A New Generation of Conservative Thought

The right running mate

Romney must choose competence over flash

By Dr. Grace Vuoto
April 5, 2012

The GOP nomination battle is winding down with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney headed toward victory. The last three primary wins in Maryland, D.C. and Wisconsin now give him an insurmountable lead over his closest rival, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. The latter would have to capture 77 percent of all remaining delegates to win, a near impossible task, especially given his track record. Hence, the really interesting question now is: who will be Mr. Romney's running mate?

The best advice one can give Mr. Romney at this time is to ignore both Arkansas Sen. John McCain and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Mr. McCain suggested in an interview that the governor ought to select Sarah Palin. And Gov. Palin recommended the selection of Florida Congressman Alan West. She said he would be the best representative of a "rogue" candidate who could shake up Washington. Essentially, the McCain-Palin alliance that was defeated in 2008 has learned very little. Neither Mrs. Palin nor Mr. West have sufficient national or executive experience to be part of a winning ticket. Mrs. Palin unduly abandoned her responsibilities as governor of Alaska when she resigned in the middle of her term; and Col. West was elected to Congress in 2008 and still has a very thin political resume. Either selection would garner only temporary fizzle and then likely implode.

In addition, Mr. Romney ought to not play the gender and race card when choosing a mate. This election cycle, the public is in little mood to "make history." In the midst of economic stagnation and a dire fiscal situation, the American people want--and need--experience and competence, not trendy criteria. We don't want to "make history": we need to fix a near-bankrupt nation.

Also, Mr. Romney should forget about trying to craft an election strategy that panders to Hispanics. He is currently polling at approximately 23 percent among Hispanics and needs to win over at leat 31 percent of these to win the general election. But the way to win the election is not to try to grab 10 percent more of this electorate,while risking losing more support among already lukewarm evangelicals, conservatives and Tea Party members.

For example, Mr. Romney should not choose Cuban Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida in an attempt to win over Hispanic voters. Mr. Rubio is indeed a darling of the Tea Party but he has very little national experience. Also, he recently suggested reforming immigration laws to allow children of illegals to be given some kind of legal status if they go to college or enroll in the military. Mr. Romney took a strong position during the primary campaign, eschewing any such bargains. He cannot now go back on his word. In addition, Mr. Rubio was baptized as a Mormon. It is highly unlikely that the nation will elect a ticket of two Mormons to lead the nation. Getting one Mormon into high office is already a big stretch, especially for so many evangelical voters who have indicated they are reluctant to vote for Mr. Romney because of his religion. However charming and likable Mr. Rubio is, now is not his time.

The only Hispanic that is truly qualified to join Mr. Romney on the ticket is Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuno. He won the biggest landslide victory in 44 years in Puerto Rico and has governed as a strong social and fiscal conservative. The deeply pious Catholic governor has longstanding political experience, having served in Congress prior to being governor. He has been able to tap into the socially conservative values of Hispanic voters without also adopting big-government policies. This exponent of strong borders has the magic formula: a Hispanic Republican who taps into the Hispanic vote without selling out conservatism.

Yet, although Mr. Fortuno is making many short lists of vice presidential candidates, he is also a supporter of Puerto Rican statehood--a topic the GOP should not get embroiled in at this time. In essence, apart from discussing how to shore up the border, Mr. Romney should avoid any topic that will potentially rile the GOP base.

Mr. Romney is likely to do well in the general campaign if he chooses either Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Mr. Ryan has been in Congress since 1999 and has dealt effectively with the national media in explaining his bold budget reform proposals. Yet, he is entirely untested in foreign affairs. In addition, he has said many times that he is sorely needed in his current role as Chairman of the House Committee on the Budget. And he is right: There is no person in America better qualified to hold that position than Mr. Ryan. If Mr. Romney becomes president, the most effective role he could have Mr. Ryan play is to use him to full advantage in his current position.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is another strong contender. He is a bold fiscal conservative with remarkable executive experience in steering New Jersey out of its fiscal morass. In addition, he has media star power. He is the only vice presidential contender on this list with massive charisma--a unique, megawatt personality that could go a long way toward electrifying the rather dour Romney campaign. If he is on the ticket, the message to conservatives would be that Mr. Romney is serious about fiscal reform--and that will be enough to win over many moderates and otherwise lukewarm conservatives. Yet, Mr. Christie is not socially conservative and this means Mr. Romney will spend much of the campaign warding off questions about whether his conversions to social conservatism are authentic, given the selection of Mr. Christie.

Hence, Mr. Romney's best choice as running mate is Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. He has executive experience as Virginia's fiscally conservative governor; he was also a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. He therefore has the domestic and foreign policy credentials that are required to be one heartbeat away from the Oval Office. He is a pious evangelical and sound social conservative; this will shore up Mr. Romney's support among the conservative base and signal he will indeed govern as a fiscal and social conservative. In addition, Mr. McDonnell is seasoned and handles the national media very well. He can serve as Mr. Romney's bulwark, while helping to carry the pivotal swing state of Virginia.

In a nutshell, Mr. Romney has sufficient credentials to attract moderates. Once he solidifies the conservative base with the selection of a vice presidential candidate like Mr. McDonnell, he will have a winning ticket. The Romney-McDonnell juggernaut will convey experience, competence, conviction and patriotism. In combatting this conservative strategy, all the king's horses and all the king's men will not be able to save the broken presidency of Barack Obama in 2012.

-Dr. Grace Vuoto is the Executive Director of the Edmund Burke Institute for American Renewal.