Some 20 million Americans in primaries and caucuses will take part in selecting the Republican presidential nominee. One person will choose the vice presidential nominee.
This has long struck me as absurd: One person choosing someone who, as a result, might become president for as long as 10 years. But just about everyone in politics says it’s the only proper way.
Over the last 25 years, presidential nominees of both parties have engaged in conscientious consultation and have mostly made pretty good choices. No more picks at five o’clock in the morning to meet a convention deadline.
For even longer, every vice president has done constructive work of governance. Voters have come to expect a VP nominee who can contribute substance more than one who can balance a ticket.
Ticket-balancing suggestions have come in to Mitt Romney. He should endorse a fiery cultural conservative, some Republicans say, although he’s not likely to name the undisciplined Rick Santorum.
He needs to name a Latino, say others. But the most obvious choice, the eloquent Sen. Marco Rubio, has reiterated his unwillingness to run. So has New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.
The argument that Republicans need additional support from Latinos may be overstated. The 2010 exit poll shows Republicans won 38 percent of the Latino vote — and that that was enough for a national majority, since they carried whites by a record 60 to 37 percent.
Anyway, ticket-balancing is not the only successful approach, as Bill Clinton understood. When he clinched the Democratic nomination in 1992 as a Southern moderate, it was widely assumed he would pick a Northern liberal, as Jimmy Carter had.
Instead, he chose a fellow Southern Baptist of his own generation with a reputation for moderation and congressional experience in national security issues, Al Gore. They were from adjoining Southern states, and when the ticket was announced they met on the bridge between West Memphis, Ark., and Memphis, Tenn.
This unbalanced ticket won two elections, carrying six of 14 Southern states in both 1992 and 1996. Democratic nominees from Massachusetts, both with Southern running mates, carried none in 1988 and 2004.
A similar approach for Mitt Romney would be what opponents might call a double-vanilla ticket, with another white male as vice presidential nominee.
Four possibilities come to mind. One is Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee Chairman who endorsed Romney and campaigned with him all over Wisconsin. Romney has praised Ryan’s budget proposals and has endorsed the fundamentals of Ryan’s Medicare plan.
Ryan’s in-depth knowledge of budget numbers surely appeals to Romney. The strongest argument against a Ryan nomination is that a President Romney would need him championing his budget and entitlement plans in the House.
Another possible choice is Sen. Rob Portman, who campaigned all over Ohio with Romney. Like Romney, Portman comes from a family with Midwestern manufacturing management experience.
But he’s also served in the House and as special trade representative and budget director. And he’s had experience in presidential campaigns: He played Democratic nominees in debate prep for Dick Cheney in 2000 and 2004 and John McCain in 2008.
Two governors should make any short list, Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Bob McDonnell of Virginia. Daniels also served as budget director for Bush and is a crusader for entitlement reform. McDonnell has ties to the military as a longtime reservist and as the father of a daughter who served in Iraq.
All four of these potential vanilla running mates take conservative stands on cultural issues but are careful to show respect for those who differ. All have emphasized economics in their campaigns and have run especially well in affluent suburbs, as Romney has in Republican primaries.
Ryan wins big every year in Waukesha County west of Milwaukee. Portman ran well enough in suburbs to carry Ohio’s three biggest metro areas in 2010.
Daniels won a higher percentage in Indiana’s most affluent area, Hamilton County, than Ronald Reagan did in 1984. And in 2009, McDonnell carried Washington’s Northern Virginia suburbs, where he grew up, though they had voted heavily for Obama the year before.
A double-vanilla ticket will be attacked as un-diverse by the media. But if the nominees have rapport and energy, as Clinton and Gore did in 1992, who cares?
The Clinton-Gore ticket regained Southern ground for Democrats. A double-vanilla ticket might enable Republicans to regain ground in affluent suburbs this year.