Sunday, July 20, 2008

Republican Veep Stakes

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on July 17th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Having covered the Democratic field in several previous columns, today I want to discuss who John McCain might pick as his Vice President.
Its worth noting that even though John McCain was the Republican candidate I personally favoured and thought would be the best Republican nominee, in a marked contrast with Barack Obama, McCain didn’t win the nomination because he ran a better campaign than his opponents. McCain won in spite of his many presidential campaign mistakes simply because everything beyond his control fell into place. For John McCain this combination of fortuitous events resulted in a “perfect storm” that wrecked all of the other Republican presidential candidates’ ships, in some case before they ever got to sea.
So I will begin my review of the Republican field of possible Vice Presidential candidates by starting with the losers of the Republican Presidential nomination contest. The fourth place finisher and champion of the Libertarian wing of the Republican Party, Ron Paul, might have actually had an outside chance at being the VP were it not for his vocal opposition to continuing the Iraq war, so there is absolutely no chance McCain picks this former opponent who is so diametrically opposed to his own position on Iraq.
Then we have former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose Presidential campaign ship ran aground on the Florida shoals at the end of January before Rudy ever had a chance to get his boat out into the open waters of the Super Tuesday primaries. Because Giuliani has a reputation as a crime buster as well as a moderate record on most social issues, he could actually help McCain win some votes among the independents and moderate Republicans who are currently leaning towards the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama. Furthermore, over the last 50 years almost all Presidential elections have been decided in the favour of the candidate who drew a majority of independent votes.
But a choice of Giuliani as VP appears unlikely in this year’s Presidential election because McCain himself is already suspect as a true conservative in the eyes of most Republican Party social conservatives. To pick Giuliani as his running mate would have the effect of “kicking sand in their faces” and would lead many of these Republican Party stalwarts to simply not bother voting in the General Election. Since there are so many social conservatives who don’t trust that McCain is really as conservative as he claims, this makes choosing someone like Giuliani as a running mate virtually impossible.
The elimination of Giuliani as a VP possibility also underscores the fact that the toughest issue for McCain to resolve prior to the General Election will be deciding how to run to the centre on issues in order to attract moderate and independent voters without further alienating the Republican base of social conservatives in the process. .
Unfortunately for Senator McCain his own weakness among Republican social conservative is a negative consequence stemming from his attractiveness to independent and moderate voters through the years. Thus I believe McCain will be forced to pick a VP who is perceived as a true conservative by social conservatives, rather than someone who could help him win the support of independent and moderate voters in November.
So what about Mitt Romney, the multi-millionaire former Massachusetts Governor who finished third in the Republican Presidential nomination contest? Even though Romney probably has a better reputation among social conservative voters than John McCain does, many evangelical Christians are nonetheless apprehensive of him as well. While some of their apprehensions are due to their questions about how Christian he is because of his Mormon faith, Romney’s positions on many social values issues were decidedly more liberal when he was Governor of Massachusetts, than the stances he took while running for President.
On the other hand Romney has both the prior business experience and support of the Republican Party’s economic conservatives, not to mention millions of dollars of his own money that he could pour into the Presidential race. Romney’s millions are an important consideration because for the first time in memory, the Republican Party looks to be at a financial disadvantage going into the General Election. This is largely due to Obama’s huge base of internet campaign donors that Obama has turned to repeatedly during the course of the Democratic nomination to raise more money than his opponents.
While Romney wouldn’t be a bad choice for VP because of his money and support among economic conservatives, I think his chances are slim because of the genuine animosity that exists between him and John McCain. The simple fact of the matter is that it’s hard to tab someone to be your second in command when you genuinely dislike that person. While Romney would jump at the chance to be VP I just don’t think McCain is the type to forget the things Romney said about him on the campaign trail.
That leads me to the guy who finished second to McCain, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Unlike Romney, Huckabee never said unkind things about McCain during the Presidential nomination contest and he is a darling of Republican social conservatives. But Huckabee doesn’t bring anything else to the ticket other than a penchant for stand up comedy which is why McCain probably won’t choose him either.
I could be wrong, but I’m betting McCain ends up picking someone like Minnesota Governor Tom Pawlenty or Florida Governor Charlie Crist as his running mate. Both men are safe choices that won’t antagonize the GOP’s economic or social conservatives and as Governors of important swing states, can help deliver their states’ electoral votes to McCain’s column come November.
If McCain does pick one of them it would also represent the kind of political calculations that lead to a VP choice that has always worked well in the past, but may not be what voters are hungry for in a “Change” election. In other words, I think the best choice isn’t always the safest choice.

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