11 August 2012

Romney/Ryan–Vetting the Virtues of Veepstake Choices

[L] Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI 1st) and [R] former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA)

As publicized through a smart phone application and announced on the U.S.S. Wisconsin in Norfolk, Virginia, presumptive Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney chose seven term Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI 1st) as his choice for a running mate.

John Garner Nance, President Franklin Roosevelt’s Vice President during his first two terms (1933-1941) derided the second highest office in the land by opining: “The vice presidency is not worth a bucket of warm spit.”  Perhaps Vice President Nance was jaundiced by simply being the duties of being the tie breaking vote in the Senate as its President and the back up in case of the incapacitation of the President.   In modern times, Vice Presidents are often tapped as the designated official American representative at foreign funerals.

If the office of Vice President can be so inconsequential, then why does the naming of a Presidential running mate matter.  Since Vice Presidential picks are often revealed just before the general election campaign, this acts as a vanguard of a Presidential nominee’s decision making.  Former Vice President Walter Mondale made a big show of his 1984 interviews before selecting Representative Geraldine Ferraro (D-NY 9th) to be his Democrat running mate.  Then Vice President George H.W. Bush made a snap decision in naming then Senator Dan Quayle (R-IN) as his surprise pick in 1988.  Senator John McCain surprised nearly everyone by stealthily selecting first term Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK).

There can be several motives behind choosing a Presidential running mate.  Sometimes it is pure electoral math.  There was no love lost between then the 1960 Democrat nominee then Senator John Kennedy (D-MA) and the Senate Majority Leader then Senator Lyndon Johnson (D-TX) but the selection of LBJ guaranteed that the Democrats would take the big electoral prize of Texas by hook or by crook.  Arguably, one of the great virtues of Governor Michael Dukakis (D-MA) choosing Senator Lloyd Benson (D-TX) was the secure large electoral prize of the Lone State state.  Of course, this strategy is only significant when it comes from populous states like California, Texas, Florida and New York and if the choice has statewide appeal (e.g. a governor or a senator).

Another impetus for selecting a Vice Presidential candidate is for party unity.  Kennedy/Johnson in 1960 placated wings  of the Democrat party as well as having geographical balance.  The same could be said of Senator John Kerry (D-MA) choosing then Senator John Edwards (D-NC), who was his leading primary opponent. Conservative candidate then Governor Ronald Reagan (R-CA) chose moderate primary opponent Rep. George H.W. Bush (R-TX 7th) in 1980 to unite the party.

A strategic calculus in the Veepstakes is to project a theme or to compliment weaknesses in a resume.  Then Governor George W. Bush (R-TX) chose former Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) as his running mate in 2000 because of his “gravitas” with his extensive Between-the-Beltways experience in Congress, White House Chief Staff and Defense Secretary.  The same could be said of the 1988 Lloyd Benson pick.  There were some concerns about an outsider like Reagan being a cowboy, so the choice of George H.W. Bush, who had been RNC Chair, CIA Director and Ambassador to China filled in the insider weaknesses as well as ameliorating anxiety over foreign policy experience.

Many wondered why then Governor Bill Clinton (D-AR) selected Senator Al Gore, Jr. (D-TN) in 1992  as his Vice Presidential pick, since Tennessee is neither a by electoral prize nor could Gore, Jr.’s resume as a one term senator and one term congressman give significant insider experience”.  Mondale’s choice of Ferraro was almost certainly to make a statement for women by shattering the glass barrier.

But sometimes the bottom of the ticket is used to reinforce qualities with the marquee candidate.  Clinton/Gore projected an aura of a “new generation” as well as the “new South”.  It is speculated that George H.W. Bush chose Quayle to balance experience with youth.  A big virtue of McCain tapping Palin as a V.P. choice was to reinforce the “maverick” brand.

Occasionally, V.P. picks are meant as a contrast.  Vice President Al Gore wanted to separate himself from the scandal of the late Clinton Administration so the Democrat choice in 2000 was Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CN), who had voted for impeaching Clinton.

In some ways, it is dicey to choose a House member as a running mate.  This did not bode well for Senator Barry Goldwater’s choice in 1964 of Rep. William Miller (R-NY 42nd).  Mondale’s choice of little known Queens Congresswoman Ferraro did not carry the Empire State.  Senator Bob Dole’s choice of former Congressman Jack Kemp (R-NY 31st & 38th) did not make an impact, even though Kemp had experience as a HUD Secretary who wanted to Empower America.

As for Romney’s choice of Rep. Paul Ryan, this choice was somewhat bold in that Ryan was well known as a Republican who proposed a detailed plan to try to balance the budget.  While Wisconsin may be in play, it is not a huge electoral prize.  It demonstrates that Romney is choosing a running mate to govern.  The Obama campaign had been labeling proposed Medicare cuts in the budget as the Romney/Ryan budget plan, so Romney’s Veepstake choice embraces this issue.  Democrats had used a look alike of Paul Ryan dumping grandma off a cliff during  off-election campaigns, so Ryan’s image is already battle tested.

A virtue which Paul Ryan brings to the ticket is uniting the Republican party.  Some of the base has expressed concerns that Romney had not solidified his conservative credentials.  Rep. Ryan’s seriousness about the budget proposals makes him a darling of the Tea Party and should energize the base.  The choice of Paul Ryan may appeal to Independent voters who are serious about growing the economy.

An essential element of being a V.P. candidate is a willingness to be an attack dog to get the contrast campaigns without sullying the top of the ticket. Rep. Ryan was willing to go toe-to-toe challenging President Obama’s choices (and lack there of) in budget cutting.  So the Romney/Ryan ticket can double down on challenging incumbent Obama on not passing a budget in three years and projecting insipid economic growth for the foreseeable future. Vice President Joe Biden, our national treasure, will have a formidable opponent during the October 11th Vice Presidential debate.

At age 42, Ryan brings a youthful flair to the ticket while also offering substantive experience.  Ryan worked his way up from a non-privileged background so he may have appeal in other competitive Rust Belt states like Ohio and Michigan. Ryan's earnest efforts on balancing the budget might swing enough Granite State voters who care about economic integrity.   Ryan’s prowess on budget issues could concentrate campaign coverage on the economy rather than the slimey ad-hominem attacks on Romney by Obama 2012.  If elected, Ryan could be an interesting force twisting arms in the Senate, especially Cocktail Party Republicans, to pass real reforms.

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