In our Monday newspaper column, we speculated that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s choices for vice president are actually far more limited than you might think.

In this Feb. 9, 2012, file photo, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

A quick look back at history suggests that dating all the way back to the 1980 election, the Republican presidential nominee has picked his ideological opposite (or close to it) as the second-in-command. As we write in the piece:

Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) had sewn up the nomination by this time in 2008, but he still had a major problem among conservatives, who distrusted his past apostasies on issues such as campaign finance reform. That made McCain’s preferred pick — Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent — a non-starter. McCain eventually decided to shore up his ideological right flank by picking a conservative governor named Sarah Palin. (The rest of that story is, as they say, history.)

Eight years before that, Texas Gov. George W. Bush had championed “compassionate conservatism” on the way to the Republican nomination. Although former Wyoming congressman Dick Cheney wasn’t a direct appeal to the ideological right, Cheney was a very consistent conservative and a known presence in those circles. And it’s hard to imagine Bush having picked someone to his left ideologically.

In 1996, a similar pattern played itself out. Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, a pragmatic dealmaker at heart, chose former New York congressman Jack Kemp, a fiscal hawk’s fiscal hawk, as his vice presidential nominee. In 1988, Vice President George H.W. Bush went ideological with his pick, too — plucking Sen. Dan Quayle of Indiana, a conservative favorite, from relative obscurity to run with him on the ticket.

The ideological matching can work the other way, too. Ronald Reagan, a conservative firebrand, went with Bush, the epitome of the establishment, when choosing his vice president in 1980.

The reason for the ideological mixing? Jon Lerner, a Republican media consultant who studies these sorts of things, suggests that its because the only true divide within the GOP is an ideological one and the vice president is typically used to bridge that gap.

“Historically, and presently, the central fault line inside the GOP has been between the moderate/establishment wing and the movement conservative wing,” explained Lerner.

If Romney feels compelled to follow history and pick an ideological opposite, his three most prominent options are Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

All three are beloved figures among movement conservatives and the tea party crowd and would, without question, excite the base. In our inaugural 2012 Veepstakes Line, Rubio is ranked #1, Jindal #4 and Christie #6.