The world may never know or care about the full story of Romney’s real consideration of Rubio. But the flurry over the question of is-he-or-isn’t-he being vetted was a reminder that there is no more opaque aspect of presidential politics, and no more frustrating a story for political reporters to cover, than the selection of a vice presidential candidate.
Romney said only two people know for certain who is being seriously vetted by his campaign: himself and Beth Myers, his long-trusted adviser who oversees the search process. There are obviously others. Anyone who has been asked to turn over sensitive financial or medical records knows, as do that person’s tax accountant, top aide and, probably, spouse.
That assumes those politicians being asked for sensitive information are under truly serious consideration. Still that is a small circle, and the history of these selections is that those who know who is truly in the running don’t talk and those who talk often don’t know anything concrete.
Piercing through this secrecy is fraught with problems for those trying to tease out the status of a presumptive nominee’s intentions. Campaigns have been known to deliberately mislead the press and public by suggesting that someone is being seriously vetted who isn’t at all.
The vetting process
Campaigns vet people for political convenience, to satisfy a constituency without any intention of picking them. And, as John McCain showed four years ago with his selection of Sarah Palin, they sometimes are vetting a potential candidate whom no one outside the inner circle, and some who thought they were inside it, knows about.
Some candidates privately ask not to be vetted unless there is a serious likelihood that they will be selected. That got President Obama’s campaign in some hot water four years ago when the news broke, after his choice of Vice President Biden was announced, that he hadn’t vetted Hillary Clinton. It later turned out that the lack of vetting was at her request.
There is a variation of this. A prospective candidate once told the selection team that he wanted to publicly take himself out of the running, but only after being assured that he wouldn’t be selected.
Amid the barrage of speculation and handicapping that surrounds the selection of a vice presidential running mate, secrecy is the price of admission into the world of vetting and serious consideration.