Is the vice presidency worth having?

at 08:30 AM ET, 05/31/2012

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush doesn’t want to be Mitt Romney’s vice president. Just ask him.

After an Italian newspaper purported to have an exclusive interview with Bush in which he left the door open to the vice presidency, Team Bush quickly stamped out the idea.


In this Aug. 11, 2010 file photo, former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush speaks in Oklahoma City. Bush says he'd consider running as vice president with Mitt Romney, but he doubts he'll ever be asked. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Nothing has changed, Gov. Bush will not be candidate for VP,”a Bush spokeswoman told Yahoo News Wednesday.

(It turns out that the Italian paper had simply compiled a series old Bush quotes about the vice presidential gig and had not talked to him. Ah, journalism!)

Normally we would chalk Bush’s denial up to the gamesmanship that surrounds the veepstakes; that is, the only way to ensure you won’t get picked is to say that you want the job. (Take note, John Thune .)

But, in Bush’s case we believe him. While there’s no doubt that Bush has an interest in national office at some point in the future, it’s equally clear that serving as second-in-command for Romney holds much less appeal to him.

While Bush has been the most definitive among the great-mentioned of the vice presidential sweepstakes about his lack of interest in the position, there is a case to be made that several people with bright political futures might be best served to take a pass if Romney made the offer.

Take Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Both men are young (Rubio is 41, Jindal turns 41 on June 10) and beloved among conservatives nationally. Both are minorities(Rubio is Hispanic, Jindal is Indian American) in a party that desperately needs to break the “old, white guy” stereotype.

The case is more obvious if Romney winds up losing to President Obama this fall. If Bush, Rubio or Jindal was the losing VP pick, they now have the stench of defeat on them, which is never a good thing in politics.

And, the record of losing vice presidential picks is, um, not good. In truth, it looks close to cursed — sort of like being the drummer in Spinal Tap.

In 2008, we had former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. (Nuff said.) In 2004, former North Carolina senator John Edwards came up short and went on to run a less successful second presidential bid in 2008. (And we all know what happened after that.) In 2000, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman was the vice presidential pick on the losing national ticker and went on to lose badly in his run for president in his own right in 2004. Two years later he lost a Democratic Senate primary, switched his party affiliation to independent that same year and spoke at the Republican National Convention in 2008. So, that happened.

(The last losing vice presidential nominee who came back to win his party’s presidential nominee was former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, who lost as the vice presidential nominee in 1976 but won the GOP presidential nod in 1996. For Democrats, it was Minnesota Sen. Walter Mondale who lost as VP in 1980 but emerged as the Democratic presidential nominee in 1984. Mondale, of course, had been the winning vice presidential nominee in 1976.)

While the case is slightly more complicated if Romney (and Bush, Rubio or Jindal) win, there’s still a case to be made.

It’s been 24 years since a sitting vice president was elected president And even though George H.W. Bush won in 1988, he lost his reelection bid in 1992. Al Gore lost in 2000 despite a booming economy and a very popular outgoing president in Bill Clinton.

Why? Because a) the political pendulum always swings. Even if people like a president of one party, they tend to look to the other side for good ideas after 8 years. b) the vice president winds up owning all of the bad things the Administration does/did without having direct control of that decision-making process.

Make no mistake: Both Rubio and Jindal would — despite the evidence laid out above — likely take the VP job if it was offered. (And both of them have prime spots on our ranking of the veepstakes below.) But, there is a real argument to be made that taking a pass in 2012 could pay better political dividends for them down the road.

Below are our most up-to-date rankings of the vice presidential field — derived from conversations with sharp Republican strategist types and our own observations and analysis. This month we decided to cut to the chase and give a single line about the good and the bad of each potential pick.

Agree or disagree with our rankings? The comments section awaits.

10. Mitch Daniels

* The good: Daniels has compiled an enviable conservative record during his eight years as governor of Indiana and is widely regarded within the GOP as the sort of speak-truth-to-power politician needed to solve the country’s debt crisis.

* The bad: Daniels walked away from a presidential race where he would have been the favorite for the nomination due to family concerns. Would his heart be entirely in serving as VP?

(Previous ranking: N/A)

9. Kelly Ayotte

* The good: The New Hampshire senator is a woman who plays well with the entire spectrum of Republican voters and hails from a swing state.

* The bad: Her current job, to which she was elected in 2010, is her first in elective office. The Romney team may conclude she is too green to be the pick.

(Previous ranking: 7)

8. Bob McDonnell

* The good: McDonnell is the popular governor of Virginia, which could well be the swingiest state in the country. He’s also a proven messenger on the economy/job creation.

* The bad: Picking McDonnell would allow Democrats to re-raise his controversial thesis that had some decidedly non-PC views of women in the workplace and a controversial ultrasound bill that drew national scrutiny. That’s not an appealing prospect for Romney as he seeks to push back against the Democratic idea that Republicans are prosecuting a “war on women”.

(Previous ranking: 6)

7. Tim Pawlenty

* The good: Tpaw is relentlessly on message. He gets along with Romney on a personal level and has been a go-anywhere, do-anything surrogate since dropping his own presidential campaign last summer. He’s from the Midwest and has a good pitch about Sam’s Club Republicans.

* The bad: Pawlenty ranks among the lowest on the charisma-meter — how great would it be if one of those actually existed? — of anyone on this list. It’s not entirely clear what he delivers that Romney doesn’t already have.

(Previous ranking: 4)

6. John Thune

* The good: The South Dakota Senator is out of central casting: tall, handsome and conservative. He’s also from the middle of the country, a nice geographic balance for the Northeastern Romney.

* The bad: Thune is pretty plain and wouldn’t likely move the needle much for Romney. Thune has also spent the past eight years in the Senate, meaning he has a fair numbers of tough votes the Obama team could sift through in search of negative attacks.

(Previous ranking: 3)

5. Chris Christie

* The good: The New Jersey governor may well be the most popular politician in the Republican party at the moment. His no-nonsense, tough-talking persona is a good compliment to the more reserved Romney and a strong contrast with the loftier rhetoric of President Obama.

* The bad: Christie’s bull-in-a-china-shop personality seems like a very awkward fit for the vice presidency. Plus, Christie has been in major elected office for only three years. While he’s performed well on the national stage, he isn’t the known commodity resume-wise that some of the people above him on this list are.

(Previous ranking: 9)

4. Bobby Jindal

* The good: Jindal would be a historic pick as the first Indian-American on the national ticket of either party. He’s also widely regarded as a policy wonk of the first rate and has built up and impressive set of accomplishments since being elected governor in 2007.

* The bad: Jindal endorsed Texas Gov. Rick Perry in the presidential race, not exactly a major vote of confidence in Romney. Jindal also flopped in his debut on the national stage back in 2009, a performance that might give Romney’s team pause about his ability to quickly scale up to the heights he would need to ascend.

(Previous ranking: 8)

3. Paul Ryan

* The good: Ryan has emerged as the policy expert in the Republican party. His budget proposals have drawn wide praise from GOP thought leaders and he is widely cast as the Republican foil to President Obama, articulating an alternative vision of how the federal government could work. He’s also from the swing state of Wisconsin.

* The bad: As much praise as Ryan’s budget won him among Republicans, it earned him an equal amount of ire among Democrats. Does Romney really want to own a plan that he didn’t have any hand in writing and that, oh by the way, fundamentally restructures Medicare?

(Previous ranking: 5)

2. Marco Rubio

* The good: On paper, the Florida Senator has it all: he’s Hispanic, he’s beloved by tea party conservatives, he’s from the swing state of Florida and he’s got charisma to spare. For a party that badly has to figure out an answer to its Hispanic problem, picking Rubio would be a step in the right direction.

* The bad: Rubio is still very inexperienced at this level of politics. There remain whispers that the vetting process might be less than kind to him due to the fact that he was barely touched by opposition research amid the hard-not-to-watch collapse of then Gov. Charlie Crist in the 2010 Senate race.

(Previous ranking: 2)

1. Rob Portman

* The good: If you believe the first rule of vice presidential picks — particularly in the post-Palin age — is “do no harm” than the Ohio Senator is the guy. He’s rock solid on politics and policy — especially spending and budget matters — and has a real statewide political organization in one of the most important swing states in the country.

* The bad: There’s not all that much of it. (Portman is ranked #1, after all.) He did serve in two different jobs during the Bush Administration and that may not be a connection that the Romney campaign wants to resurrect.

(Previous ranking: 1)

 
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