I’ve been trying to come up with some organized thoughts about who Romney should pick as Vice President. That’s not working out so well. So I’ll go with some disorganized thoughts,
1. Obama has a likeable persona who will run a well organized, tactically competent, and very well funded campaign. Romney hasn’t faced anything like that this year. Obama will also have the sympathies of most of those who produce the media consumed by most low information persuadable voters (to the extent that they end up voting.)
2. Other than the Obama campaign, the most relevant factors for the Romney campaign will be the circumstances of the country in early November 2012, the quality of Romney’s performance as candidate, the performance of Romney’s campaign operatives, and the media strategy undertaken by the Romney campaign and allied groups. The circumstances will be the most important thing and it is quite possible that they will be ambivalent so that other factors will be decisive.
3. Unless he or she is a total disaster, Romney’s choice of running mate will likely be less important than the above factors, but it is also possible that the all the other factors will be so balanced that the choice of running mate might prove decisive. In any case, the better Romney’s choice of running mate, the better off Romney is.
4. Esteemed commenter Stephen H. and Ricochet’s Troy Senik are for Marco Rubio. Both argue that Rubio’s energizes conservatives while, at the same time, his speaking style is attractive to moderates. They also argue that Rubio might make some inroads with Latinos, but without being any kind of an ethnic identity politics candidate. I think they are mostly right, but I don’t think that Rubio would be optimal as compared with governors like Bobby Jindal, Bob McDonnell, or Mitch Daniels (let’s assume for the purposes of this discussion that Daniels is open to being VP - if he isn’t, just focus on Jindal and McDonnell.) That doesn’t make Rubio a bad choice. He would be a much better choice than the undisciplined and much less likeable Santorum.
5. Rubio is really good at the soaring rhetoric. His election night speech in 2010 was genuinely powerful and a look at C-SPAN and C-SPAN 2 will show you how rare Rubio’s speaking talents are compared to the rest of the Republican congressional membership. But he has never held executive office and he has been in Congress for less than a year and a half. You can argue that Obama was a good and likeable speaker with similar inexperience in 2008. Obama had been in the Senate for two years longer but Rubio has been the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. Obama still got elected. Maybe the Republican challenge in 2012 is different from the Democratic challenge in 2008. Obama is a social democratic-leaning and socially liberal politician. His lack of federal-level experience was actually a political advantage in 2008. If Obama had been a 20 year Senate veteran, his record would have been littered with votes against middle-class tax cuts, against popular military hardware, and against welfare reform. Not having been a Senator for very long made it easier for Obama to promise tax cuts + more spending + lower budget deficits all at the low price of restoring the Clinton-era tax rates on high earners and raising some taxes on oil companies. The Republican challenge this year is different, more complicated and more difficult. The Republicans have to make their case on the economy. That is the comparatively easy part. The Republicans also have to make the case for some combination of entitlement and health care reform. That is a lot tougher. I don’t care what moderated and more vague version of the Ryan budget Romney ends up trying to sell. It will be obvious that Republicans will be proposing spending less money on middle-class entitlements. It will be obvious that Republicans will be proposing spending the remaining Medicare funds differently (premium support.) Romney has already tried to explain the advantages of transitioning away from a system of primarily employer-provided health insurance the working-aged. The results have varied from the forgettable to the damaging . Remember when he said he liked being able to fire people who provided him with services? He was trying to explain why it would be good idea to go to a system of individually purchased insurance. If the circumstances of November 2012 are ambivalent, the Republicans are going to have to sell the country on some big changes if they are going to win. The Republicans are going to need to reassure the public that they know what they are doing much more than they are going to need to inspire anybody with soaring oratory.
6. But the Republicans already have reassuring don’t they? Isn’t the technically competent, well prepared, excruciatingly boring, totally unideological Romney the ultimate in reassuring?
7. Not so much. Conservatives aren’t reassured for obvious reasons. They fear he doesn’t share their (or anybody else’s) principles and that he will sell them out at the first opportunity. There is also good reason for persuadables to not be reassured by Romney. Sure he has his business background, but his main governing achievement is something that looks a lot like a state-level version of Obamacare. He doesn’t have the best political record for selling himself as the guy to implement a combination of spending cuts and conservative policy reform.
8. Rubio can help Romney with the first half of his reassurance problem. Not a lot of conservatives seem to doubt Rubio is one of them. To the extent that Romney’s running mate can allay conservative concerns about Romney’s electability, Rubio does that. Though on the other hand, Jindal and McDonnell would basically do the same thing once conservatives were introduced to one of them as the running mate. But I don’t think Rubio is quite as good at allaying the concerns of persuadables. Rubio is eloquent on the theme of entitlement reform, but Jindal, McDonnell, and Daniels have experience as spending cutting governors who maintained core services. I think this is huge. Entitlement reform and health care reform are scary. Having a record and being able to say “I cut spending. I balanced the books. It turned out fine.” would be a huge advantage. I suppose part of the counterargument in favor of Rubio is that his speaking skills advantage more than makes up for his relative lack of executive accomplishment. I’m not sure that Rubio’s rhetorical advantage over Jindal, McDonnell, and Daniels is that large. In the context of a general election campaign, I’m not even sure such an advantage exists. There is more than one way to make a point effectively. I’ve seen Jindal and Daniels on the interview shows talking about entitlement reform (Daniels) and Obamacare (Jindal.) They were both very good and, in a presidential race, their ability to point to their records would tend to reinforce their arguments.