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: 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…