I am about to break a promise I made to you. I said this would be a safe space, one that would not turn itself over to rank speculation about the vice presidential sweepstakes.
But the candidates for president have invested so much time and energy trying to change the subject from whatever they don’t want to talk about this week that it has become nearly impossible to land anywhere else.
Besides, I don’t believe you when you say you don’t care. Don’t you people remember Lyndon Johnson? Dick Cheney? Vice presidents do matter. I’ve been reminded of that twice while sitting in the moderator’s chair at debates, dreaming up polite ways in which to phrase the “you’re-a-heartbeat-away” question.
So I am giving in. If my choice of political analysis is explaining why President Obama hates business (as the Romney campaign would have me do), or explaining what Mitt Romney is hiding bynot releasing his back tax returns (as the Obama campaign would have me do), I’ll choose the Veepstakes.
Herewith, an alphabetical guide through the trial balloons, wild speculation, and received conventional wisdom.
(Truth in advertising: Much of this is drawn from the work of friends and colleagues much better plugged-in than I. I freely admit that I have no idea what Romney will do, or when he will do it.)
Sen. Kelly Ayotte: A first-term senator from New Hampshire, she has many attractive characteristics. She campaigns well with Romney. She represents a battleground state. Her husband is an Iraq war veteran. And she is new enough to the national scene not to have made major mistakes (that we know of).
Former Gov. Jeb Bush: If it were possible to poll the Republican establishment, he would be their pick hands-down. He was a popular governor of an important state. He has that dynasty thing going. He is ahead of the curve on immigration. And he represents Florida, the most famous swing state of them all. But it took him an uncomfortably long time to endorse Romney this spring.
Gov. Chris Christie: A colorful and blunt rising star, it’s hard to imagine Christie would not cast a shadow on Romney every time he opened his mouth to say what he really thinks—which he does frequently. Plus, Christie is from New Jersey, a fairly blue state. This week’s reporting has him taking a keynote speaker’s role at the Republican National Convention. Sounds about right.
Gov. Bobby Jindal: The Louisiana governor has been a good soldier this summer, traveling the country and appearing on television on behalf of the Republican nominee. Campaigning in Ohio this week, he dutifully lashed out at the Obama campaign. “They’ve distorted what Governor Romney did as governor,” he said. “They distorted what he did in the private sector. They’ve even gone after what he did in high school.” He added, “I’m just glad we’re not talking about what I did in high school.” It was a joke, but do they vet for that?
Gov. Susana Martinez: There is something about a blank slate that holds great appeal for some candidates. New Mexico’s Martinez, who is a first-term governor with a Hispanic surname from a purple state, looks great on paper. But she says no. “It's humbling, but I'm not interested” sounds pretty definite. On the other hand, that was in April. Things change.
Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty: Currently the insiders’ favorite pick, Minnesota’s Pawlenty has been placed in the odd position of proving that he is not too boring to run with Romney. “If you goad me into it, I’ll show you my tats,” he told Fox News host Neil Cavuto. “I’m not as flashy as some, but compared to some others, I think I’m right in there,” he added. Pawlenty has been on this merry-go-round before. He was vetted as Sen. John McCain’s nominee in 2008 before being cast aside in favor of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. A plus this time: Although Pawlenty competed against Romney for the presidential nomination, he dropped out so quickly—after a disappointing third-place finish in the Iowa straw poll last summer—that he didn’t really get the chance to trash Romney the way other competitors did.