The first rule for anyone interested in becoming a vice presidential nominee is that you can’t appear to be interested in becoming a vice presidential nominee. A corollary is that you should never seem to be very upset over criticism about your perceived lack of charisma or any other quality that might aid a vice presidential nominee, lest you look interested in becoming a vice presidential nominee. The whole pursuit is a real headache.
“However the press wants to characterize it is fine,” Portman said, and smiled again.
For weeks, Portman’s name has been among those at the top of Republican vice presidential possibilities. For weeks, ever since he played a vital role in aiding Romney narrowly beat Rick Santorum in the Ohio primary, the buzz about Portman’s status in the vice presidential sweepstakes has been intense, much of it fueled by theories about how he might help Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, carry this critical swing state against President Obama.
But the standing of a potential running mate is like a volatile stock. Amid the frequent ups and downs of the speculative process, this day was certainly a downer for Portman. That morning, the Wall Street Journal had become the latest media titan to observe that, although the 56-year-old has a substantial governmental résumé, he suffers from a shortage of pizazz.
A week earlier, on his television show, Stephen Colbert had declared that a Romney-Portman ticket would amount to “the bland leading the bland.” One description of Portman in the Wall Street Journal article particularly nettled the senator and some of his close friends: “dry as dust.”
A fuming friend who called Portman that morning immediately launched into a denunciation of this characterization. “I said to him: ‘One, this is totally out of my control, out of our control — because it’s a unique process,’ ” the senator said. Then, he told his friend something else, just in case he or any other admirer might get the wrong idea: “But, second, my goal is not to become the vice presidential candidate but to help our country during this difficult time.”
‘It’s not about being exciting’
His friends and family members are never satisfied when he says things like that. They want him to talk about how he is a regular guy, a doer, exciting in his own way, with passions that include being a skilled kayaker and cyclist. They want him to talk about how he has kayaked the Yangtze and the Rio Grande, herded cattle on a ranch, shot the rapids in the Grand Canyon.
His older brother, Wym, remains annoyed about what Colbert said. “Flashy isn’t a word I’d use to describe Rob,” he said. “But when Colbert called him ‘bland,’ that just missed the point. . . . He’s not Obama or Clinton at the podium, but he’s a good orator, I think — he’s made a huge jump. What he’s always been is a thoughtful, serious person — I would think we would want that.”