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March 23, 2012 5:59 PM Post-Palin Veep Vetting

By Ed Kilgore

As the presidential contest moves towards the general election phase, interest will continuously increase in Mitt Romney’s choice of a running-mate. The scrutiny will be especially intense for two obvious reasons: first, Romney has serious intra-party problems that the Veep selection could exacerbate or heal, and second, the GOP’s 2008 process left a lot to be desired, at least according to the CW.

This second reason—the Palin Precedent—is the subject of an extensive discussion by Richard W. Stevenson at the New York Times’ Caucus blog today:

In any other year, your musings might lead you to, say, Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, a former prosecutor who checks all of those boxes, has bipartisan support in her home state and enjoys shooting handguns to boot.
But in the world after Sarah Palin and “Game Change,” the chances of Mitt Romney or anyone else choosing a first-term governor lacking a national brand name and experience are greatly diminished. However good a fit she might be on paper, Ms. Martinez probably bears too many surface similarities to Ms. Palin to get a serious look.

The rule GOPers supposedly learned is that some experience in public life is a must:

“One of the mistakes we made in the Palin process was one of assumptions,” said Steve Schmidt, one of the McCain aides who guided the process. “We immediately made the assumption that anyone with ‘Governor’ next to her name has a base level of knowledge of history and policy that in a post-Palin world it isn’t necessarily safe to assume.”

I hate to tell Schmidt, but there are more than a few people with “Governor” and “Senator” next to their names who are, to use a technical term, dumb as a sack of hammers. They are not, moreover, all first-termers. And there are plenty of people with short resumes who are not only smart but knowledgeable. Making the level of office someone reaches or their years there the sole determinant would be like a major-league baseball team planning its future around players who had spent a lot of time in AAA ball, which might be a sign of seasoning, but also of mediocrity (or worse).

The conventional retroactive case on Palin also errs, I think, in figuring that the only problem with her was her lack of experience and knowledge. She was also, you might have noticed, a rather polarizing figure, and that was something about her that should have been obvious to anyone familiar with her behavior in Alaska, or her rock-star status in many precincts of the Christian Right, especially the anti-choicers, who idolized her long before the rest of the country had any idea who she was. Yet these characteristics—her “mavericky” rep back home, and her particular appeal to the very conservatives who mistrusted the guy at the top of the ticket—were precisely what attracted McCain to her in the first place. Today’s McCainiacs are, I suspect, being a bit disingenuous in suggesting Palin’s qualities completely blindsided them.

Since Romney has a lot of the same challenges in keeping “the base” happy as McCain did, he’ll be tempted to make the same sort of calculations that were made in 2008.

But it’s a mistake to think of Palin’s vetting as some sort of low-point in modern history and that structuring the process to avoid everything that happened in her selection will eliminate all risk. As people of my sub-generation remember, until relatively recently the Veep choice was made at the convention itself, often haphazardly. By most accounts, the fateful selection of LBJ in 1960 was an accident, a courtesy offer by the Kennedys they were sure would be rejected. In 1968, Spiro T. Agnew went on the GOP ticket as the guy on the list whom nobody vetoed; only later would it be discovered that he was regularly receiving brown paper bags of cash from Maryland road-builders, and would continue to do so in the White House. And in 1972, the disastrous choice of Tom Eagleton was made by a desperate George McGovern only after the prize had been turned down by a long list of preferable running-mates (you had to pick somebody, after all).

Meanwhile, a bullet dodged by Barack Obama in 2008—an Obama/Edwards ticket—involved a possible running-mate who met the highest possible “modern” criteria: previous vetting as a two-time presidential candidate and as a vice-presidential nominee.

As the truck driver’s troubadour Dave Dudley used to sing: “There ain’t no easy run.” And there’s no perfect vetting process this side of divine omniscience.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • Ron Byers on March 23, 2012 6:13 PM:

    I learned more about Palin corresponding with Alaskan bloggers than I thought possible. The local bloggers were out front of the local Alaskan press in a lot of ways. Sometimes they were the same people.

    If any party ever tries to nominate a relative unknown in the future, we would all be wise to read and communicate with the bloggers who cover the real estate where the candidate is best known.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on March 23, 2012 6:17 PM:

    Making the level of office someone reaches or their years there the sole determinant would be like a major-league baseball team planning its future around players who had spent a lot of time in AAA ball, which might be a sign of seasoning, but also of mediocrity (or worse).

    Moreover, isn't that the exact opposite of all this anti-Washington sentiment that's supposedly privileging Romney because he's only ever been a governor and only for one term? It seems like the very best option for VP, then, by Republican doctrine would be one who's never been elected to anything.

    And since when was "base level of knowledge of history and policy" anything but a disqualifying factor for a Republican nomination for office? This very day Ed Kilgore wrote about Mitt turning backflips to appear more ignorant on health care than he really is.

  • fostert on March 23, 2012 6:17 PM:

    The choice is obvious: Marco Rubio. He's got some name recognition, he's handsome, and might stem the flow of Hispanics from the GOP. But, most importantly, he can win Florida, which is a must-win for any GOP candidate.

  • Ennis on March 23, 2012 6:49 PM:

    You’re joking, right?

  • booch221 on March 23, 2012 7:00 PM:

    The conventional retroactive case on Palin also errs, I think, in figuring that the only problem with her was her lack of experience and knowledge. She was also, you might have noticed, a rather polarizing figure, and that was something about her that should have been obvious to anyone familiar with her behavior in Alaska...

    I'm an Alaskan and a Palin hater, but this is untrue. She was not a polarizing figure in Alaska prior to being selected by McCain. Her biggest legislative accomplishment (oil taxes, ethics reform, and the gas pipeline) were done in partnership with Democrats in the legislature. She appointed a Democrat as Revenue Commissioner.

    She began to have ethics problems of her own (Troopergate) and her lack to transparency started to show. It wasn't until the 2008 campaign that her vindictiveness, hyper partisanship, and unfitness for any office became apparent.

  • ShadeTail on March 23, 2012 7:19 PM:

    ["The choice is obvious: Marco Rubio. He's got some name recognition, he's handsome, and might stem the flow of Hispanics from the GOP. But, most importantly, he can win Florida, which is a must-win for any GOP candidate."]

    Rubio would do nothing to stop Romney from hemorrhaging Latino support. Romney is way too far gone for that, and anyway, there are important cultural differences between Cubans and the rest.

    Rubio is also nowhere near a guarantee for delivering Florida. Medicare and Social Security are huge issues there, and he is on the wrong side of both.

    Also, he has some skeletons in his own closet. For one, he's still vulnerable on the lies he has been telling about his parents' immigration from Cuba (they weren't refugees like he's always claimed).

    All that said, he probably is head, shoulders, and waist above most of the other prospective choices.

  • SYSPROG on March 23, 2012 7:22 PM:

    booch221? Sarah's problem was NOT that she didn't get things done in her first two years but that she is dumb as a box of rocks. 'Vetting' ALSO means what knowledge of the United States do you have. Which issues do you KNOW about that affect the entire country (as opposed to Alaska). WHAT DO YOU READ? What do you know about foreign policy and what do you know about the world AT LARGE. Sarah knew nothing. She had personality and looks, a big mouth and a vengeful streak. That's all.

  • Lauren Michaels on March 23, 2012 7:51 PM:

    If I'm not mistaken, you're confusing your Edwards. President Obama was considering Chet Edwards from Texas but because of the last name (being the same as another Edwards we all know and many love) a good man lost the VP's slot.

  • g on March 23, 2012 8:37 PM:

    It was weird to see all the comments at the NYTimes site saying "when will you vet Obama?"

    They were all almost identical, so they were probably flying monkeys sent from somewhere, but it always amuses me.

    It's like they have a completely different definition of "vet".

    "Vet" should mean, research the person's background so that the party and its supporters will know whether the candidate is qualified and can overcome negative opposition political attacks.

    It does NOT mean what these guys seem to think it means, which is "We hate this guy so much we gotta find something bad about him or at least make up!"

    Or, also, in their case, "not being vetted" means "why didn't someone tell us he would do the things he's done once he got into office?" Even though in Obama's case, he has pretty much tried to do what he said he would do.

  • jpeckjr on March 23, 2012 10:11 PM:

    Without suggesting she was a good choice, Sarah Palin has served more years in public office than Mitt Romney has -- Wasilla City Council, Wasilla Mayor, Chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Commission, and two years as Governor of Alaska. She was not fit for national leadership by any means, but her resume alone did not tell us that. A couple of hours of conversation about serious topic might have, but not her resume.

  • a on March 23, 2012 11:56 PM:

    "there are more than a few people with “Governor” and “Senator” next to their names who are, to use a technical term, dumb as a sack of hammers"

    And near the top of that list is one Joe Biden.

  • Varecia on March 24, 2012 12:46 AM:

    Whatever bipartisan support Susana Martinez may have had at her election is slowly but surely dribbling away. She is, after all, a Republican from Texas. If she had been Republican Susan Martin from El Paso she probably wouldn't have won.

  • Texas Aggie on March 24, 2012 1:33 AM:

    Ms. Martinez probably bears too many surface similarities to Ms. Palin to get a serious look.

    If you look into her background, it isn't Palin that she resembles most closely. It's Gov. Goodhair. Both of them are financed by the same group and have pandered to much the same people. Martinez probably isn't as intellectually bereft as Goodhair, but when she starts talking in bumperstickese, she says much the same thing.

  • jhm on March 24, 2012 5:24 AM:

    I've no idea who Gov. Romney should, or would consider for a running mate, but I must say it will be interesting to see whom the ultimate panderer settles on.

    As an aside, this whole discussion about Mrs. Palin is strangely meta in that she was chosen by a man who had all the superficial, beltway gravitas of long experience, both in office and national campaigning, yet chose her anyway.

  • bluestatedon on March 24, 2012 8:09 AM:

    "Yet these characteristics—her “mavericky” rep back home, and her particular appeal to the very conservatives who mistrusted the guy at the top of the ticket—were precisely what attracted McCain to her in the first place."

    What so very few people seem to be willing to admit is that Sarah Palin attracted the attention of John McCain because she was attractive. If Palin looked like Claire McKaskill or Olympia Snowe, she wouldn't have received one minute's worth of interest from the McCain camp, nor from the vast majority of her male supporters, for that matter. You wouldn't have a writer for the esteemed National Review writing about the little starbursts going off in his pants when he watches her speech at the GOP convention if she looked like Debbie Stabenow.

  • Nick on March 24, 2012 1:24 PM:

    Dear 'a': Please tell us your views on why Biden is dumb. Is it along the lines of 'Obama is stupid because he thinks there are 57 states'? I'm figuring yes.