Many analyze Mitt Romney’s current search through the same electability prism.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has the Washington credentials Romney is missing, for instance, while former Governor Tim Pawlenty, the son of a truck driver, could help him build credibility with the average Joe. Marco Rubio has gotten lots of attention for being a Hispanic senator from a big state, Florida.
But these are just lines on a resume. What we rarely hear about are the leadership capabilities of those under consideration—what kind of decision-makers they are, how persuasive they would be as a congressional closer, or the type of sounding board they would provide the president in solving tough, consequential dilemmas.
Yet if there’s a threshold trait Romney, like any presidential nominee, should look for in a running mate, that’s it: leadership. A VP candidate has to be presidential.
A vice president has to be able to assume the presidency seamlessly if tragedy strikes but, in normal times, be willing to walk into the Oval Office and give the president unwelcome advice in a persuasive way. He or she must be able to interact with world leaders as a skillful diplomat.
And yet the vice president must also have the discipline and willingness to subordinate his or her ego to serve another, not a common trait in those who have risen to the highest levels of our political system. That’s true of a vice-presidential candidate, too, who must echo the standard-bearer’s themes and celebrate his virtues while attacking the opposition—and still appearing a plausible president.
Too often we talk about campaigning and governing as though they involve two completely separate sets of traits. Yet some of the best recent running mates were also the ones with the best skills for the White House job, not just getting the votes.
Vice presidents like Walter F. Mondale, George H. W. Bush, Al Gore, Dick Cheney and Joe Biden succeeded in both the campaigning and governing roles. Meanwhile, freelancing vice presidential candidates like Sarah Palin or John Edwards, picked largely for their perceived electoral attributes, were ultimately no more helpful on the campaign trail than they probably would have been in office.