Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) has quietly emerged as a — if not the — favorite of the tea party element for the GOP’s vice presidential nomination.
Herman Cain became the latest big-name Republican to pitch the Florida congressman for the job on Monday, calling him an “excellent choice.” Cain joins Sarah Palin , Newt Gingrich , and South Carolina governor Nikki Haley in pitching West, who this weekend confirmed that, if called, he would probably take the job.
And, in a lot of ways, it makes sense.
West is, after all, a favorite of the conservative base, comes from an invaluable state in the presidential race, has shown he can raise big money, is a great speaker, and as an African-American veteran of the Iraq war, carries the kind of profile that Republicans would love — LOVE — to have on the ticket. West, on the surface, would be a great balance to a business-friendly Northeastern governor with a more moderate past in Mitt Romney. (He even sings! Though not as well as Cain.)
But it’s not happening, for several reasons.
First, West has never been a favorite of the Republican Party establishment. In his first campaign for Congress in 2008, the GOP largely ignored him even as he lost by a respectable 10-point margin.
When he ran again in 2010, the GOP rallied to him largely because he had a chance to win. He was raising gobs of money, became an Internet sensation thanks to a speech he gave that earned millions of hits on YouTube (see above), and the seat he was pursuing was suddenly in play. And when someone is primed to win a seat for you, you jump on board.
There are signs that the party has warmed to the congressman, who has built a reputation as a personally impressive member of Congress, but it’s still very much a work in progress, for the following reason:
Despite his short time in public life, West has a long paper trail thanks to his frequent media appearances. And in those appearances and elsewhere, he’s said lots of things:
* He suggested that being gay is a choice akin to picking an ice cream flavor
* He compared the Democratic Party to Nazi Joseph Goebbels’s propaganda machine
* He said a Muslim member of Congress represented the “antithesis of the principles upon which this country was established.”
* He called his Florida colleague and Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz “vile” and “not a Lady” in a leaked personal e-mail (not exactly helpful for a party that is battling charges of a ‘war on women’)
This is just a sampling of a guy who speaks his mind and doesn’t apologize — even for the Wasserman Schultz flap.
And that’s to say nothing of West’s real claim to fame, which is when he shot a gun near an insurgent’s head in Iraq in an effort to intimidate him — a move that led the Army to relieve him of his command and consider court-martialing him.
None of these things would necessarily make West unpalatable to the GOP base. In fact, these are the precise things that make him so popular.
“Like many freshmen in the class of 2010, he is incapable of talking like a Washington politician,” said a GOP strategist granted anonymity to speak candidly. “I hope that never changes, and don’t expect it will.”
But in the end, that’s precisely the point: West is not a seasoned politician, and he would be hard if not impossible to control as a vice presidential nominee in a campaign where everything is put under a microscope. Even Palin could be reined in by her advisers; there’s no sign that West would stomach such guidance.
Which is exactly what the GOP doesn’t want in a presidential campaign that it would prefer to be all about President Obama.