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Why running for vice president is like “Fight Club”. And high school.

at 01:33 PM ET, 04/02/2012

The news broke early Monday morning. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, one of the many candidates mentioned as a potential Republican vice presidential nominee this year, told ABC News that she has no interest in the job.

“I’d say, ‘Thank you, but no,’” Haley said of the second-in-command job. “I made a promise to the people of this state. And I think that promise matters. And I intend to keep it.”


Running for vice president is sort of like “Fight Club”. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Just days before, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is widely regarded as the frontrunner for the veep nod, made a similar declaration.

“That’s not going to happen,” Rubio told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “I’m not going to be the vice presidential nominee, but I’m always flattered when people bring it up. I think they mean it as a compliment.”

Done and done. Cross Haley and Rubio off the veepstakes list.

Or not. The truth of the matter is that both of them are following the cardinal rule of running for vice president: Act like you are not running for vice president.

See, politics is kind of (actually, a lot) like high school. And if the Fix learned anything from high school, it’s that playing hard to get works. (It never worked for us but we saw it work for others.)

The worst thing you can do when it comes to the vice presidential sweepstakes is to make clear to the nominee — and the media who covers the nominee — that you badly want to be picked.

Campaigning for the job reeks of unbridled political ambition and rightly raises concerns from the presidential nominee that you would put your own career betterment ahead of helping him get elected.

And, the usual pattern of the veepstakes is that those who talk the most about being vice president are the ones who are never really in the mix to actually be the pick.

That doesn’t mean that promoting yourself as a potential vice presidential choice can’t be of some value. Take Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. This morning an email arrived in the Fix inbox from a “dcpress2012” address, touting the fact that she was ranked as the seventh most likely VP pick by a website called race42012.com.

Now, McMorris Rodgers isn’t going to be the vice presidential pick. Or, sticking with our “never say never” policy, it is very unlikely Romney would decide that he needed a four-term House Member from a Democratic state on the ticket.

But, pushing her name into the long list of the veepstakes is probably a good thing for McMorris Rodgers’ profile. As the media tires of writing about the same old top tier — there are only so many things you can write on Rubio (trust on on that one) — it’s likely that McMorris Rodgers will get some attention. That attention won’t mean she is actually climbing up the VP ladder but it will likely help her become a bit more of a force in Washington. (McMorris Rodgers is currently the vice chair of the House Republican Conference.)

It’s a strategy that’s known to work. In 2008, allies of then House Minority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) pushed him hard as a vice presidential pick. A slew of stories were written about Cantor making the short list for Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) although the after-action report told a different story. (Those close to the process say that McCain wanted to pick Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman while most of his top strategists favored Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. The deadlock produced, wait for it, then Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.)

The result of the “Cantor as VP” float, however, was that the Virginian became seen as a more national figure with a real constituency within the GOP. Cantor has continued that ascent since Republicans reclaimed the House in 2010.

For the serious contenders for the vice presidential nomination, however, silence is the best policy. Don’t volunteer your interest in the job. When asked directly about it, deny interest. (It’s kind of like Fight Club. First rule of Fight Club? Don’t talk about Fight Club.)

The simple fact is that all of these denials of interest mean next to nothing. You don’t say no to being the vice president. Why? Because, in this case, Romney has somewhere close to a 50-50 chance of being the next president. And, if you are his VP — particularly if you are young-ish like Rubio or Haley — in eight years times you will have the pole position to get the big job in your own right.

No other gig — not the Senate, not being governor — can give you that sort of opportunity. And so, while being vice president might not be worth “a bucket of warm spit” (thank you John Nance Garner!), it’s hard to argue with the chance to be president it affords you.

That reality means that if Romney sees fit to offer Rubio (likely) or Haley (not very likely) the vice presidency, either of them would take it. All their denials mean is that they are running for vice president the right way: by not running at all.

 
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