John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Portman Would Be the Best VP Pick

Posted on August 10, 2012

John Nance Garner, the former Speaker of the House who would be promoted to become Franklin Roosevelt’s Vice President, called the higher job akin to a “warm bucket of piss.”

But that was Garner working with FDR.

A Vice President doesn’t have to just wait around for his boss to keel over.

Some Vice Presidents actually do work.

Dick Cheney was an activist Vice President.  So was Al Gore, as was George H.W. Bush.  Joe Biden strives to be an activist, although he better serves as the Court Jester for Obamaworld.

The first qualification of a Vice Presidential candidate is that you must help the President become President. The worst Vice Presidents are ones that become laughing stocks and seriously undermine the election and/or re-election efforts for the Presidential campaign.

What makes a good Vice Presidential candidate?

First, he (or she) makes the ticket stronger without making the President’s role weaker.  George H.W. Bush and Al Gore are the best examples of that.

Vice Presidential candidates that provide regional balance or necessary experience can be useful.   Lyndon Johnson did both for Jack Kennedy, although JFK and LBJ had little personal chemistry.  Dick Cheney gave doubters of George W. Bush a sense of certainty that at least there would be one adult in the room, although Cheney eventually overshadowed Bush in the policy-making arena.

Vice Presidential candidates that either over-shadow a Presidential candidate or don’t have enough experience to be President tend to be disasters.  Sarah Palin both overshadowed John McCain and didn’t have enough experience to be President.  Dan Quayle looked like a deer caught in the headlights.  Spiro Agnew didn’t have the ethical ability to be President nor the experience.

Governors who win tend to pick Washington insiders (usually Senators) to be their running mates.  Bush picked Cheney, Reagan picked Bush, Carter picked Mondale, and Clinton picked Gore.  Dukakis picked Lloyd Bentsen, a good choice, although he didn't win.  Senators tend to pick other Senators.  Obama picked Biden, Kerry picked Edwards, Kennedy picked Johnson, and McGovern picked Eagleton.  McCain should have picked another Senator instead of Palin.

Regionalism tends to matter less these days in a successful running mate selection.  Cheney and Bush were from the same state.  Obama picked Biden for his experience, not because he needed Delaware.  Reagan would have won Texas anyway.  Clinton and Gore were from neighboring states.

The last time regionalism really mattered was when Kennedy picked Johnson, but that was at a different stage in our national history.

It seems to me that the best Vice Presidential candidates in the 50 years are the ones that gave the Presidential contender greater credibility in the eyes of the public.   That being said, Vice Presidential candidates don’t win Presidential elections.

From all of these indicators, Rob Portman would be the best pick to be Vice President.  He is a Senator who has extensive experience in the executive branch and who will not overshadow the Presidential candidate.  Portman doesn’t have oodles of charisma on the national stage (he is not prone to outlandish comments, he doesn’t make news on Cable television, he is not intensely partisan, etc.), but being from Ohio gives him some real credibility as a potential running mate.

Portman is a serious choice, and such a selection would show that Romney has a serious plan to run the government.  Picking Portman gives Romney credibility.

Tim Pawlenty seems like a nice guy, but it is hard to see what Washington experience he would bring to the table.  He doesn’t have anything on his resume that hints that he could be an international envoy (Portman’s trade rep experience will come in handy once Romney starts getting himself in trouble with the Chinese).   He doesn’t know anybody in Congress.  He is a true outsider.  Two true outsiders could make for good theater.  Not sure how smart it is though, if you want to get stuff through the Congress.

Chris Christie himself has said that he is not particularly good at playing second fiddle.  How will Romney handle it when Christie says something particularly stupid?  I can’t see Romney taking Christie to the wood-shed.

Bill Kristol has been pushing Paul Ryan.  For the record, Mr. Kristol was also Sarah Palin’s biggest cheerleader.   I like Paul.  He doesn’t have Portman’s extensive White House experience, nor does he have any international experience.  He does know the federal budget, and that could make him an exceptional OMB Director.  The big question for the Romney campaign is:  do they want to make this election a referendum on Barack Obama or do they want to make it about Medicare Reform (as introduced in the famous Ryan Budget)?

Kelly Ayotte would be a good choice in four years.  She just doesn’t have enough experience at this stage of the game.

An intriguing choice would be Bobby Jindal.  He is really, really smart.  He has executive branch experience, having worked at HHS.  He knows Congress well, having served in the House.  He could carve out a role almost immediately after he became Vice President.  And he would electrify an increasingly important Asian-American voting bloc.

My first choice (if I were Mitt Romney) would be Rob Portman.  Second choice would be Bobby Jindal.  Third choice would Tim Pawlenty.

Republicans have a pretty deep bench, and should Romney falter this time around, many of these on the list would make exceptional Presidential candidates in 2016.

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