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REDSTATE ROUNDTABLE #15: McCain’s VP Pick

Swing States, Wild Cards, Lost Causes and Phil Gramm With A Mullet

There is anotherSo now we know the Democratic ticket: Obama-Biden. We have been promised John McCain’s running mate on Friday the 29th. With Joe Biden as the matchup, who among the plausible candidates should McCain take? And who is helped/hurt by the Biden pick?

Personally, I think I would disregard at least some of my own prior checklist and take Eric Cantor. Cantor’s young (but not too young), smart, conservative, telegenic, and from an important state that is a must-win for McCain (although Virginia seems less important with the news that Obama has suspended his TV ad campaign there, and there’s less need to counter a Virginia candidate than if Tim Kaine was the choice). He’s also Jewish; a Jewish Republican would be a bit of history, and as we have seen the Democrats may not handle that well. Some people have feared taking Cantor out of the running for House leadership, but this is a tight race for the White House, and that trumps everything in my view. The downside to Cantor is that he’s a Congressman: tied to an unpopular Congress, relatively light on experience (although with 8 years in Congress and 8 in the state legistature he has twice Obama’s federal experience, has been in a leadership position since Obama was a state Senator and has been in public office longer than George W. Bush) and without executive experience. But Cantor’s no lightweight, and Obama has a ticket with two Congressmen and no executive, military or business experience; the important thing is that Cantor would help balance McCain’s inconsistent profile on domestic policy and reassure the base.

Second choice would be the boring choice who ticks all the boxes: Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty has no real negatives, he’s slow and steady and would be the one guy from outside the Beltway or with executive experience on these two tickets. Pawlenty’s the guy you pick if you think McCain can win this thing the way the Giants beat the Bills in the Super Bowl in 1991: hit hard on every down, don’t turn the ball over, go for three yards at a time, take no risks and don’t let the other guy get into his high-powered offense; Pawlenty could play Jeff Hostetler to McCain’s OJ Anderson. My only real concern with Pawlenty is that while he’s a fairly sharp guy he could come off a little Quayle-ish on TV.

Third is Romney. While I’m not a fan of Mitt Romney on the ticket, though, I have to think his stock was helped most by the Biden pick. The fact that neither Obama nor Biden has really ever had any responsible job other than lawyer and politician is an argument for a McCain-Romney ticket that could contrast the GOP ticket’s extensive real-world military and business backgrounds before politics with two guys who have basically only been lawyers and legislators. And certainly Romney could hold his own debating Biden, and projects the required minimal credibility to take over the big job. A lot of Romney’s weaknesses as the #1 on the ticket would be lessened by the lower daily scrutiny applied to running mates. I do confess, though, that I still fear what effect anti-Mormon bigotry might have on the ticket; that’s an unknowable risk, although the question is what it would mean in states we could actually lose.

I love Sarah Palin but she is too much an obvious cipher on foreign affairs and probably too unknown as a vetting matter for 2008.

Let’s open it up to the floor:

Mark Impomeni: The selection of Biden is so bad that I think it closes Pawlenty out for McCain. McCain almost has to pick a real star for the number two slot to counter Obama’s horrible choice. I think taking the safe and boring choice in Pawlenty really wastes a golden opportunity to show the country how picking a running mate is done.

I have long been a fan of Rob Portman for VP, but I realize that he doesn’t get much traction on this list, save Pejman. Barring him, I think the only real young, bright, capable conservative out there and under consideration is Cantor.

Romney is a disaster for the same reasons Biden was. He has been critical of McCain and he annoys half the base. McCain has to make an “outside the box selection” after Biden, and Cantor fits the bill.

Dan McLaughlin: I think Biden’s a bad choice because he’s risky and conflicts with Obama’s message, but he is far from being self-evidently a dud. If anything he helps Pawlenty because he’s everything Pawlenty isn’t: a loose cannon, a DC insider, an East Coast guy.

Portman has apparently taken himself out of the running, so discussing him is now moot. I hope we see him again down the road but I stand by my view that the 08 ticket needs some distance from the Bush Administration.

Erick Erickson: I think Romney could be an asset for McCain against Biden, but I think a real wild card may be in order.

Think about this fact. Of the three people now on the field, none of them have had a real job in the American workforce. The closest is McCain who was in the military. Biden? He has been in Congress longer than McCain. Obama? He was a “community organizer,” which is code for “subsidized jobless activist.”

The problem with a real wild card, a Fred Smith, a Meg Whitman, a Carly Fiorina, is that they are harder to vet and there is no guarantee they’ll be politically savvy enough not to pull a Biden.

That opens the ticket well to someone like Eric Cantor, who worked in his family’s business doing legal work and real estate. It also opens it for Tim Pawlenty. But the real contrast would be Mitt Romney, who has rescued businesses, built businesses, met a payroll, etc.

The problem with Romney, though, is that McCain and Romney don’t much care for each other, the Dems would throw their attacks on each other back in their faces, and I don’t really know what he gets us politically. Michigan? Probably doable without him.

Cantor helps keep Virginia red and helps in swing states with Jewish populations that have a measurable impact, like Florida. Pawlenty helps in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Part of me thinks, though, that McCain just might go for an out of the box pick. McCain still poll tests well as a maverick. He should and could pick a maverick pick. Obama has already signaled his willingness to abandon the “hope and change” mantel by picking Biden. McCain could pick that up with a real wildcard none of us have even though of.

Dan McLaughlin: A card that wild still scares me, and given McCain’s age it could spook a lot of people.

Personally I prefer “panhandlers in neckties” to describe Obama’s job, but YMMV.

Brad Smith: Ross Perot? Pat Sajak? Brad Smith?

Rick Warren? Tom Monahan? Michael Bloomberg? Bill Gates?

Clint Eastwood? Kurt Russell? The Crocodile Hunter’s widow?

Dick Cheney? T. Boone? Sam Nunn? Jesse Ventura?

Ed Crane? Krempasky?

trying to think of someone none of us have thought of…

Ben Domenech: Curt Schilling.

Moe Lane: 2 thoughts:

1). A true “wild card” would be Colin Powell. Are we prepared for that?

2). Another true “wild card” would be letting the convention fight it out.

Ben Domenech: As you all know, I’m a fan of Cantor, and endorsed him for Veep last week in the WashTimes, fwiw. I am also assuming that many of the internet’s favorite picks – people who have officially taken themselves out of the running (Jindal, Barbour, Portman, Colin Powell) and that McCain shows no signs of considering (Sanford, Huckabee, Carcieri, Huntsman) – are not reasonable options.

So with that out of the way, I think the selection of Biden does a series of things:

-Biden eliminates Lieberman as a good choice. This is true for a number of reasons, but I think the most significant are that there is just so little space between the two of them. Lieberman would’ve been best matched against a pick who seemed light on foreign policy cred, where he gets to be the adult at the table – Biden is obviously not that. He is a centrist Democrat who has voted with Lieberman at an astoundingly high rate. There is just not a ton of advantage in taking a guy who’s “another Washington insider like Biden, only more independent, and Jewish.” I say this as someone who would’ve willingly pulled the lever for McCain-Lieberman, even without alcoholic aid – but I think this selection makes Joementum quite unwise.

-Biden slightly hurts the rationale for Romney. I do think that Romney would’ve been a bad choice from the get-go, and very out of character for McCain, but this makes it even less appealing, because Romney eliminates a good 2/3rds of the attacks that can be launched on Obama-Biden – on flip flops, on using quotes from debates against each other, on the economy. Romney’s chief attributes shine when he sounds like a technocrat – but Biden is going to go populist in response, and I doubt Romney is an astute enough debater (he certainly didn’t show it in the primary) to avoid getting tripped up and coming off as out of touch, wealthy, etc. The attacks on McCain’s wealth are blunted right now, but with Romney as the choice, they’d open the floodgates. Romney would’ve been the best pick if McCain had made it two months ago, and Mitt could’ve spent his money on the campaign all the way up to the convention. But now Romney’s money isn’t any good to McCain, and the media – which despises Romney more than even some of his fellow candidates – will not aid them at all, painting this as a wealthy white businessman and a war-mongering crazy grandpa versus a brilliant young black academic and a working class salt of the earth white guy. I fail to see Romney’s appeal as a choice versus Biden, and think it remains the pick most likely to backfire.

-I don’t believe Biden does anything to help the thought of Tom Ridge. Ridge is old news, just like Kay Bailey Hutchison and Lindsey Graham – all would be ludicrous choices.

-Biden doesn’t change the rationale for Pawlenty one little bit. Pawlenty remains the safest choice, and the least interesting. If Biden and Pawlenty give speeches on the same day, they’re going to send the local beat writer to Pawlenty’s, and five cameras and 12 recording devices to Biden’s. Biden is a trainwreck waiting to happen, which makes him both more dangerous for Obama and more interesting to the press. Pawlenty will be seen as bland, uninventive, and vanilla – but he’s consistent, he’s blue collar, he’s from the right part of the country, and he’s got executive experience. All of these things make him a safe, boring, pick. He needs to bring back the mullet.

-Nor does Biden much effect the positives and negatives of Sarah Palin. This is an election that is going to be about energy policy, the economy, and foreign policy – in that order, with the sanctity of life issues and the general classist arguments as the undercurrents motivating the bases on both sides. Palin is the energy policy choice, and choosing her would be a large gamble. You would have to hope that, against a seasoned debater like Biden, Palin can hold her own – or at least inspire a “well, that’s a nice idea you have honey,” moment. She’s shown all the signs of being a hardworking, engaging, somewhat Huckabee-like candidate – but we have no clue how she would fare against someone like Biden. Against a one-termer like Kaine or a woman like Sebelius, she’d have been a better sell – but Palin is just so untested at this point, we can’t be confident how she would come across. She’s the roll the dice pick – aim to peel off another 2-3% of women, win the energy issue, and hope that’s enough. I personally think she would be a success, but I think she’s very unlikely.

-Biden slightly helps the rationale for Eric Cantor, I believe. I think if Obama had chosen Bayh or Sebelius, Cantor would have been a poor choice. But Biden or Kaine provide greater reasons for him – Kaine because of the obvious contrast of Virginians, Biden because pitted against each other, I think Cantor comes across as new blood. He’s reform minded, energetic, and smart – while Biden will seem like pompous old Washington. They would provide a very good tangle, and I think they’re both good debaters. Cantor is less safe than Pawlenty, because he’s a Congressman and not an executive, but he’s got moxie, and I think he has a much higher upside.

-I say this as someone who is very reluctant to see either of these picks happen, but I think Biden helps the chances of two people who are both described as McCain insiders on the economy and domestic policy, and both have serious question marks. First is Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. McCain likes Crist and views him as a reform minded executive from a big state, someone whose style he likes and who would be a Washington outsider compared to Biden. This is only on paper, granted – but McCain would be able to avoid spending time or money in Florida, and probably thinks Crist would match up well with an old voice like Biden. The second is Carly Fiorina. I do not think the woman is a good choice for VP at all – she’s an able supporter, yes, but Vice President should never be the first office you run for, especially when the head candidate is in his 70s. I just think both of those picks would seem like McCain being McCain – and with the choice of Biden, I could see how he could rationalize them both.

Leon Wolf: Schilling owes the Sox about $8 mil before he can even think about that.

Hunter Baker: Put me down for the proposition that the right VP pick can actually swing a close state. (On that basis, Cheney was an incredibly arrogant pick. If you don’t need any help electorally (yeah, right), pick the guy from Wyoming.) Pawlenty could give us Minnesota. Even if he only helps 2-3 points there, he could make the difference. I’ll take that over anything else right now. And by the way, he’d also be the only person on either ticket with executive experience. I’d make the same case for Romney if he’d ever actually won office in Michigan, but he hasn’t.

Brad Smith: Yeah, being Governor of Massachusetts, head of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee, and CEO of a business doesn’t count as “executive experience.” Now Governor of Minnesota…. that’s a different story.

Ben Domenech: Blue collar executive experience = good.

White collar executive experience = bad.

Dan McLaughlin:: Brad, I think Hunter’s point was that Mitt’s experience is in a state he can’t help with.

Without rehashing here the whole Romney-for-POTUS debate, the advantage Pawlenty has is that he’s had to stay in one office long enough to do follow-through as a public executive, whereas Romney, while he is a very proven commodity in the private sector, basically bugged out of Mass. after three years. The result of that is precisely why we are having the debate over whether he’s responsible for how badly the health care bill he signed ended up playing out in practice.

I do like the elegance of the “soldier and a businessman” ticket, and Mitt’s single term as a governor makes him a much safer, sounder pick than the businesspeople who have never run a government. But in terms of a record as a public executive he’s not really comparable to a guy who has been a governor for six years and Majority Leader in a statehouse for another four.

Brad Smith: Reading Hunter’s post again, I think he’s referring to the case that the veep choice can help carry the state, but the thought got split up by the sentence on executive experience.

FWIW, and I pointed this out last spring, the Romney name has hardly been magic in Michigan since George left to become Secretary of HUD under Nixon. George’s wife Lenore (Mitt’s mother) lost to Phil Hart in the 1970 U.S. Senate race. Ronna Romney, Mitt’s Sister-in-law, lost the 1994 U.S. Senate primary to Spence Abraham, and the 1996 general election to Carl Levin. Mitt’s brother, Scott, lost the 1998 GOP nomination for Attorney General in a convention (this battle was a traumatic one for the Michigan GOP and started their decline after a brief ascendancy in the first half of the decade), though he was later elected to the Board of Trustees of Michigan State University. Anyway, some of those races – like Lenore against Hart – were very tough, and George actually endorsed Spence Abraham over his former daughter-in-law Ronna in 1994. Still, it’s not like you just throw the Romney name out there and Michiganders go crazy, even if we note that Mitt cleaned McCain’s clock in this year’s Michigan presidential primary.

Dan McLaughlin: I think it’s generally agreed that the Romney name and his Michigan upbringing gives Romney some goodwill in Michigan. As you note, it remains open to debate how far that gets him, but the primary win there is a big part of his case for being VP.

Leon Wolf: I really just think that it’s impossible for McCain to go with Romney given the acrimony between the two in the primary. Especially given the fact that McCain and the RNC have opened up with both barrels releasing ads of Biden and Hillary criticizing Obama. I can’t imagine they want to have that turned around on them so quickly.

If you look historically, the last successful run made by a candidate who chose a running mate who laid into him in the primary was Reagan in 1980. There’s a reason for that, and a reason that candidates don’t often choose their running mates from among their primary competitors. That’s especially true with Romney, who did not run the sort of campaign that was designed to keep the VP door open.

So, whatever his virtues, I just can’t see it happening. I think at this point it’s a three way race between Pawlenty, Cantor and Lieberman. Pawlenty probably has a huge lead in that race, but I wish Cantor did.

Dan McLaughlin: I dunno, there’s a couple offsets to that (I can’t believe I’m making the case for Mitt here, but here I go). One, by picking his #1 rival for the nomination, or at least the guy who was perceived as such, McCain rubs salt in the wounds of the Hillary supporters. He could give a speech loaded over with references to party unity, being a big enough man to respect a tough rival, etc. Two, at least most of the Romney attacks on McCain were themed as “McCain’s not conservative enough” – the Obama team will fear using those because it cuts against their whole “McBush” theme. I worry that they can paint Mitt as Bush Part II, but they can’t play up the tension between the two without showcasing McCain’s maverick creds, and they may end up making a much weaker case for fear of doing that.

Ben Domenech: I think Romney would’ve matched up well with Hillary. But I think that’s the only situation where he’d have been a better pick.

Mark Kilmer: Can’t McCain win Michigan without whatever help Romney on the ticket would provide?

I think that if McCain picks Romney, its a tacit admission that he needs Mitt’s prolific fundraising abilities. With federal funding, that’s doubtful.

I think that, now that Joe Biden is Obama’s guy, McCain does not pick a white male. It can be done. (What about that nice governor from Alaska who got in trouble with the system for defending her kid sister from a wife beater? You know, the working mother who cares for her special needs child.)

Brad Smith (responding to Mark Kilmer):

In order:
1. No.
2. Not really – many in the press will say that, but as you point out, that really doesn’t matter much any more, and Romney will help the RNC raise money anyway, so it can hardly be an admission that McCain needs Romney’s fundraising abilities.
3. Not gonna happen.

Pejman Yousefzadeh: As with all such conversations, I have to be stultifyingly boring and question the premise.

It doesn’t matter that Obama played Biden to e4. McCain’s move on the chessboard should be determined by the following considerations:

  1. Who will be the best President if called upon to serve?
  2. Who brings skills that complement McCain’s and make up for skills that McCain may lack?
  3. Who can best help McCain lead?
  4. Who has the best personal chemistry with McCain?

As indicated, I am a huge fan of Portman. To the extent that a matchup with Biden matters, I would love for Portman to basically tell Biden, “let me show you what being smart really means and by the time I am done with you, you will no more want to compare your IQ with mine than you will want to compare your hairstyle with that of normal people.” Portman does not believe that he will be picked, however.

I think that it will be Pawlenty, in large part because he stuck with McCain when things were looking bad in 2007. It might be Cantor. It should be Portman and I would put Cantor over Pawlenty. Romney is out because the McCain people won’t want to have Democrats quoting Romney’s criticisms of McCain back at the candidate the way McCain’s team is quoting Biden’s criticisms of Obama back at Obama. Palin is too green. Whitman and Fiorina will receive about as much attention as I will.

Adam C: First, I repeat my general VP maxim: VPs don’t change the election except in their home state by a few points at most. Romney doesn’t move votes in MI. I actually doubt Cantor moves votes in VA because he isn’t known statewide. It usually takes a long term Senator or a popular GOV to have an effect. Pawlenty might move 1-3 points in MN at most. Most importantly, recent VP picks have not been about winning a state.

Second, the question at hand: who should McCain pick? I think this depends heavily on where you want the GOP in 4 or 8 years. The most important thing about McCain’s VP choice is that they are a frontrunner for the nomination in 2012 or 2016 unless they are far outside the party mainstream. So if you supported Huck, you probably think McCain should pick Huck. Ditto Romney. Ditto Fred. If you want to keep an open primary for the future, then Lieberman or Ridge are actually relatively good choices for you. Neither will make it through a GOP primary so those elections would be open to Palin, Jindal, Sanford, Jeb, etc.

If the question is who would help McCain win, that is different. Since VPs don’t move voters, I think the best choices to help win are 1) GOV Crist and 2) GOV Pawlenty. They could move those states by a couple points and help the overall odds a little. I doubt that is how McCain is approaching this. On the other hand, do not harm is still a major principle and it cuts off a decent number of people.

Third, the question that wasn’t asked but I want to answer anyway: who will McCain choose? I think McCain faced a fork in the road between maverick (Lieberman) and status quo (Pawlenty, Romney). I think he has decided to go status quo and I think the closeness of the race pushed him in that direction. So the question is down to Pawlenty and Romney. Of those, I think McCain should choose Pawlenty, but will choose Romney.

Adam C: To Kowalski. I note that none of what I wrote depends on the Biden pick. I don’t think that changed anything with respect to McCain’s choice.

Dan McLaughlin: To answer Pejman’s question, I lean towards Cantor in large part because I’d rather he be the Veep than the other remaining candidates, rather he be the POTUS, and rather he be the heir apparent. I think he’s close to the others in terms of electoral help, and really it’s all guesswork as to which of him, Pawlenty or Romney would be most helpful, and extreme guesswork with Palin.

Crist would be a bad, bad idea. We don’t need help to win FL. He’s been in office no longer than Palin and less time than Mitt. He won’t help with the base. And I’m not sure if he survives the vetting process.

Brad Smith: The person picked, if he makes a credible showing in the campaign, will gain national visibility and be a, if not the, presumptive frontrunner for the 2012 nomination, and since McCain is probably going to lose regardless of whom he picks, conservatives should be interested in seeing us set something up for the future.

That would send my eye to someone such as Cantor, or to take a person not mentioned in this discussion, Tom Coburn. Not saying it is going to happen – it isn’t – but conservatives should be rooting for someone who will help the party from 2009 to 2012, because 2008 probably doesn’t matter.

Brad Smith (responding to Adam): In modern races a VP doesn’t help win a state or states so much as set a broader tone and image that matters for the campaign overall. In that way, VPs do change elections, just not in ways that show up in the measurements. Voters don’t say, “I’m voting for Clinton because he picked Gore,” but picking Gore almost certainly helped Clinton, 1) by solidifying in a vague way in people’s minds that Clinton was indeed moderate (remember Gore was always portrayed as a moderate, and in some ways, early in his career he was); and 2) by projecting youth, success, and energy – they looked good together back in 1992, and seemed to enjoy and respect one another, and that folded neatly into the broader themes of Clinton’s campaign. Romney is potentially a throwback in that he probably does actually help in specific, close states (mainly Nevada and Michigan), but however one cuts it, it is a mistake to think the VP doesn’t change the election. Of course, that presumes the election is close anyway – this one probably won’t be.

Dan McLaughlin: Brad, I think we agree to disagree on how important and how winnable this race is (I think the outcome is far from certain as of yet, although it could still easily get horribly away from either candidate), and probably as well on whether it is a good thing to set up Romney as the potential frontrunner for 2012. Although it is hard to see how Romney’s position improves if he’s on a losing ticket and then out of office for four years. And Pawlenty would not really be set up by a loss either, given his status as (1) similar to McCain ideologically and (2) the low-risk default choice. I also would not suggest Cantor if I thought we were certain to lose, as he can be more use to us moving up in House leadership. Of the people on the list, probably only Palin would gain in stature by joining the ticket and losing, and then only if she didn’t come off as overmatched by Joe Biden, of all people, in a debate. I suppose Jindal would have set himself up well by being the losing running mate, and ditto for Sanford, but they appear to be out of the running.

Ben Domenech: To quibble with a fact in your initial graf, Adam: Keep in mind that Mark Warner’s Senate campaign telephone polled versus Davis, versus Gilmore, and versus Cantor. Cantor was the one who came closest, despite lower name ID than a guy who ran statewide three times and a guy who’s been the self-styled master of Northern Virginia since 1994.

Not to say that he moves votes – just that he moves more votes than you might think for a member of the House.

Mike Krempasky: I love it.

McCain-Coburn 2008
Dark Horse? No, The one You Road In On.

McCain-Coburn 2008
100% Ted Stevens-free

McCain-Coburn 2008
We Could Give A Crap

McCain-Coburn 2008
“They like me, they really like me.”
“John, why do you care?”

McCain-Coburn 2008
Honor. Duty. Ornery.

McCain-Coburn 2008
Slightly More Pleasant To Work With Than A Colonoscopy.
Slightly.

Ben Domenech:McCain-Coburn 2008
Battling Terrorists, Russkies, and Lesbian Invaders.

Mark Kilmer: Point taken on no 2. On 3, was your “not gonna happen” directed at McCain choosing a non-white guy in general or Palin in particular? It could apply to both, as their is a paucity of non-white guys from whom to select and, I know, Palin’s shot is longer than long.

Pej likes Portman, as do I, but the media has already told us that they would hammer that pick with a “four more years of Bush” mallet. But I agree with him that it would be enjoyable to watch Portman dress down Joe Biden.

Brad Smith: Yes, but people whom we haven’t been discussing would gain stature by being on the ticket, e.g. Coburn, Sanford – in other words, my first challenge was to think “off the list.” If you want to restrict the talk to the names we’ve heard mentioned in the press, well, that makes the discussion a lot more boring. Besides, McCain may have some complete surprise for us. It’s sort of like saying back in April that no one is allowed to pick Tampa Bay to win the AL East, because everybody knows it will be Boston or New York.

Anyway, of those “on the list,” Romney gains the least by being named. I doubt he’ll run in 2012 anyway, so that’s not really my interest.

Again, you can kid yourself with summer polls but the fact is that we are probably going to lose this election, and probably going to lose it by a lot. So the question of whom we want to push to the fore for the future is very important.

Thomas Crown: Well, being a conservative, I look to the past as a less-than-dispositive, but highly informative guide, and I see the Dem polling best in the summer, so you’ll pardon me if I’m not certain St. John the McCain gets trounced.

That said, assuming arguendo that you’re totally, 100% on the mark, I’m curious as to why we want someone going down in miserable, terrible flames, on the facially absurd theory that only in the crucible of humiliation can greatness be forged. Let’s see, in the last 100 years, the following Republicans pulled off that trick … oh, right, none. Closest we got is Nixon, whose pathologies were sufficient to allow him to shrug off having the election narrowly stolen by mafia thugs, machine Democrats, and Kennedys (but I repeat myself).

So I’d appreciate some clarification of the underlying logic here.

Soren Dayton:</strong%

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