Most of what you read in the media about Mitt Romney’s VP picks is silly or, frankly, made up. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) didn’t just “emerge” as a front-runner; a reporter’s editor told him to write a Thune piece. Tim Pawlenty’s stock didn’t recently “rise”; he’s always been on the short list. Truth be told, a handful of people know what is going on, and even top officials in the Romney campaign plead ignorance on both the choice and the timing. (Yesterday, senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom shot down a report that someone had already been picked.) Today, the campaign named two members of VP staff who have no obvious connection to one of the contenders. We are, it is fair to surmise, getting close.
If we take Ferhnstrom at face-value — that Romney hasn’t mad up his mind yet — Romney might consider the following:
1. Pick the VP sooner, rather than later. The notion that the VP pick must be disclosed at the convention to keep voters’ attention is archaic. They’ll tune into see the balloon drop and the speeches of the nominees. Romney could use the help going after the president and getting back on offense.
2. If you want to turn defense into offense pick Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). In an interview with Jim Pethokoukis, he demonstrated this talent in spades:
Every now and then, [Obama] pierces the veil. He’s usually pretty coy about his ideology, but he lets the veil slip from time to time. … His straw man argument is this ridiculous caricature where he’s trying to say if you want any security in life, you stick with me. If you go with these Republicans, they’re going to feed you to the wolves because they believe in some Hobbesian state of nature, and it’s one or the other which is complete bunk, absolutely ridiculous. . . .
His comments seem to derive from a naive vision of a government-centered society and a government-directed economy. It stems from an idea that the nucleus of society and the economy is government not the people. … It is antithetical to the American idea. We believe in free communities, and this is a statist attack on free communities. … As all of his big government spending programs fail to restore jobs and growth. he seems to be retreating into a statist vision of government direction and control of a free society that looks backward to the failed ideologies of the 20th century.
This is not a Bill Clinton Democrat. He’s got this very government-centric, old 20th century collectivist philosophy which negates the American experiment which is people living in communities, supporting one another, having government stick to its limits so it can do its job really well . . .
I think he believes America was on the right path until Reagan came along, and Reagan got us going in the wrong direction. And he wants to be as transformational as Reagan by undoing the entire Reagan revolution. … I think he sees himself as bringing about this wave of progressivism, and the only thing stopping him are these meddling conservatives who believe in these founding principles so he has to caricature them in the ugliest light possible to win the argument.
4. If Romney picks Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), he should be prepared for anti-George Bush attacks. Portman is unmatched when it comes to finding someone who could step into the presidency at a moment’s notice. But his executive experience was primarily acquired during the Bush administration, which has yet to be fully rehabilitated. It will be a struggle to argue that “Bush isn’t on the ballot” if his former trade rep and director of the Office of Management and Budget is. A big plus: He’s a skilled debater and comes from a critical swing state.
5. If the economy is tanking, it doesn’t matter who is picked. The VP pick will pale in comparison to a month of zero growth when it comes to determining the election outcome. The economy isn’t going to be bouncing back in time for Obama to brag about it. That might suggest “do no harm” take precedence over other factors.
6. If he picks New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Romney should be prepared for some unscripted moments. Christie is the most talented orator and funniest man among the top contenders. In small settings, he can lower the volume and transfix the audience. He is an expert at needling the president. But he can go off on the media and at times seem overbearing, not in sync with Romney’s tone. Of the frequently mentioned candidates, he is the riskiest, but one with a big upside.
7. If you pick the right person, he should be able to flood the media zone right away and make the case against Obama while he has the spotlight. There can be zero ramp-up time and no divergence on message. The benefit of naming a VP pick in the next week or so is to bolster Romney’s message and sharpen the contrast between Romney and Obama. If a contender isn’t completely at ease with the media or unable to go after the president, he’s a wasted selection.