Assessing Romney for Veep

Vice presidential candidates generally balance the ticket, shoring up the presidential nominee’s weaknesses. For McCain, the recommended attributes in a veep pick would include a relatively young candidate with chief executive experience – perhaps Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty or South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. There’s also speculation that Mitt Romney is angling for a spot on the ticket, evidenced by his recent fund-raising swing with McCain. Fred Barnes outlined his case for Romney, offering the following criteria for the selection process:

He wants a candidate who will be seen as a plausible president. That’s criterion number one. He also wants someone who won’t subtract from his campaign in any serious way. That’s criterion number two.

Our contention lies with the second criterion. McCain has carefully nurtured an image as a straight-talking maverick unafraid to buck party line. Romney is the polar opposite – an artificial, flip-flopping candidate adopting the policies suited to the context of whatever position he is running for. Romney’s dissembling compromises McCain’s candor, arguably his most appealing trait.

The other perceived plus for Romney is his expertise on economic issues. Barnes writes:

With the downturn worsening, the economy may surpass national security as the top issue of the campaign. And after years of success as a big time player in the global economy, Romney understands how markets work. He could shore up McCain’s admitted weakness on economic issues.

Romney’s business credentials are indeed impressive; consider his successful tenure at the helm of Bain Capital. Yet he failed to translate his private-sector accomplishments into a triumph at the voting booth. Examine Florida, where 45% of Republicans considered the economy the most important issue. Logically, Romney should have performed extremely well among that demographic, but McCain won the bloc by eight percentage points. Florida is not an aberration either, as many other states (Connecticut, California, etc) had a similar pattern.

Barnes himself points out the flip-side of the economy argument:

As a corporate turnaround artist, [Romney] rescued companies, sometimes by laying off workers. When he ran for the Senate from Massachusetts in 1994, the incumbent, Teddy Kennedy, raised the layoff issue with punishing effect. No doubt Democrats would use it again, and it might have resonance if a recession hits and unemployment is increasing.

Take a look at these compelling ads from Kennedy’s 1994 Senate campaign, featuring factory workers laid off from a company bought out by Romney’s Bain Capital. In a general election match-up that may hinge on white, working-class voters with low job security, Democrats could simply re-run the tapes to devastating effect. As of now, McCain has a decent shot at capturing Pennsylvania, a crucial step on the Democrats’ path to the White House. Placing Romney on the ticket, and thus acquiring the layoff baggage, could squander that opportunity.

Perhaps the most important disqualifier, McCain simply doesn’t like Romney. During the acrimonious primary battle, McCain once said about Mitt, “Never get into a wrestling match with a pig. You both get dirty.” McCain advisers say loyalty and an ability to work together are two of the most important qualities for a vice presidential pick.

Also, as McCain fills his number two spot, he is essentially anointing his heir. Republicans generally coalesce around a big-name candidate early; there’s a turnstile through which only one passes through (see Reagan in 1980, H.W. Bush in 1988, Dole in 1996, Bush in 2000). If McCain were to lose, Romney would be ideally positioned for a 2012 run; if McCain won, Romney would be the natural successor. Since McCain detests Romney, he would hardly want to hand him the power associated with a vice presidential nomination.

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