Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Veepstakes: The Case for Portman

Politico Arena Topic: Romney's Running Mate

Picking a running mate is the most important decision a presidential candidate can make. After all, they are not the president yet; they cannot order a military strike on a foreign country, cannot send American soldiers into harm’s way in a foreign land, cannot issue executive orders or sign bills into law. About the only thing of consequence a presidential candidate can do is pick the individual who will serve as their deputy should they be elected. It used to be that the vice presidential position was so inconsequential that it was the place where political careers went to die. In the modern presidency, however, vice presidents have become an important component of the presidential administration and a trusted adviser to the president. But the most important role of the vice president has remained timeless—to be ready to take over in the event that death or disability strikes the president. This transition has happened eight times in our history due to the death of the president and once due to resignation. However, too often in American history, presidential candidates (or the party machine in days gone by) have failed to ask a fundamental question when considering the person who will be only a heartbeat away from the presidency: is this person qualified and competent to be president in their own right?

With the pressure to win being paramount, running mates are often chosen because of geographical and ideological reasons, qualifications and competence be damned. Senator John McCain’s recent defense of his own 2008 decision aside, Sarah Palin was not qualified to be president. The world held its collective breath in 1992 when President George H.W. Bush collapsed in Japan as, just for a moment, the thought of “President Dan Quayle” took hold. And Spiro Agnew’s resignation as vice president after a lengthy investigation into his ethical and legal misdeeds allowed the country to avoid an even bigger Constitutional crisis when his boss Richard Nixon resigned a year later. These examples should cause presidential candidates to pause and reflect during the search for their running mate.

And so that brings us to Governor Mitt Romney’s decision about his own running mate. The usual cast of characters have been mentioned for months as speculation has continued nonstop since the spring: Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Tim Pawlenty, Rob Portman, and Paul Ryan. I do think it will be somebody from this group. All of these folks are relatively safe—there is not a Palin in the bunch. If the 2012 election were a football game, it is likely to be decided by a field goal, not a touchdown. Thus Romney does not need a Palinesque Hail Mary; rather, a short, high-percentage pass down field to get him into field goal range would be much more helpful. And Romney does not seem to be a gambler anyway—he is much more Aaron Rodgers than Brett Favre.

Given this, my gut and my head scream Rob Portman, the Ohio Senator no one knows much about. In terms of geography, Portman comes from perhaps the most important state of all in 2012—Ohio. No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio and only twice since 1896 has a Democrat achieved that, the last time being 1960. You win Ohio, you win the presidency. Portman, a longtime member of the U.S. House from Southwest Ohio, would help Romney in the state. Portman’s only downside in the Buckeye State is that he is relatively unknown to most Ohioans. But that is what a campaign is for and by the time November rolled around, most Ohioans would have an idea of who Portman is. Ideologically, Portman is a conservative, but not the kind of flamethrower that would turn off independent, swing voters. He is a soft spoken, pleasant, policy-wonkish individual that has proven he can work with individuals across the ideological and political spectrum. He will not excite the base in a Palineque sort of way, but he will not turn them off either.

And if Governor Romney considers the competent/qualified question I laid out above, no one on the list of frontrunners for veep comes close to Portman. He is absolutely qualified to be president—in fact much more so than Governor Romney himself. His resume, filled with a variety of experiences in the White House and on the Hill, is as strong as any president since George H.W. Bush. Besides spending 12 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and currently serving in his first term as a U.S Senator, Portman has held a variety of positions in the administrations of both Bushes including as an Associate White House Counsel, director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, U.S. trade ambassador, and director of the Office of Management and Budget. This is a better resume than most presidential candidates and if Romney fails to capture the White House in 2012, Portman would have to be considered a likely POTUS candidate in 2016. Romney, of course, may choose to go in a different direction. But if he is serious about picking the best person for the job, he need not look beyond the Buckeye State for his veep.

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