There are four weeks to go in the presidential race and anyone who tells you they know who will win is a fool. But as the possibility of a Romney presidency becomes more likely, it is worth considering the sorts of people who would fill out his administration. I’ll for now focus on perhaps the two most important jobs.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) may be the most influential Romney surrogate not to be chosen as vice president. He’s credited with being an able debate sparring partner for Mitt Romney. He’s been an on-message, tireless advocate in a swing state. Victory has a thousand fathers, but if Romney- pulls out a win Portman will deserve ample praise.
But what then? Does Portman return to the Senate to soldier on in the most deliberative and least productive body known to man? He could, certainly.
However, consider the following: Ohio’s Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) could select a Senate replacement (who, Ohio election law gurus tell me, would have to run again in 2014) if Portman were selected as Romney’s chief of staff. He is uniquely qualified having served in the House, Senate and executive branch. He has earned the nominee’s trust and respect. His demeanor is impeccable and he has the respect of both Democrats and Republicans. If Romney wins, budget issues and legislative affairs would be paramount. He seems like the ideal pick.
On the national security side, Romney’s speech yesterday highlighted the degree to which foreign policy has been missing the “policy” under President Obama. There is no comprehensive approach to dealing with foes or specific set of guideposts for any region of the world. It is no wonder that we are weaker and less influential in every critical region than we were four years ago. (Whether it is China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq or Europe the U.S. has less sway and has is less respected after four years of the Obama presidency.)
That puts a premium on a thoughtful secretary of state who can look around the globe, assess what America’s interests are and devise policies that can further those interests. It sounds simple, but it hasn’t been done and we have suffered for it. This is more than simply not letting Russia veto our action in Syria (although that is a good idea, of course). It requires that we think creatively about existing and new alliances, about how to deploy “soft power” effectively (unlike this administration, which has given it a bad name) and about a 21st century human rights policy . It is essential to re-establish American influence where it has been lost. Along the way, that person would have to cajole Congress, educate the public and tame the State Department bureaucracy.
For this daunting job, the most obvious candidate is retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). For starters, he is the un-Biden; he’s been right about nearly every big national security issue for decades. Whether it was the Cold War or the surge in Iraq or skepticism about Russian reset, Lieberman has figured out the lay of the land and worked to assert American interests, often at great political risk. (He of course was dumped by Democrats in 2006 and was forced to run as an independent.) In short, he has a vision of America’s place in the world, established relationships with world leaders, and an understanding that the U.S. must assert its interests or be left to the mercy of malevolent forces.
There are lots of key roles in an administration and many capable Republicans and Democrats who could fill slots. But these two positions will be critical. Romney, if he wins, would be wise to snag both Portman and Lieberman to fill them.