Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) is reportedly considering a run for the presidency. He has not been on the radar screen for 2016, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a viable candidate. To the contrary, he might be the most qualified nominee since George H.W. Bush.
Portman served six terms in the House, four years as U.S. trade tepresentative and a year as head of the Congressional Budget Office before his current Senate term. He has said, like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), that he won’t run for both the Senate and the presidency. He is conservative, but not extreme, if you listen to several conservative groups. In 2011, National Journal ranked Portman as the 35th most conservative senator. The American Conservative Union gives him a lifetime 85.53 average. The Club for Growth gives him a 74 percent lifetime rating, with a 71 percent rating for 2013. Heritage Action gave him a 55 percent rating (dinging him for voting for the Ryan-Murray budget, prohibition of discrimination against gays in employment (ENDA) and voting to bring up the immigration bill — although he voted against it on the merits).
A center-right, experienced conservative and frequently mentioned vice presidential candidate and debate partner for Mitt Romney, Portman is somewhat of a throwback to the sort of sober, mature leadership that used to predominate in the Senate. Perhaps his executive branch experience or even his experience working in the family business has given him a big-picture view of the world. Contrary to the fashion of the day, he is unfailingly civil and somewhat self-effacing. Aside from insufficient conservativism, the biggest complaint from Republicans has been that he is “dull.” However, having interviewed him multiple times, I can say he is lively and down-to-earth. Is there a “Rob Portman” voter out there — someone looking for competency and less ideological flare without a jumbo-size personality? That remains to be seen.
But consider that former Florida governor Jeb Bush may not run. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie may get tripped up by the bridge scandal or decide not to run, and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to many seems uninterested in a presidential run. Who then would step up to the center-right slot and be the sort of candidate that mainstream voters and big donors feel comfortable supporting? (No, it won’t be Mitt Romney.) That’s the situation in which a Rob Portman might rise to the top.
He is going to face a tough Senate reelection fight, so it’s quite possible he would choose to forgo that and instead take a shot at the presidency. In the worst-case scenario, he might position himself (finally) to snap a VP spot on the ticket. In any event, a campaign or debate with Portman would raise the collective IQ of the group, introduce a mature conservative and reinforce the party’s identity as pro-defense. In other words, run, Rob, run!