NOTE: Mitt Romney said late Tuesday that Marco Rubio is in fact being thoroughly vetted by his vice presidential selection team — contrary to previous report that said he was not.
The news that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio isn’t being seriously vetted by Mitt Romney’s vice presidential selection team is both surprising and enlightening.
Enlightening because it provides us a window into the sort of person that Romney (and Beth Myers, his head of vice presidential vetting) are looking for in a running mate.
That person? Someone whose credentials and readiness are beyond question. And, more than likely, someone who calls to mind “plain” more than “pizzazz”.
Rubio — as well as New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte who, according to the Post’s Phil Rucker, are also not being seriously vetted — are relative newcomers on the national political scene with relatively thin resumes to date.
Romney’s decision not to consider the Rubios, Martinezes and Ayottes of the world suggest that the campaign is very aware of what we would call the “Palin factor”.
That is, Romney is committed — first and foremost — to not repeating the mistake made by Arizona Sen. John McCain when he tapped the unknown governor of Alaska to be his running mate in 2008.
While McCain almost certainly couldn’t have won under any circumstances, his picking of Palin, who went on to prove herself woefully unprepared for the job, sent the campaign into a deadly political tailspin — not to mention undermining McCain’s core argument that Barack Obama was not experienced enough to be president.
Comparing Rubio — or Ayotte or Martinez — to Palin does them a disservice as all three have proven themselves to be able pols on the national stage. But, Palin’s shadow hangs heavy over Romney’s VP pick and likely disqualified that trio before things even got started.
Prizing “plain over pizzazz” means that Ohio Sen. Rob Portman has to be considered the frontrunner at this point in the veepstakes. (We’ve had Portman ranked first in our most recent vice presidential lines and the news today affirms his primacy.) It also elevates the chances of the likes of former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty whose calling card since dropping his own presidential bid has been his reliable advocacy on behalf of Romney.
What we don’t know is where Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fit in to the VP thinking in Romneyworld.
While Rucker reports that both Ryan and Jindal are “under consideration” for VP, it’s not clear whether that means they are in the same group as Portman and Pawlenty or not.
All three men would likely fall on the “pizzazz” side of the “pizzazz/plain” fault line; Christie is a national star thanks to his outsized personality, Jindal would make history by being the first Indian-American to appear on a national ticket and Ryan is widely regarded as the leading policy mind in the party.
Of the three, Christie has the thinnest national resume, having only been in elected office since 2009. Ryan has held a House seat since 1998 while Jindal served several terms in the House before being elected governor in 2007 and re-elected to that post in 2011.
Of the trio, Ryan would seem to best bridge the “plain/pizzazz” divide while Christie would do the least well in that regard.
An important note on all of this: Covering the vice presidential sweepstakes is a bit like trying to read a word when you can only see a letter — or, at most, two — at time. It’s equal parts reporting, intuition and guesswork. And it is without question true that those who know the most about the veepstakes aren’t talking.
That said, the news about Rubio does give us one of our first genuine glimpses into the character traits that Romney and his team value in making their veep pick. And from what we now know, Rob Portman has to be feeling very, very good.