”
This argument in turn is based on two assumptions:
a) Sub-Assumption 1: Romney would lose if the election was held today. I am not sure this is true. I concede for the sake of argument that if everyone voted, Romney would lose (though even this is true only if undecided voters broke evenly rather than breaking against the incumbent).
But the only poll that even tries to screen for likely voters, Rasmussen, shows Romney ahead.* This poll (as well as a few others I have seen) tells me that Republicans are more enthuasiastic about voting than Democrats. (In fact, this is normally the case- though on the other hand, Rasmussen polls tend to favor Rs).
b) Sub-Assumption 2: Today’s polls have predictive value. Wrong because the conventional wisdom seems to be that the economy is getting worse and not better. Assuming that this is correct, Obama will lose votes between now and Election Day. If Obama had a 20-point lead, perhaps he might have a cushion big enough to withstand the possible economic slowdown.
But the most recent registered-voter polls show Obama with a 2-8 point lead- and remember, those don’t include the likely Republican turnout advantage. If Obama has a small lead today, he will (barring surprisingly good economic news) still not win in November.
So my view is that this election is Romney’s to lose. Given my assumption that Romney will probably win, he should pick someone who he actually wants to be President and who won’t lose votes.
Assumption 2: A woman/minority/whatever will gain voters. The woman part didn’t work too well for either McCain/Palin ’08 or Mondale/Ferraro ’84. And even in state polls, Republican women (whether they win or lose) don’t do particularly well among women. For example, in New Hampshire, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (the woman who seems to have been most heavily mentioned among Republicans) got 65 percent among men and only 55 percent among women. That gender gap is actually higher than the gender in neighboring Vermont (where a male Republican ran only 7 points lower among women). Come to think of it, Portman had a lower gender gap than Ayotte (61% among men, 54 with women).
What about a minority? For Hispanics we just don’t have a lot of evidence, since there were no exit polls in the New Mexico governors’ race, and Florida (home of Cuban-American Sen. Rubio) is not representative since Cuban-Americans usually vote Republican. (Rubio ran 5 points ahead of the Republican gubernatorial candidate among Hispanics while running even with him among Anglos- but I don’t know if that would translate an advantage among other Hispanic ethnic groups, or whether he might have lost votes among Anglos due to his ethnicity).
But black Republican statewide candidates (such as Ken Blackwell, the 2006 GOP nominee for governor of Ohio and Michael Steele, the ’06 nominee for senator from Maryland) historically haven’t done too well with blacks or whites.
What about someone perceived as more conservative, like Paul Ryan? I think the evidence is pretty clear that Republicans are very eager to show Pres. Obama the door, and will vote for anyone, anyplace, anytime over him. If Republicans were more energized they’d need psychiatric help. There is no reason to do anything risky to “mobilize the base”; they have been told through Fox News, radio talk etc that Obama is absolutely terrible and they are plenty mobilized.
So Romney doesn’t need a “bold” pick. He needs to assume that barring a mess-up he will be President. So given these assumptions, what should he do? First, don’t pick someone who will lose votes (i.e. who will come across as crazy or unqualified). Second, pick someone who seems more likely than average to be a good President since I doubt very much that this election will be close enough for the Vice Presidential pick to matter. (I’m not saying that this election will be a rout as big as Reagan’s victory over Jimmy Carter in 1980, but I could easily imagine a reversal of Obama’s 2008 margin, with Romney getting around 53 percent of the vote or so- about the same as the GOP congressional vote in 2010).
Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio seems to fit the bill on both counts. He has experience in both houses of Congress and in the Executive Branch as U.S. Trade Representative and OMB Director, so he seems qualified to me. And he seems to me to be someone who finds the right balance between being a party-line Republican and not being someone who would alienate swing voters.
My second choice (among the names that are mentioned most often) would be Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. He has been governor long enough to know what he’s doing, has a reputation as a smart guy. He does have a reputation as being a little more to the Right, but from what little I know he seems non-crazy.
What about some people I wouldn’t pick? A lot of the prominent “mentionees” are people who are less experienced than Obama was when he was elected. Since I think Obama was lamentably underqualified (and frankly I think if Romney had been governor for more than four years he’d be a little more professional), these people just aren’t ready. They include:
*Marco Rubio of Fla. (only one and a half year in Congress- and no, I don’t think being in a state legislature adds much).
*Kelly Ayotte (ditto)
*Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico (only one and a half year as governor of a very small state)
*Chris Christie (two and a half years as governor is better than one, but I still think he should wait till 2016).
*Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia (ditto).
One thing we should have learned from Sarah Palin: if you are not experienced you WILL make rookie mistakes and WILL embarrass the ticket. (I realize some people think Sarah Palin is just an idiot, but from what little I’ve seen of her emails, it seems like her problems related more to experience and preparation than to IQ- on the other hand I’m happy to concede that the only way I’d know for sure is to visit the alternate universe where she is picked in 2016 after eight years as governor).
What about Tim Pawlenty, the other boring-but-commonly-mentioned candidate? On paper I like him (two full terms as governor). But his electoral record stinks (barely reelected, not very popular in Mn.) and he has a history of making dumb statements about foreign policy (just google “Pawlenty” and “Iraq”). I think he will be less likely to embarrass the ticket than some of the people I’ve named, but more likely than Portman.
What about Paul Ryan, the current poster boy for economic conservatism? He’s been in Congress for over a dozen years, which I like. From what little I know he seems smart, but his Medicare proposal might be a vote-loser. I would say to Romney: if this is a guy you would actually want to be President, pick him because you’ll probably win no matter you you pick. But if you think this is really a 50-50 election, pick someone else.
If I had to guess who Romney would actually pick (as opposed to who I think he should pick), I’d guess either Portman or Ryan: Portman for the reasons I’ve stated, and Ryan because he is smart and experienced enough to (hopefully) not make ridiculous gaffes, and conservative enough to unify the party.
I’d also like to suggest a dark horse. If Romney wants to pick someone who will bring a swing state, I wouldn’t suggest one of the big states; I think that in a true 50-50 election it is as clear as the nose on your face that Romney will get Ohio and Florida (and probably that Obama gets Pennsylvania). The most likely “swing” state, it seems to me, is the one (s) that most closely reflects the national results- ideally, one where Obama’s ’08 lead mirrored his national seven-point lead. Obama only won Fla. by two points- so that tells me Romney wins Florida even if he loses nationally. Similarly, Obama only won Ohio by four. The swing states that most closely replicated the national margin are Colorado (8.6 pt Obama lead) and Virginia (6.3). The only statewide Republican officeholder in Virginia is Gov. McDonnell (see my comments above). But Colorado has a perfectly credible two-term Republican governor, Bill Owens. Why not give him a look?
*I have no idea why my links seem to become capitalized on WordPress.