When first-term Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., was looking for a running mate to bolster a résumé short on foreign-policy experience and to help navigate the treacherous shoals of international relations during a time of war, he chose Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., the chairman and longtime member of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Texas Gov. George W. Bush, also short on overseas experience, did something similar when he chose Dick Cheney, a former White House chief of staff and secretary of Defense who had successfully managed the Persian Gulf War.
Neither Biden nor Cheney brought important swing states (Delaware and Wyoming, respectively) or voting constituencies to the ticket. They were chosen in large part because they had experience and gravitas on the world stage.
(PICTURES: Romney's Possible VP Picks)
Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney probably will not choose a vice president based on that person’s fluency in foreign relations. Even more than most, this presidential election is all about the domestic economy. But after Romney’s shaky and gaffe-ridden foray into international affairs on his recent trip to the United Kingdom, Israel, and Poland, perhaps he should reconsider.
Most voters have already decided which candidate’s economic calculus best squares with their own. The remaining swing voters may be more inclined to hand Romney the keys to the global superpower if the person riding shotgun has been around the block a few times. Romney has tacked hard to the right to secure his party’s nomination, making it tough to pin down his essential worldview. Here are a few potential vice presidential candidates who fit comfortably into major foreign-policy schools within the Republican Party:
Condoleezza Rice. The announcement that the former secretary of State is slated to speak at the Republican National Convention all but confirms the conventional wisdom that she was too bold and chancy a vice presidential pick. Rice’s pro-abortion-rights views are anathema to the evangelical and conservative base, for instance, and her service in the George W. Bush administration recalls memories of the Iraq war that many Republicans would just as soon forget.
More’s the pity. Rice can fairly be criticized for her stint as national security adviser in the first Bush 43 term, during which she was regularly steamrolled by Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. As secretary of State during Bush’s second term, however, Rice successfully mended fences with European allies whose feelings were bruised over Iraq, she pushed a “freedom agenda” in the Middle East that was just slightly ahead of its time, and she reasserted the traditional role of the United States as mediator in the Arab-Israeli dispute. By the end of her tenure at Foggy Bottom, Rice had emerged from the considerable shadows cast by Rumsfeld and Cheney with a reputation as a one-woman charm offensive — no mean feat.
Rice also has intangibles that could serve Romney well. She would be a Russia expert in an administration that seems intent on a more confrontational approach toward Moscow. Rice is also an excellent public speaker and debater, critical skills needed in a presidential campaign. As an African-American woman, she would cut into President Obama’s lead among those constituencies in what is likely to prove a close election. Rice has also displayed a trait much desired in vice presidents — unquestioned loyalty to the boss.
Lindsey Graham. The South Carolina Republican is one of three senators who argued in The Washington Post this week that the Obama administration’s cautious, largely hands-off approach to the civil war in Syria is at odds with both American values and interests. Graham, John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., are the three amigos who over the past decade have come to personify a particularly muscular, neoconservative brand of U.S. foreign policy. For these neo-Wilsonians with a sword, America has a moral duty to confront evil around the world and stand alongside all those trying to throw off the yoke of tyranny and oppression. As it happens, that worldview comports nicely with Romney's support for an increase in defense spending and full-throated advocacy for the idea of “American exceptionalism.”
McCain and Lieberman have already tested the presidential waters. Perhaps the third time would prove the charm for their junior partner and fellow member of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee. Like his cohorts, Graham has come by his tough and interventionist worldview the hard way: by traveling frequently to war zones and regions of conflict to get an on-the-ground perspective.
Graham’s military service in the Air Force and Air Force Reserves and his expertise in military and counterterrorism policy could fill a void in Romney’s résumé, and his folksy manner and Southern twang could nicely balance the Northeastern orientation at the top of the ticket. Graham is also a deft and sharp-tongued debater, and like Biden, he has a time-tested ability to reach across the aisle, which could prove useful in helping enact Romney’s agenda in Congress.