Friday in August: One Last Veep Speculation Thread

Well, now that Barack Obama is calling the unlucky ones, we’re running out of time to do the last fun speculation thing prior to the election, and I still haven’t thrown up a post of significance about all this. So here goes.

On Obama’s side, it seemed clear from the beginning that he was going to bollix this choice. It tends to prove the old dictum that As hire As and Bs hire Cs – his roster of potential choices, if accurate, is just not that impressive. The Mark Warners of the world took themselves out of the running early on, and the second tier of Jim Webbs did it later – either not confident that Obama will win, or more likely, unwilling to play second fiddle to The One for the foreseeable future. Others, like Wes Clark, took themselves out of the running just by opening their mouths and forming the shapes of their thoughts.

So instead, you ended up with a list of also-rans and secondary characters: the marvelously entertaining gaffe machine Joe Biden, a constituency-lacking mediocre governor in Tim Kaine (who, as Erick notes, is probably out), an uninspiring Kathleen Sebelius, and a rejected by the netroots pro-war Evan Bayh. Out of these, I think Biden is the likeliest choice.

None of these individuals are game changers, and the only remaining potential one who would change the game is Hillary.

I don’t buy Ruffini’s argument that this is all one massive headfake, but honestly, it’d make the most political sense if you want to win. Obama would have to be prepared with 4,383+ fanatical followers to serve as his taste testers, of course. And they’d have to have their wills in order. And she’d still want to run again.

Of course, I think the most obvious choice for Obama is to follow the Dick Cheney path – no, not the old white guy who’s been around politics forever, but to pick the head of your Veep Committee. In this case, that would be none other than Caroline Kennedy.Yes, of course it opens him up to the celebrity, inexperienced attacks even more than he already does. But Kennedy would be the best possible choice in my view, better even than HRC herself, to win back the older women who’ve gone to McCain since the primary. She’s fantastically telegenic. She was instrumental in persuading Ted Kennedy to back Obama, and has carved out a neat little niche – an attorney and a best-selling author, half political Oprah, half Princess Di. She’s reportedly going to be Obama’s Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s – I thought it was illegal to announce choices like these, but I think it’s basically unenforceable – which she’s more than qualified for. It’s a choice that would fit Obama’s message of HopeChange while also reinspiring all the old Democrats who still have a soft spot for JFK, all while not saddling him with a politician whose resume will dwarf the lead guy on stage.

Of course, the only other person I’ve heard say this is a good idea is Michael Moore. So it won’t happen. But it’d be smart.

On McCain’s side, the roster of potential choices was better at the beginning – but then they, too, decided to stand on the sideline. Bobby Jindal is absolutely justified in his position – he’s been on his new job for less than a year, and Louisiana needs him – but I still think McCain would’ve liked to pick him most of all. Sarah Palin has the same too-new problem, though I think in an election focused on Energy, she’d have been a great choice. Nobody even called Don Carcieri. Mike Huckabee made it clear that he wanted the job, but I don’t feel like he gives McCain what he needs in this election (Huck would’ve been the perfect Veep for someone like Rudy, not McCain), and he’d have pissed off a lot of folks. And Mark Sanford basically made it clear that he wasn’t interested in this job when he chose not to endorse anyone – though he’d still arguably be McCain’s best choice on paper.

The roster was thus minimized to a number of B-team candidates. Tom Ridge? Please – the man hasn’t been doing anything for years. If he was from Kansas, his name wouldn’t even be on the list. Jon Huntsman and Rob Portman would be out of left field. Tim Pawlenty? He’s a fine governor, but he’s the ultra-safe choice, and as exciting as a tub of vanilla yogurt. I’d like him more if he still had the mullet. The previous sentence can be applied to anyone or anything ever.

So we come down to it, and everyone’s talking about Joe Lieberman and Mitt Romney. The Romney talk still surprises me, even though Time’s Mark Halperin reports it’s already decided. Romney doesn’t give you anything you need. You can’t have him spend his money – you already opted into the federal limits. He removes the ability to attack Obama as out of touch with economic needs. He removes the ability to attack Obama as an inconsistent flip-flopper. And really, he does nothing to heal the wounds of the GOP primary – he only makes Mitt Romney supporters happy. He doesn’t make Fred Thompson supporters happy, he doesn’t make John McCain supporters happy, and he absolutely doesn’t make Mike Huckabee supporters happy.

And those aren’t the wounds that need healing anyway. McCain’s winning 87% of Republicans right now to 84% of Democrats for Obama – there’s no need to lock up the party line people, they’re already on board. Perhaps if you think Romney can speak on economic issues in the midwest, it’s an advantage – but isn’t Pawlenty’s blue collar/Sam’s Club message a better one for this campaign than Romney’s technocrat spiel?

The other reason I just can’t see Romney as the choice: it’d be so out of character for McCain. If there’s one thing we know about John McCain at this point, it’s how the man makes decisions: he is primarily motivated by his uniquely harsh sense of personal honor, loyalty to his friends to the point of destruction, and enduring flames of spite.

None of these traits would lead to Romney as a logical choice. McCain still views Romney as having wronged his honor during the campaign; his friends despise Romney personally beyond any of the other potential candidates; and there’s no sign his everlasting personal spite meter has diminished since the days of the campaign. I just think McCain wants to win or lose on his own terms, and Romney would not be that. It would be the choice of a typical Republican, not a maverick.

The maverick choice, yes, would be Lieberman. But he too has manifold issues. While more acceptable to some than other pro-choice selections, Lieberman would still blunt the attack on Obama’s infanticide position – which could very well be the defining issue of this election according to some analysts. Lieberman is a doctrinaire liberal on all issues but foreign policy; this equips him to be an excellent Secretary of State in a McCain administration, but not to be one step from the presidency. Yet I suspect he would still offend the base less than some choices, since he’s obviously not a successor candidate – he’s not going to run for president in four or eight years.

Lieberman is a swing for the fences approach, however. He’d be a better choice if McCain was running 8-10 points behind. But he’s not – so why mess up a good thing by picking someone who might make the base reconsider their support?

Yet just as with Obama, there’s another excellent potential choice who isn’t getting his due: Eric Cantor. I highly doubt Cantor is the pick – McCain has no strong personal connection with him, and Cantor has been focused on setting himself up to run for Speaker or Majority Leader should the Republicans retake the House in 4-6 years. But he would be an excellent choice on many levels. Eloquent and bright, he’s a hardworking fundraiser, a capable attack dog, and has a unique appeal as a Jewish Republican with Southern roots. He’s from a swing state (and arguably has a larger constituency there than the lame duck Kaine), but he also can reach out to Florida and Pennsylvania in unique ways. He’s young, but he’s been in office twice as long as Barack Obama. He’s a boy scout, clean of any scandal talk, and he’s very good on TV.

Cantor would satisfy the business community and conservatives, while also giving you more ammo to reach out to many of the same constituencies you would with a Lieberman pick. He’s more of an organizer than a wonk, and frankly, that’s what I think McCain needs in a running mate: a hard working party man who’ll be great on the stump.

We’ll all see soon enough, of course. Whoever it is, someone’s going to be disappointed. Just get ready for it, and get used to it – in the end, Veep choices end up counting for very little anyway.