Mitt and Ann Romney’s CBS interview, which aired Thursday, has understandably gotten lots of attention for Ann Romney’s comments that Obama’s campaign strategy against her husband is: “Let’s kill this guy.’’ We were going to tamp down the battle cries on the campaign trail, weren’t we? The first rule of the First Lady Club, others have pointed out, is not to talk about politics.
But the other news from the interview—that Ann “leaked a juicy tidbit” that her husband was considering a female vice presidential candidate and that she would “love that option as well”—really baffles me. Of course Mitt Romney is considering female vice presidential candidates. Not only are there capable women in both parties whom any candidate should strongly consider, but not doing so would be bad form and bad politics. Romney has a big gender gap to close with women, and then there’s also the little matter of what half the voting population might think if the campaign didn’t consider women for the job.
And yet, pundits sounded the caution bells for Romney. In response to Ann Romney’s comments, The Capital Column writes that “while choosing [New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte] as a running mate could help Mr. Romney secure votes among women, the move would likely remind voters of Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain’s choice for vice presidential candidate, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.” I get that Ayotte, like Palin, has limited experience on the national stage. But the implication is that just because Romney is considering another woman, he’s in danger of pulling a John McCain.
Others agree Sarah Palin will be a factor in the VP nominating process for a long time. Jennifer Lawless, director of American University's Women and Politics Institute, told U.S. News that “whoever Romney picks, if she's a woman, would have to first demonstrate how much better than Sarah Palin she actually is, and that's not necessarily a good use of the campaign's time.”
Not only can potential female vice presidential candidates not be evaluated on their own merits, but helping voters do that is not “a good use of the campaign’s time.”
While I think there’s truth to Lawless’s comments—Palin’s unpreparedness for the national stage may have changed the game for future female candidates—it’s hard to believe that the same concerns would be raised if we were talking about Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, or Sen. Olympia Snowe, or former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. None of these women, for varying reasons, would probably ever be serious candidates for the job. But if they were, I doubt we’d be having the same debate.
Perhaps Mrs. Romney slipped and revealed something she shouldn’t have about the frontrunner in the process. Or perhaps this was a scripted effort to float the idea that a woman is being considered even if she’s a long shot. But this should not be news, people. Talented women should be considered for every high-ranking office simply because there are talented women available for the job.
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