LYNDON Johnson claimed it “was the worst thing that ever happened to me.” John Nance Garner said it wasn’t “worth a bucket of warm spit.” John Adams lamented it to be the “most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.” The vice presidency has not always endeared itself to America’s political hierarchy, but the prospect of being “a heartbeat away” tends to be too much to resist.
Long before Rick Santorum’s concession, Mitt Romney will have drawn up a shortlist of potential running mates to help him overcome Barack Obama and Joe Biden. The “veep” nominee tends to heal primary wounds or help mobilise the base. Romney needs a tempered version of the latter. But who?
Governor Chris Christie and senator John Thune were both widely tipped to run for the nomination, only to endorse Romney late last year. Christie remains popular across the party, but has unfinished business in New Jersey. Thune, on the other hand, has campaigned fervently for Romney and is not up for re-election until 2016. The senator from South Dakota will have been one of the first names on the list. Governor Bob McDonnell, who endorsed Romney in January, is constitutionally a lame duck; Virginia governors are restricted to a single four-year term. Nothing is holding him back.
Romney’s positive chemistry with congressman Paul Ryan was palpable in Wisconsin. Ryan has the slight disadvantage of being from the House of Representatives, but Romney endorsed his budget plan and the ticket would certainly excite the base. Governor Nikki Haley recently embarked on a book tour, usually a not-so-subtle attempt to pursue higher office. But Haley is not even two years into her first term and has considerable challenges in South Carolina – and that’s just with Republicans.
Although Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal was just re-elected by a landslide, he often struggles to inspire before the podium. However, his personal story and astute grasp of policy will be noted. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who despite his best efforts to distance himself from the ticket, will only see speculation increase as the polls in his home state get tighter and the prospect of a Tampa convention keynote gets closer. His résumé, however, is still pretty scant.
Other names will be thrown around, particularly Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, Ohio senator Rob Portman, and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, as will wild cards like Kentucky senator Rand Paul, South Carolina senator Jim DeMint and New Mexico governor Susana Martinez. For write-offs, namely Santorum and Newt Gingrich, that ship sailed a long time ago. They won’t be shortlisted.
As Hubert H. Humphrey once observed, a vice president is the President’s “choice in a political marriage, and he expects your absolute loyalty.” Thune and McDonnell have shown the very loyalty most candidates will not forget during the course of a presidential race. That matters. But in the modern day, running mates seldom shift swing states (or even win their own), let alone the overall outcome of the election. Romney will have to do that by himself.
Ewan Watt is a Washington DC-based consultant. You can follow him on @ewancwatt