Jay Reding.com

Assessing The Veepstakes

Now that John McCain has the GOP nomination practically in hand, it’s time to start thinking about who should be his choice for Vice President. What McCain needs is someone who can reach out to the GOP base, be an effective attack dog against the Democrats, and complement McCain’s strengths while reducing his political vulnerabilities. In short, that means someone who has appeal with conservatives and evangelicals, but doesn’t alienate national security conservatives or fiscal conservatives. Here are some candidates who fit the bill:

Fred Thompson: No surprise that he’s be first on my list, but he should be first on McCain’s as well. Thompson’s got clout with conservatives. He’s got strong policy positions on key issues like immigration and taxes. He has appeal in the South. As an attack dog, he managed to rip Huckabee a new one—just imagine what he could do to someone like Bill Richardson or John Edwards in a Vice Presidential debate. Thompson and McCain get along well, and that ticket would reassure skittish conservative voters. The down side is that Thompson lacks executive experience and his campaign style leaves much to be desired. There’s also the question of whether he’d want the job. However, he would be a strong choice for McCain.

J.C. Watts: Watts has been outside of politics for a while, but he’s a strong conservative as well as someone who would add diversity to the GOP ticket. He’s right, Republicans don’t do nearly enough to appeal to African-American voters, and there could be a chance to take some of those votes away if Clinton gets the nomination. The downside is that he’s been away from politics for so long—but that might be an asset rather than a liability.

Michael Steele: Another principled African-American conservative. He’s strong on policy and would also help the GOP reach out to new voting groups without alienating conservatives. However, he doesn’t have the national recognition to be a real star pick—but that might not matter in the end.

Tom Coburn: The strongest fiscal conservative there is, the enemy of pork-barrel spenders everywhere. Solidly conservative, he would help McCain with the conservative vote. He’s also a relative unknown and another Senator, however.

Mike Huckabee: He would help McCain on economic issues and with evangelical outreach. The problem is that he annoys everyone else, and conservatives don’t like him at all. Since he’s still in the race, I think he’s signaling that he doesn’t want the job. There’s no sense staying in and challenging McCain if you want the #2 slot. I don’t see Huckabee as getting the pick now, and that’s something to be thankful for.

Tim Pawlenty: A moderate governor of a swing state. Wildly popular after the I-35W bridge collapse when he held the line on taxes (even though he wobbled on the issue). Won reelection in a GOP bloodbath. He appeals to the average Joe, because he is an average Joe. He supported McCain from the beginning, and loyalty counts for a great deal. The problem? Minnesota nice. I don’t see him as an attack dog. Then again, McCain can already do that himself. I’d say that Pawlenty is probably the top of the short list now.

Charlie Crist: Crist is the popular governor of Florida, another potential swing state. He brings many of the same advantages as Pawlenty does. However, he’s also fairly moderate and may not enthuse conservatives. Since Crist’s endorsement was key to McCain winning in Florida, I would not at all be surprised if he gets the VP slot in McCain’s campaign‐but it’s still wide open.

I do have one pick from left field, but the one person I think would be the single best pick for Sen. McCain in 2008:

Sarah Palin Photo

Sarah Palin: Sarah Palin is the most popular governor in the country, getting approval ratings of up to 90%. She won by a landslide in a difficult election. She’s principled on fiscal issues, she’s a fighter against corruption and she’s strongly pro-life. Throughout Juneau she’s known for being someone who can stand up to entrenched interests and win. In high school she was nicknamed “Sarah Barracuda” for her tenacity—and that same tenacity has marked her tenure as Governor of Alaska. She’s someone who can be an attack dog yet still keep her appeal. If Obama wins the nomination, she can help McCain with the female vote. If Clinton wins, she’s the anti-Clinton—if she will Bill Clinton’s wife, Bill Clinton would have been out on the curb with a boot in his ass years ago. She’s a hunter, an ice fisher, and a lifelong member of the NRA.

Palin’s disadvantages are her lack of name recognition and her relative lack of experience, having only been elected governor in 2006. At the same time, she’s one of the people who is likely to be a leader in the GOP, so it makes sense to put her in a strong public position now. Especially if McCain decides to run for only one term, it makes sense to have a strong successor there waiting in the wings.

Palin represents a new face for the GOP—and she’s no slouch on the issues either. She would be a surprising pick for McCain, but that’s exactly what he needs.

UPDATE: And now The Weekly Standard gets on the Palin for Veep bandwagon

9 responses to “Assessing The Veepstakes”

  1. adb67 says:

    Sorry gotta say but, Palin is also one good looking woman! I dont see her as a good choice at this time due to her relative inexperience. Forget Thompson, outside the conservative wing, no one, likes the guy. Women, younger voters, minorities….no one….the guy is a certified grump.

    Personally I like South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford….

  2. Mark says:

    A pretty interesting list for the most part, despite nearly jumping the shark with the first ridiculous suggestion…..

    Fred Thompson….for all your adulation of Thompson, he supported many of the same positions in the Senate that you find unforgivable when it concerns McCain. As for “ripping Huckabee a new one”, that’s not a very compelling talking point when you consider the well-funded Thompson campaign got its ass handed to it by the fourth-tier candidate Huckabee fighting for the same constituency of voters. If Huckabee really got “ripped a new one” by Thompson, why did Huckabee just win Thompson’s home state? Ouch! And on top of all of that, the last thing McCain needs is a running mate even more stereotypically geriatric than he is. Thompson’s a nonstarter.

    J.C. Watts….a buzzworthy possibility that could be downright genius if the Dems nominate Hillary. If they nominate Obama, however, it’ll seem gimmicky. Given his thin and dated political resume, the Republicans will have to come up with a compelling justification for Watts to be on the ticket or else run the risk of being called out for “affirmative action for GOP public relations”.

    Michael Steele….despite his undeniable likability, he ran a gaffe prone campaign last year and has a bad habit of “telling reporters too much”. Had Steele performed better against a weak opponent in the 2006 Maryland Senate race (and if he had a more noteworthy political resume), he could be a contender in 2008, but he barely overperformed George Bush’s double-digit losing margin from 2004.

    Tom Coburn….the anti-Michael Steele with an almost gleefully abrasive and confrontational personality. He would be a lightning rod of criticism for independents and would fit the mold of “Dr. Evil” even more suitably than current VP Dick Cheney. With that said, he’s one of the few consistent conservatives out there and would definitely help McCain with the radical right.

    Mike Huckabee….quite possibly the top choice for McCain, and the best choice. Willard’s anemic numbers in every region of the country show just how microscopic the robber baron wing of the Republican Party has become. Throwing Cato Institute disciples a bone would fetch plenty of favorable Wall Street Journal editorials, but wouldn’t help much with the evangelical foot soldiers more responsible than any other group for the 50% + 1 elections of George Bush in 2000 and 2004. Check out the numbers from rural Minnesota counties at Tuesdays caucuses. Huckabee cleaned up. The $20,000-per-year values voters get Mike Huckabee….and the Republicans desperately need those voters to get them if they have a prayer of winning.

    Tim Pawlenty….the idea that TPaw is “wildly popular” because of his administration’s blissful ignorance on the status of the 35W bridge pre-collapse. His support is a quarter-mile deep and an inch thick…and the best way to watch it plummet is for the Republicans to elevate the “public face of collapsing bridges in America” to running mate status. Pawlenty would have been right at the top of the list last year at this time, but if I was McCain, I’d be reluctant to remind voters that the endgame of Republican antitax orthodoxy is EMS crews pulling corpses out of the Mississippi River. The fact that Pawlenty’s enthusiastic support of McCain yielded him no better than a wimpy 22% showing in Minnesota’s caucuses on Tuesday probably isn’t sweetening the bargain either. I won’t rule TPaw out by any means, but I think it would ultimately be a mistake for McCain.

    Charlie Crist….I don’t know alot about this guy, but he’s incredibly popular in the vote-rich swing state of Florida. That would be enough to put him on my VP short list if I was McCain. Just imagine how many resources would be freed up to campaign elsewhere if McCain was able to take Florida off the table early by picking Crist. From a geographical standpoint, Crist seems like the perfect choice.

    Sarah Palin….I’ll give you credit for an interesting, outside-the-box choice. And as abd pointed out, in addition to the other noteworthy bullet points on her resume, she’s cute to boot. Seems incredibly unlikely to make the ticket so soon, but if her name gets floated around out there, and if she successfully distances herself from prison-bound fellow Alaska Republicans Ted Stevens and Don Young, she definitely has a bright future in national politics.

  3. adb67 says:

    Mark,

    Sarah Palin is as you said a bit green at this point. But be assured she is goign to be a player in the long run. I would expect a Seante run in the future. Yes she is attractive, but more importantly she is smart and very very well liked by her constituents. The GOp needs more woman like her in leadership roles.

  4. Jay Reding says:

    If Huckabee really got “ripped a new one” by Thompson, why did Huckabee just win Thompson’s home state?

    Because Thompson dropped out of the race? I’m not even sure he was on the ballot in Tennessee.

    As for Pawlenty, the idea that it was low taxes that brought the bridge down is pure BS… unless by “low taxes” you mean “a design flaw from 1967.” If anything, the Democratic rush to blame Republicans for the collapse shows how desperately and nakedly political the Democrats have become. The fact that the Democrats immediately seized upon the collapse as a political issue before the first victims were even plucked from the water did reflect well on the Democrats.

  5. Mark says:

    adb, I agree with you. By leading the fight to clean up Alaska’s corrupt political culture, Palin will endear herself to fiscal conservatives who hate Ted Stevens every bit as much as Robert Byrd. Everything about her gives the aura of “rising star”, but keep in mind alot of people said the same thing about Gray Davis two years into his tenure as Governor of California.

    Jay:

    “Because Thompson dropped out of the race? I’m not even sure he was on the ballot in Tennessee.”

    Thompson got 3% in Tennessee…perhaps that was all from write-in votes though. The point is Huckabee hijacked Thompson’s voting cohort in the South. The superstar who loses the war against an unfunded fourth-tier challenger doesn’t get to be credibly praised for “ripping him a new one”.

    “As for Pawlenty, the idea that it was low taxes that brought the bridge down is pure BS… unless by “low taxes” you mean “a design flaw from 1967.””

    The paper trail from during Pawlenty’s administration suggests his administration knew that 35W bridge was badly deteriorating and needed a serious upgrade. I’ll grant you it’s probably more bad luck that it collapsed and could just as easily have happened to Rudy Perpich or would-be Governor Mike Hatch, but the combination of Pawlenty’s refusal to adequately fund infrastructure repairs and his documented ambivalence about repairing this specific bridge after it was deemed unacceptable is ultimately a PR nightmare for him.

    “The fact that the Democrats immediately seized upon the collapse as a political issue before the first victims were even plucked from the water did reflect well on the Democrats.”

    I won’t argue with that, and it’s likely TPaw’s continued popularity is the result of an overreach by the likes of Nick Coleman and his ilk. Still, when all the rocks are turned, it’s abundantly clear that Pawlenty had the opportunity to avert this major-league black eye but chose not to out of political expediency. And when Republicans like yourself will repeatedly suggest during the course of this Presidential campaign that the nation would be absolute morons to undergo a widespread infrastructure upgrade under the specious and infantile logic that it would force unemployed software engineers to dig ditches, it suggests that alot more bridges are gonna collapse in servitude to low-tax orthodoxy.

  6. Mr. D says:

    Good post – some good ideas, too. Palin is an intriguing choice. My suspicion is that he’ll have to choose someone more conventional however, so I think the best bets are Mark Sanford and Haley Barbour. I could see Palin and Bobby Jindal as real possibilities for Veep or even a run at the big show later on, but probably not yet.

  7. Jay Reding says:

    The fact remains that even if the Democrats had spend millions more on real infrastructure spending (as opposed to mass-transit boondoggles), the bridge would have still collapsed. Short of replacing the bridge (which was on no one’s agenda for the near future), nothing could have prevented it from collapsing sooner or later.

    Nothing Pawlenty could have reasonably done would have prevented the disaster. The bridge collapsed because of a design flaw in the gusset plates, not because of spending.

  8. adb67 says:

    I think what McCain needs in a VP is someone who is a conservative economic policy expert. Someone who can balance McCains foreign policy experience with the economic and fiscal experience he is sorely lacking. We need someone who can look at taxes, healthcare and the like with an open mind and from a standpoint of experience. I wonder having endorsed McCain if Romney would be considered and if he would accept the VP slot. He is younger, has the kind of experience I speak of. Only issue for Romney is that he is a little upper crusty stiff at times…..but of course….the VP slot doesnt have a huge impact on the ticket (See Bush/Quayle). I think McCain Romney would be a good fit.

  9. Syrin says:

    This inept governor Sarah Palin has secured a high approval for terrorizing and taxing private industry, growing government and giving every special intrest group just what they want or more. Most Alaskans are unaware that she is not what she says or what her label as conservative seems to be. Sarah has created an atmosphere of hate and discontent in the state of Alaska. She just resently tried to oust the Chairman of the Republican Party of Alaska. We have a few years -unless she resigns! She came in as a fresh face with NO experience and NO flippin clue and we are reaping the benefits of that misjudgment. Sarah Palin should never be considered for any political position ever. She is a disaster!