The case against Rob Portman for vice president

at 12:57 PM ET, 08/02/2012

Earlier this week, we made the case that Ohio Sen. Rob Portman is the perfect vice presidential pick for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Today we argue the opposite case — a case that can be summed up by three “B’s”: Bush, budget and boring. (If you want a much longer case against Portman, be sure to check out the Democratic super PAC American Bridge’s briefing book on him.)

* Bush: If you watched the 265 (or so) Republican presidential primary debates earlier this year, you could have been forgiven if you thought the last GOPer to hold the White House was Ronald Reagan.

The eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency are something Republicans seems ready to forget; neither Bush nor his vice president, Dick Cheney, will even attend the Republican National Convention later this month in Tampa, Florida.

Picking Portman would allow Democrats to cast the Romney-Portman ticket as a rehash of a failed (and very unpopular) Administration due to the Ohio Senator’s close ties to the Bush(es).

Not only did Portman serve as the Office of Management and Budget Director (more on that soon) and U.S. Trade Representative in the last Bush Administration but he worked on the advance team of Poppy Bush’s failed 1980 run for president. Heck, he even got a nickname from W. (“It’s “The Mule”.)

And it’s not just that Portman rolls deep with the Bush clan. More broadly it’s that he reeks of “establishment”, a smell that wrinkles the nose of even many within the Republican party these days.
Romney has been very careful not to associate himself too closely to Republicans (or anyone else) in Washington throughout the campaign — witness his condemnation of the tax deal cut by congressional Republicans with President Obama in 2010. Putting Portman on the ticket runs totally counter to that strategy.

* Budget: Mention Portman’s name to any — literally, any — Democratic operative and they will immediately note that he was Bush’s budget director — he served from June 2006 through August 2007 — even as federal spending was shooting through the roof.

Democrats have already test-driven the budget/spending attack on Portman. During his 2010 Senate campaign, Portman was attacked by Democrats in an ad for overseeing “a spending spree that doubled the deficit.” (Portman won the race easily but that was due in large part to just how bad a candidate the Democratic nominee turned out to be.)

PolitiFact, a non-partisan fact-checking service, noted that the 2008 budget process, which Portman oversaw, projected a deficit of nearly $459 billion — more than twice the $161 billion fiscal 2007 deficit.

Wrote PolitiFact of the Democratic ad: “While we acknowledge that Portman isn’t the only factor — nor, perhaps, even the primary factor — in the course of both economic trends, we do think that in the middle of a campaign, challenging an opponent on his record in office is fair game.”

Portman allies, of course, reject that frame, noting that the one year Portman had the OMB job — 2007 — the budget deficit was $161 billion, a fraction of President Obama’s budget proposals. (Here’s Portman making a similar point.)

(Portman clearly understands the political danger here, however. He has said of late that he was “frustrated” by the spending during the Bush years.)

Still, politics is politics. And Portman was the face — at least for a time — of the Bush budget. Democrats will never let Romney forget that reality if Portman is the pick and, they believe, Portman on the ticket could help neutralize their own vulnerabilities on federal spending.

* Boring: Portman is not exactly Mr. Exciting. (When your calling card for charisma is a chicken impersonation, it’s pretty slim pickings in the personality department.)

That wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that Romney has already slogged through months of coverage about how he lacks the common touch. Given that, doubling down on the bland, middle-aged white guy quotient on the Republican ticket could be a major mistake.

And, remember that Republicans have long battled the perception that the GOP is a party of old(er) white men and, perhaps not coincidentally, have struggled mightily to win large percentages of minority voters — most notably Hispanics. (In 2008, Arizona Sen. John McCain took just 31 percent among Latino voters.)

Portman as vice presidential pick would do nothing to address Republicans’ mounting demographic problems — in fact he might help exacerbate them.

 
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