Sabatos Crystal Ball


Mitt Romney as running mate

Kathryn Jean Lopez, Special Guest Columnist May 8th, 2008


The presidential Democrats may still be tussling, but soon the national focus will turn to the vice presidential selection frenzy. The Crystal Ball has long discussed the possible candidates on both sides, but which contender should each nominee select? The Crystal Ball does not endorse or support any candidate for any office, but we asked two veteran, skilled political observers to argue, from their perspective, which possible Veep ought to be chosen by Barack Obama and John McCain. (Should Hillary Clinton somehow manage to upset Obama’s applecart, we’ll publish a similar piece from her perspective.) Thanks to the lively and talented writer Kathryn Lopez of National Review, whose column appears below, and the distinguished political scientist Professor Gerald Pomper of Rutgers University, whose piece you can read by clicking here, for their essays. –Larry J. Sabato

For Mitt Romney, the suspension of his campaign at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference two days after Super Tuesday marked the beginning of a new and promising campaign. As he ended his quest for the Republican presidential nomination, he staked for himself a position as leader for the conservative future. It’s a good position to be in for a potential 2012 run for the presidency. And it’s a position that makes him an attractive option for John McCain’s No. 2 in 2008.

In his withdrawal speech, Romney announced that “conservative principles are needed now more than ever” — hitting the economy, the culture, and the war. One Romney adviser referred to the speech and the pullout as “a down-payment on a conservative future.”

Romney’s biggest value to McCain, though, comes from his experience in business. John McCain has no such experience and famously said during the New Hampshire primary that “the issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should.” (He added that he owns former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan’s book.) That quote will come back to haunt McCain once general-election time finally arrives.

Mitt Romney’s greatest asset for McCain — who has been in Congress for almost a quarter of a century — is, therefore, his executive experience, most of it in the business world, most notably as vice president of Bain & Company, Inc. from 1978 to 1984, and as founder of Bain Capital, venture-capital savior of the likes of Staples, Domino’s Pizza, and Sports Authority. Romney famously turned around the corrupt and broke ($379 million in debt) Salt Lake City Olympics and cleaned up a Massachusetts budget running $3 billion in the red without raising taxes. At a time when the country may be in a wartime recession, Romney emanates a confident competence (and he would do it, as veep nominee, alongside a GOP presidential nominee with a mixed tax-cutting record). Choosing Romney, then, could be as practical as politics gets. When in the voting booth, partisan preferences may pale in comparison to the attraction of a guarantee of competence in the executive.

McCain, if he chooses Romney, may be wise to give Vice President Romney more than economics in his assignment portfolio. As two-time Cabinet secretary William J. Bennett recently put it on his radio show, “McCain would do the war. Romney would do domestic.” Social conservatives might hold up McCain’s speech this week on the judiciary and say, great blueprint, Senator. But we don’t trust you, Senator. (In fact, former Department of Justice official Mark R. Levin, another talk-show host, said just that in the wake of the judges speech: “I don’t trust this guy.”) Take that basically sound blueprint and give us someone we trust. Romney, who fought judicial activism on marriage in Massachusetts — and made the issue a key part of his campaign for president — has some credentials there.

The governor makes electoral-map sense, too. First of all, now we can agree the Mormon factor is a plus. Utah’s a lock, he won the caucus there with 90 percent of the vote. But Utah’s not the battleground: Michigan is. And Romney’s favorite-son status there makes it a likely delivery for McCain with Romney on the ticket. (Romney’s economics talk went over well there, too, you might recall.) Romney’s already been to Michigan on McCain’s behalf and no doubt will return. Would the Michigan effect spread to Ohio? McCain seems already to have an appreciation for Romney’s electoral assets: Romney recently spoke to the Nevada state Republican convention; Romney won the Nevada caucus with 51 percent of the vote to McCain’s 13 percent.

Since endorsing McCain, Romney has hit the media trail for McCain, too — including talking to radio and TV giant Sean Hannity — at the McCain communications shop’s request.

And speaking of numbers, Romney proved to be the Republican dream of a fundraiser and money source: He ran with some $47 million of his own during primary season. On the calendar this week, Romney has a meeting set up in Houston with McCain and Romney 2008’s finance chairs and co-chairs to encourage those who are holding back to give to the senator’s cash-starved campaign.

Proving how deep his team-player loyalty is, Romney even skipped the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington, D.C., to speak to the Nevada state Republican convention in April. (Full disclosure: Romney was to sit at National Review‘s table; NR endorsed him for president last December.) Romney will also prove himself a team player when he campaigns and raises funds for some 30 congressmen running this year, as part of his soon-to-be-announced political-action committee; the candidates Romney supports will reflect his full-spectrum conservatism (further giving conservatives confidence that he has a commitment to their movement, even if he hasn’t always been a member).

One last numbers point: John McCain is a 71-year-old who looks it. At a young 61, Romney provides a vigorous safety net for those worried “what if” when they look at McCain.

Mitt Romney and John McCain, of course, would be an odd couple — they have a past. If the Arizona senator believes what he said during their big showdown in Florida this winter, their differences may be irreconcilable. On McCain’s signature issue — “No Surrender” in Iraq — McCain accused the former Massachusetts governor of being on the wrong side of the debate, i.e., on the side of surrender. The rap against Romney was bogus: McCain’s criticism was that during a TV interview last year, Romney endorsed the idea of private timetables between the United States and Iraq. This is not inconsistent with proposals McCain himself has considered. But McCain remembers that the word “timetable” was a Beltway buzzword last year for withdrawing from Iraq. Getting out of Iraq, however, is not what Romney was talking about. One can reasonably criticize his word choice in a heated environment, but he wasn’t a cut-and-runner.

Move on, in other words. Or rather, Senator McCain, remember — which has endorsed Senator Obama. The general-election opponent has a way of focusing the mind. In his CPAC speech, Romney said: “I will continue to stand for conservative principles. I will fight alongside you for all the things we believe in. And one of those things is that we cannot allow the next President of the United States to retreat in the face of evil extremism.” That’s a message that can run with McCain.

Bottom line: Vetted outsider Mitt Romney adds to Washington-insider McCain. He’s a running mate with pluses, which, most importantly, includes being a plausible president — 294 delegates’ worth of primary voters thought so, anyway. His resume speaks for itself. McCain could do worse than pick Mitt Romney — and he’s got to know that, if he wants to win in November.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist.