Over a year ago, I was telling politically-minded friends that if McCain got the GOP nod, it would be a McCain-Pawlenty ticket. I predicted as much in writing back in May. Then Pawlenty’s chances seemed to dwindle as Governors Mitt Romney (fmr MA), Crist (FL), and Jindal (LA) all rose in stock. But pendulums always swing back, and in the last couple weeks we’ve seen Minnesota polls tightening, Pawlenty change his awful haircut, and Jay Leno riff about the Pawlenty buzz.
If it’s not Pawlenty, my guess is Florida Governor Charlie Crist. At first, despite rampant speculation, I didn’t think it would be Crist, since he’s single and Florida just isn’t as much a swing state as the press likes to say it is. While I still think McCain will win it with minimal effort, it turns out three out of four polls there do mildly favor Obama, and more importantly, Crist flip-flopped on his opposition to offshore drilling immediately after McCain did the same. Hmm, I thought, given how unpopular drilling is in Florida, he sure is taking a risk – maybe he wants the nod more than I thought! Additionally, he recently announced his engagement, erasing his one real liability.
A distant third choice and dark horse, I think, is Dartmouth alum (woohoo!) Rob Portman. Portman has a Bush One-like resume: former Congressman, trade ambassador, and OMB head. He comes from a swing state, Ohio, and is a good fundraiser. Unfortunately for McCain, Portman also has strong Bush ties. Some pundits say Portman would give McCain the economic gravitas he lacks, but others point out that Portman signed off on every one of Bush’s economic policies, and look where that got us. My fourth choice is Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. As I wrote about in May, I think McCain really wants to pick Jindal, but since I made that post he has probably been convinced that Jindal is so young that his age, rather than balancing out McCain’s seniority, would highlight it. McCain did visit Jindal a few days ago, but I’m guessing that was a courtesy call to say you’re out, I look forward to working with you as my Attorney General or whatever.
You may have noticed that none of Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, or Eric Cantor made my list. There was buzz about a fresh female Governor from a state like Alaska, but I think the recent Alaska GOP scandals, including one of her own, have probably pushed Palin out of the running. Cantor’s only claim to fame is that he’s a good fundraiser, and yet McCain is doing better on the money front than anyone initially expected, so it’ll probably take more than deep pockets to secure a spot on this ticket after all.
And Romney, oh Romney. Anyone who says McCain needs Romney to unify and excite the Republican base just doesn’t understand the electorate. I have to ask if they paid any attention whatsoever during the primaries. Economic conservatives and religious righties did not support Romney because they like him, but because they thought he was the lesser of ten evils. Let’s remember, this guy didn’t just change his positions on abortion, stem cell research, and gay marriage, he changed them just as he was preparing to run for President. Adjusting to new facts is one thing, but to do so on so many issues at a politically opportune time is another. Romney only got the support that he did because people didn’t like Mike Huckabee’s economics or Fred Thompson’s work ethic. His support was part of a disenchanted, fractured base, and as an important piece in the conservative Washington Times noted this week, he does not, new positions aside, offer a path to conservatives’ hearts. What he does offer is an easy, if not entirely accurate, Democratic attack line: at a time when we need economic leadership more than ever, the Republicans have nominated a guy whose idea of a financial miracle is to get ride of jobs and fire people! If you want a good conservative, you go with Crist, Pawlenty, or Jindal. You don’t go with a gay-friendly Mormon (let’s face it, deserved it or not, that doesn’t help him). That leaves Romney with only his good looks and his money, but people see through hair gel, and as noted with Cantor, McCain doesn’t need that money anymore.
Yes, I know that Novak said it will be Romney, no ands ifs or buts. I don’t buy it. I’m sticking with Pawlenty. Anyone in DC, Idaho, or New Hampshire who cares to bet a beer or a lunch over it, just lemmee know.
On another note, it sure is a shame Mike Huckabee pushed himself out of the running embarrassing McCain in Texas and Virginia. I liked him.