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Should We Care About Mitt Romney’s Running Mate?

With the news that Mitt Romney is considering selecting his running mate much earlier than the traditional late August announcement date, regular Via Meadia contributor Adam Clancy looks at the “Veepstakes” and asks what, if anything, we can deduce from the process.

Go take a look; Adam is a young Australian who has been studying in the US and working on developing his analysis and writing skills before heading back home.  And give him some feedback on the comments page; it’s important for fledgling writers to learn how readers react to their language and their ideas.

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  • thibaud

    No, with one exception: in the odd chance that it turns out to be Paul Ryan, Romney will have cooked his own goose four months before the election.

    Team Obama will destroy him regardless with their “You can’t trust Romney” reprise of the Saatchi/Tory campaign that re-elected John Major in 1992.

    But it will be immensely easier to paint Romney as untrustworthy and dangerous if he’s paired with the author of a ludicrously extreme plan to starve the state.

    Right now, Romney is a blank slate for most voters. But that’s changing, fast – thanks to Team Obama’s laser-like focus on the fibster’s new focus on gutting the healthcare program that was based on the very one that he implemented in MA.

    Romney would be dead in the water the instant that swing voters began paying attention to Ryan-Romney’s insane proposals:

    “For example, when Priorities informed a focus group that Romney supported the Ryan budget plan — and thus championed “ending Medicare as we know it” — while also advocating tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, the respondents simply refused to believe any politician would do such a thing.

    “What became clear was that voters had almost no sense of Obama’s opponent. While conducting a different focus group — this one with non-college-educated Milwaukee voters on the eve of Wisconsin’s April 3 primary — Burton and Sweeney were surprised to learn that even after Romney had spent months campaigning, many in the group could not recognize his face, much less characterize his positions….”

  • thibaud

    Any wonder that the voters are having trouble “characterizing Romney’s positions,” given that Romney himself can’t state them coherently?

    Team Obama will do it for him.

  • Marcus V

    Whether or not we should care is a matter of conscience for individual voters. Whether or not we do is probably best answered, no.

    Aside from a stunningly bad choice (many of which could be made, but which Romney and his team are too disciplined to make) or a stunningly good choice (which are rare, and probably beyond the boldness of Romney’s disciplined team as well– the only choice I have heard in the last year which seems game-changing in a positive way is General Petraeus, who I think Romney will not ask, and would decline anyway) only people who are deeply into politics as pundits or spectators really care… and those of us in that category are unlikely to be swayed by the choice of a VP anyway– we will use it as ammunition in our arguments to convince ourselves we are right, and beat others over the head with their wrongness.

    VP selections, potential Supreme Court nominations, and the gaffe of the week that no one remembers come November: All red meat for the base, which the electorate generally ignores.

    Clancy’s own cited political science literature confirms that basic point: If you are counting on a 2% tip in the VP’s home state to tilt the election your way, the race is too close to call. Nor did McCain’s hail mary pass change the ultimate outcome of his race. The rest of the article is a passionate call to disregard the political science and care deeply about the wrangling in the face of all present statistical analysis.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    I read the article and I think he is saying that the VP pick despite all the ink, has only a weak effect if any on the election. He slams the choice of Palin without recognizing that McCain’s campaign was stagnate before he chose her, and the energy she brought to the campaign eventually had McCain traveling with her to rallies and leading in the polls, it wasn’t her fault McCain looked like a deer in the headlights during the economic crisis instead of showing leadership.

    In 1980 Reagan chose his primary opponent Bush Senior for VP, and unified the party to a landslide victory. In 1992 and 1996 Perot took 19% and 8% of the vote respectively which got Clinton elected twice. Polling at the moment has the Libertarian candidate 2 term New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson pulling 5%. So I think this year the VP choice could have a huge effect, if Romney was to cut a deal with Gary Johnson, he could unify the Right and gain at least the 5% Johnson is polling and likely a lot more for showing such political leadership. 5% is huge when only 50% is needed to win, 5% is really 10% of your vote total, so Romney could add that and more with one brilliant move. It should be recognized that making your opponents your allies is seen as leadership by the American people, we did it with Germany and Japan. Gary Johnson doesn’t just bring 5% of the vote with him; he also brings the Libertarian Party, as well as all the Ron Paul and Rand Paul enthusiasts, and the TEA Party types that wanted anyone but Romney during the Primary.

    The Big Government Bush presidencies both Senior and Junior have split the right, and in many cases forcing the fiscally conservative limited government libertarian TEA Party types into seeking out other options. The VP pick can be used to consolidate and unify the Right Wing, as Reagan taught us.

  • Kevin

    Jacksonian Libertairian is right about Palin. She may have been a flawed pick, but should brought energy and enthusiasm from the GOP “base” to McCain’ lackluster campaign. Even with all of his flaws and the massive headwinds against the GOP in 08, he was competitive until the bottom fell out of the economy in October and he looked clueless, suspending his campaign, pushing TARP and other bailouts etc. Still even a flawless GOP campaign was almost certainly going to lose in 08.

  • Walter Sobchak

    If thibaud hates Paul Ryan that much, then he is the man I want.

  • Susan

    “thanks to Team Obama’s laser-like focus on the fibster’s new focus”

    Too bad Team Obama did not keep their laser-like focus on Obama’s 3-year promise to keep a laser-like focus on JOBS otherwise there would not be 14.7% unemployment among Blacks, 11.5% among Hispanics, 24% unemployment among Hispters aged 18 to 24%.

    As a result of Obama’s failure to uphold his 3-year promise to keep a laser-like focus on JOBS, all the mortgage bailouts are heading towards another massive foreclosure bust.

    And in his failure to uphold his 3-year promise to keep a laser-like focus on JOBS, students are graduating college $1 Trillon in Student Loan Debt facing a JOB market which is NOT HIRING. And they are the WORKERS who will be carrying the heaviest debt of paying for Obama’s ‘Affordable Health Care’ LIE.

    Under Obama-in three years- food stamp addiction has increased, disability has increase, welfare has increased, debt has increased, cities are collasping in bankruptcy, imperial lawlessness thriving under Obama’s executive power and hopelessness is eating away at the heart of this Nation.

    SO there is no doubt Team Obama will Fast and Furiously keep their laser-like focus on Distracting Voters; distraction is the only success Obama has achieved.

    That and he has improved his golf game.

  • Bart Hall (Kansas, USA)

    The young lad misses a lot when he states that the Palin pick “revealed” McCain’s ambition. McCain’s problem was not that he was ambitious, but that for decades he fed that ambition by cutting deals, not throats: In a presidential election there are no deals to cut.

    I’d go so far as to say that for the most part Senators do not have the skill set necessary to be a good President, a phenomenon obvious even in the time of Clay, Calhoun, and Webster.

    Clancy also misses one key aspect of American politics which is that since 1980 all Democrat nominees for President and VP have been lawyers except for Carter and Gore (who attended but did not complete law school). On the Republican side, however, only Quayle was a lawyer. It is a glaring but rarely noticed difference between the two parties.

  • JM Hanes

    Yes, we should care about Romney’s VP, in the several ways Adam Clancy’s nicely laid out piece suggests. What we should not care about, or encourage, is the Veepstakes feeding frenzy.

    The sheer volume of air time and column inches devoted to calculating odds — only to be proven wrong time and time again — is absolutely emblematic of what now passes for “news.” Virtually everything (including tv dramas!) is fed through the meat grinder of politics. Instead of a story about some monumental event on the other side of the world, we’ll get a story about how some monumental event will putatively affect Obama’s reelection prospects. And yet despite multiple years of demographic surveys and a gazillion terabytes of speculation, the closest we’ll get to reliable indicators about the November outcome is, at best, October.

    As Mr. Clancy notes, the problem is not simply a 24/7 media demand for content, but I would suggest that the demand for cheap content is a major driver of the nearly content-free coverage we get. Obama didn’t invent the permanent campaign. That’s a wholly owned, media created, monster which thrives on polls & opinion “journalism,” while cutting its once valued specialists and gumshoe reporters loose.

    The most effective way to suss out Romney’s VP choice, of course, is to wait until he makes it.

  • Art Deco

    Team Obama will destroy him regardless with their “You can’t trust Romney” reprise of the Saatchi/Tory campaign that re-elected John Major in 1992.

    You ought to be more detached. Almost no one’s prognostication skills are all that reliable and you may find yourself seriously disappointed.

    Clancy’s slam at Sarah Palin appears to be a required rubric of the word-merchant class. She was not particularly familiar with federal issues but she had 12 years under her belt as a public executive, which is to say 12 more years than Barack Obama, Joseph Biden, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Bill Bradley, Albert Gore, Paul Tsongas, Richard Gephardt, Paul Simon, Jesse Jackson, Gary Hart, Edward Kennedy, Frank Church, Morris Udall, Henry Jackson, Shirley Chisolm, Eugene McCarthy, Robert Dole, John Anderson, and Richard Nixon.

    Some years ago, Ron Nessen offered that Gerald Ford had three criteria for a running mate: able to assume command of the federal executive without notice, in agreement with the top of the ticket on policy, and a good campaigner. Under the rubric of ‘good campaigner’ one might put ‘not a distraction a-la-Geraldine Ferraro’.

  • Andrew Allison

    I’m afraid that the “Veepstakes” are much less complicated than Adam thinks. The choice is made by the presidential candidate based on a very simple calculus, namely who will most enhance my chances of winning the election. The qualifications of the VP to assume the office of President are absolutely irrelevant.

  • Art Deco

    The qualifications of the VP to assume the office of President are absolutely irrelevant.

    Two problems with your thesis, one of which Clancy delineates.

    1. Very little electoral advantage obtains from any selection, just a danger of distraction.

    2. See Nessen’s account of his conversations with Gerald Ford. Most selections from 1976 onward disregarded theretofore conventional considerations of ticket-balancing between regions and factions.

  • thibaud

    An – true, I’m feeling rather cocky of late, having predicted that Chief Justice Roberts would surprise everyone and uphold the mandate with specific reference to Congress’ taxing authority. If I were Paulson I’d be retired now.

    But I think a few things are pretty obvious to any rational, objective, non-artisan observer:

    1. Obama’s in deep trouble due to the stubbornly high unemployment rate. If unemployment gets any worse between now and October, he loses, end of story.

    2. If unemployment does NOT get worse between now and October, then the race will come down to a few swing voter groups, ie not more than maybe 5-10% of the electorate. These groups, per the consensus of both parties’ experts, are what you call “low-information” voters who by and large are not highly educated and not affluent.
    In this economic environment, they are almost certain to be dealing with economic stress of one kind or another.

    They’re hurting, they’re not partisan, they aren’t ideological or into politics much at all.

    So, in the event that unemployment does not get worse, the formula for winning these economically-stressed swing voters will invariably involve lots of what the technology marketers call “FUD”: Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt.

    We know what Republican FUD looks like: Obama’s the Kenyan marxist who wants to destroy AmeriKKKa, etc. That stuff may appeal to a few of the low-info swing voters, but not many, because it violates a cardinal rule of FUD-mongering: be fresh. Old stuff doesn’t cut it. This meme has been out there for over four years.

    What’s really fresh, however, is FUD regarding this strange new character who just appeared on the low-info voter’s horizon.

    Who is this guy? Well, Team Obama will paint his contours, because the GOP, surprisingly, has shown itself incapable of telling us who this man is.

    So that’s advantage #1 for Team O. Advantage #2 is that this very wealthy mystery man stubbornly – unbelievably – refuses to disclose his tax returns going back more than two years.

    Now for advantage #3: the very wealthy mystery man who won’t disclose has, for decades, been gaming the tax code by means of offshore tax havens.

    Just imagine your low-info swing voter’s reaction when he hears about a multitude of bizarre, very un-American offshore accounts: Swiss accounts, Cayman Islands “blocker” accounts, Bahamas entities.

    So, from a purely marketing perspective alone, it seems pretty obvious that Team O. is starting with an enormous advantage when it comes to the FUD vs FUD campaign.

    Again, assuming no worsening of hte unemployment situation – and the next Fed open market meeting will probably see some easing, meaning it likely won’t get worse – a contest between Obama the “sOCiAli$$$t!!!” and Romney the Caymans Blocker is no contest at all.

    The rational bettor would be foolish to bet against Team Obama in such a scenario.

  • thibaud

    One more reason I feel increasingly confident in my assessment of the viability of the negative campaign against Romney: he’s a whiner.

    We’ve seen the results of this tendency again and again in my lifetime: the candidate who loses his/her cool and protests bitterly against being attacked invariably gets tagged as a loser. And the voters respond accordingly.

    We saw this with Jimmy Carter and “there you go again.”

    We saw it four years later with Ferraro’s complaints about Bush pere’s attacks on her husband. Nobody sympathized with Garry Trudeau’s counter-attacks against Bush; it was his opponent who was tagged as a loser.

    We saw it again in 1988, with Mike Dukakis’s angry reaction to Bush’s attacks on his character (“I resent it!”) on live national TV. Dukakis was pegged as a small man, a loser, and he lost.

    We saw it again with thin-skinned Ross Perot in 1992. Perot flamed out shortly after his own “crazy” response to Bush pere’s attacks.

    We saw it yet again with Gore’s responses to Republican/Maureen Dowd FUD in 2000. Gore lost his cool and lost the election.

    We saw it yet again in 2004 with SwiftBoat Kerry – nuff said.

    And we are now seeing the exact same phenomenon with Mitt Romney’s whiny complaints about Team Obama’s attacks on his Bain Capital weaseling and his bizarre, inexplicable refusal to tell us what’s going on with all those very weird, rather un-American offshore tax haven accounts of his.

    Perhaps Romney will listen to wiser and more experienced voices from within his own party, and stop the whining:

    “On the sidelines of the National Governors Association meeting in Williamsburg, Alabama’s Republican governor, Robert Bentley, called on Romney to release all the documents requested of him.

    “If you have things to hide, then maybe you’re doing things wrong,” Governor Bentley said. “I think you ought to be willing to release everything to the American people….”

    “It wasn’t just Obama [and Alabama’s GOP Governor], though, pressuring Romney.

    “There is no whining in politics,” chided John Weaver, a veteran Republican strategist. “Stop demanding an apology, release your tax returns.”

  • thibaud

    #6 Walter – “If thibaud hates Paul Ryan that much, then he is the man I want.”

    Paul Ryan is a nice man. Means well. Great hair.

    But his plan is ludicrous and will scare the daylights out of the swing voters.

    Were Romney foolish enough to put this extremist on his ticket, Team Obama will make mincemeat of this nice but rather nutty man and his self-pitying milquetoast of a partner.

  • Andrew Allison

    @12, with respect, your first point makes mine (rephrased as who will do the least damage). The second refers to what candidates are expected to say about their criteria for choosing a running made, not what they actually do. I can’t think of a VP in recent memory who actually exhibit the criteria Ford set forth. The name of the game is to win the election, not choose a successor.
    There is one potential candidate who meets both requirements. Condi Rice is not only very well qualified, but as a woman and a black would siphon off some of Obama’s support.

  • Art Deco

    A measure of concision might help both you and your readers.

  • Felipe Pait

    Nice work, Adam! I am not going to say you wrote things no one knew, but the point about McCain choosing his VP as an act of desperation, a tactic justified in the circumstances, is true though not widely acknowledged.

    As for Romney, I think the focus should be not on his VP but rather on his replacement. He is a deeply flawed candidate who will ensure a Democratic victory. I am not going to say that I am personally unhappy with a 2nd Obama term, however the country deserves a competitive election between competent candidates with serious proposals. Romney is not willing or able to offer the country such a choice; the GOP must dump him.

  • Don

    thibaud owns this post. You go thibaud.

  • thibaud

    Re. whiners/losers, forgot to mention 1996 and the man who whined, “Stop lying about my record!”

    Interestingly, the only losing presidential candidate of the last six elections who did NOT whine was that ex-POW who, far better than any other US politician, understands what a stiff upper lip means.

    All the more reason to praise John McCain and to lament what has become of the rest of our political class.

  • Kris

    thibaud@15: “But his plan is ludicrous and will scare the daylights out of the swing voters.”

    Felipe@18: “I am not going to say that I am personally unhappy with a 2nd Obama term, however the country deserves a competitive election between competent candidates with serious proposals. Romney is not willing or able to offer the country such a choice”

    Devil’s advocate: You may not think that the Romney/Ryan plans are serious, but many do. The only way you can disarm them is by putting the matter to a vote. For example, if Romney were to ignore ObamaCare, the debate would nonetheless rage on. Now that he’s committed to repealing it, the American people get to decide. If the Democrats win the presidency and Congress, game over.

  • thibaud

    I agree 100%, Kris. Let’s make the election a referendum on the Ryan proposal.

    An exciting campaign, sure, though the outcome would not be in doubt.

    The only question is whether Ryan-Romney’s Electoral college total would break 100.

  • thibaud

    Paul Ryan’s giving Michael Foot some competition for “the longest suicide note in history”:

  • AJ

    Not a bad article at all is my observation as a fellow Australian who now lives here. Less strained effort at humour (“politicians (which is to say, politicians)”), fewer cliches (“Phony War”, “Washington’s favorite quadrennial parlor game”) and losing perspectives that are common in Australia’s left-wing newspapers The Age and Sydney Morning Herald and blogosphere(“Svengali of the dark political arts, Karl Rove”, “noted bureaucratic shark Dick Chaney”) would be an improvement. Adam comes across as a guy who knows more about American politics than many Australians but who is likely an inner-city living ALP voter. My own view is in line with Jacksonian Libertarian’s above and I’d like to see Johnson or, failing that, Condi Rice for other reasons.

  • Kris

    thibaud, “Via media” notwithstanding, I would indeed prefer a clear-cut decision. Let’s have a landslide decision one way or the other and get on with things. Following this, the 2 parties can recalibrate as appropriate.

  • thibaud

    Kris, we’ve actually had a taste of this already, in Kathy Hochul’s stunning upset victory in the recent special election in New York’s 26th district.

    That’s the district that is so solidly Republican that “only three Democrats have won the House seat in this area in the past century… one of just four districts in the state that voted for John McCain and one of the few districts that voted overwhelmingly for Republican Carl Paladino in last year’s governor’s race.”

    The main reason that this solidly GOP district trounced the GOP because of Dems’ focus no Ryan’s medicare proposal.

    There would indeed be a landslide if that proposal were put to the nation.

  • Lyle Smith

    I’m thinking Jindal would be a strong choice. He’s plenty competent to be President now. Being VP would make him even more competent to be President down the road.

  • Art Deco

    The second refers to what candidates are expected to say about their criteria for choosing a made, not what they actually do. I can’t think of a VP in recent memory who actually exhibit the criteria Ford set forth.

    You think Gerald Ford was striking poses in a private conversations with his press secretary not revealed publicly until years after the fact?

    The degree to which the three criteria are fulfilled are subjective judgments, so it is difficult to assess what the candidates are doing absent correspondence and contemporary witnesses. (My guess would be that Ford valued an understanding of processes and personal relationships in Congress over executive experience).

    In the case of Ford, he selected someone very like himself (bar a mildly embarrassing domestic history, a bad temper, and an acerbic sense of humor) from a small state that he would have carried anyway. What sort of ‘electoral advantage’ do you think he was pursuing?

    Same deal with several others. Bill Clinton was a temporizing Southern liberal who selected a temporizing Southern liberal. George W. Bush selected a man who had never run outside of a state with three electoral votes he would have carried anyway. Albert Gore selected an episodically heterodox liberal from a state with eight electoral votes he would likely have received anyway. Barack Obama selected an amiable ass-clown from a state with three electoral votes he would have carried anyway, and so forth.

    The selections which come closest to Ford’s stated criteria would be Jimmy Carter’s selection of Walter Mondale, Robert Dole’s selection of Jack Kemp, Albert Gore’s selection of Joseph Lieberman, and George W. Bush’s selection of Richard Cheney.

  • Kris

    Art@28: I am reminded that back in 2000, some people were wistfully thinking that we’d be better off if both VP candidates were in fact the presidential candidates.

  • thibaud

    Dead Head sticker on a Cadillac and all that, Kris. Don’t look back.

  • Kris

    thibaud@30: Hey! That very Caddy tried to run me over on the road to Jezreel!

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