Here’s how Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney should pick his running mate. (JIM WATSON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

The race to be Romney’s running mate is entering its final sprint. Karl Rove is predicting an announcement could come as early as Friday. Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez are getting crossed off the shortlist now that GOP convention speakers are getting lined up. And as a sign that the guessing game will last until the finish line, new names are suddenly appearing: A post on the Drudge Report Tuesday suggested Gen. David Petraeus is in the running (though his spokesperson has already snuffed it out).

As a result, discussion is coalescing around several men—and they are all men—who appear to be the frontrunners. Talk has surged around Paul Ryan, who gets points for being an ideas guy, his ability to draw crowds, his Midwest background and his willingness to go on the attack against Obama. Some say New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gets points for entertainment value while others say Gov. Bobby Jindal earns them for his ethnic background and social conservatism. Meanwhile, still others are wringing their hands that a dull white guy like Tim Pawlenty or Rob Portman (both seen as strong contenders for the job) could actually be worse picks than Sarah Palin.

One might have thought that the conversation around VP picks would focus a little more on what kind of leaders these men would be as the decision came down to the wire. Which one could help Romney make the most difficult decisions he’ll face as president? Which one has the sort of leadership style that would mesh best with Romney’s, so they’re a complementary pair? And which one would be best fit to lead this country if the worst were to happen? But no: Here we are still talking about which of them are boring white guys, who will be the brunt of late-night comedy shows, and which contenders are most likely to play attack dog in the final days of the race.  

I understand why. As vice presidential scholar Joel Goldstein wrote in a recent column for this site, the irony of the veepstakes is that “the decision about who could be a heartbeat away from the presidency seems to have everything to do with electability and very little to do with leadership.” Like it or not, the timing of the decision means the focus will inevitably turn to how a vice presidential candidate can help Romney get elected, rather than how he or she can help him govern.

But to me, it seems like the decision should be quite simple. Real leadership is about subverting your own needs and making the decision that’s best for the greater good. And in Romney’s case, that’s a pretty straightforward call: Which of the people he’s considering is most capable of leading the United States if something were to happen to him?

Sure, that could end up being the boring white guy, or the one who risks making comments others could see as offensive. But when Romney is hit with those complaints, the best way to quiet his critics would be to simply say he chose the person he believes is best fit to run the country if needed. There may be many factors that go into making the call about who should be vice president. But when the decision nears the finish line, one issue stands above them all.

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