Monday, 16 January 2012

Mitt's Mates

Whilst I still very much hope that Romney isn't the Republican nomination, it's becoming more and more likely that Romney will be the party's pick. So naturally it's time for sadacts like me to start pondering about who he would choose as his running mate.

Putting a ticket together is not an easy business. There are strategies to this, most broadly defined into either a balanced ticket or a united ticket. A balanced ticket will involve picking someone who is thought to help cancel out some of the candidate's potential negative points. Romney is a wealthy businessman from the north east and is relatively moderate; many more conservative voters and Republican party supporters are deeply concerned that Mitt isn't conservative enough, concerns which are heightened by things like Romney's healthcare reforms in his state of Massachusetts. Floating voters and wavering Democrats may be put off by Romney's astounding wealth and big business background.
Dream team - a successful balanced ticket.
A balanced ticket would seek to find someone different to Romney - someone more conservative to appeal to the Republican base; perhaps from the south to contrast to Romney's east coast image; and perhaps from a more modest background to allay fears about a Romney administration being out of touch with ordinary people. There are risks to this strategy though; choosing a candidate who is extensively and openly more conservative than Mitt would potentially disunite the team and make it hard for a consistent message to be portrayed. This was seen most clearly in the John McCain campaign in 2008. McCain picked Sarah Palin in an attempt to balance his weak spots out - Palin was far more conservative and not shy about being so. Ultimately, she greatly weakened the McCain campaign because of her poor media performances and unappealing views. But at other times balanced tickets can work well, such as in the 1960 election. John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson couldn't have appeared more different. Kennedy, an East Coast, preppy liberal from wealth and privilege risked alienating southern and hard-pressed Democrat voters, especially when up against Nixon, who came from a very modest background. The lumbering souther Johnson from a more average background helped to bring the campaign back down to earth, and had big appeal to southern voters. Ideologically, he was also more conservative, helping to counteract some concerns about Kennedy's views. There are all sorts of factors which can be balanced; whilst ensuring a balance of things like state of origin, political views and political career history can help to ensure mass appeal, it can also be the undoing of a campaign. The main thing to avoid is tokenism; don't pick a woman just because she's a woman; don't pick a southerner just because they're a southerner, etc.

The alternative to a balanced ticket doesn't - as far as I know - have a name; I like to call it a united or unified ticket. This is one where the candidate will pick a running mate who is very similar to them, thus ensuring a tightly-knit campaign with minimal disagreement and minimal chance for either of them going off-message. If pursuing this road, Romney would therefore be looking for a somewhat pragmatic and moderate Republican to be his running mate. The dangers of this strategy are clear though - they amplify the criticisms of Mitt and make it more less like that more ideological conservatives turn out to campaign, and less likely that they bother to vote.

Probably the best choice of candidate for Romney would be someone with a slightly more conservative track record to appeal to the Republican base, though he should be wary of pulling a John McCain and selecting someone who disagrees with him. He definitely needs to pick someone from a different background to his own. He should pick someone from a different background. The thought of two slick, privileged East Coast wealthy businessmen with perfect families standing on a stage together and lecturing about fiscal responsibility and arguing against tax rises on the wealthy is cringeworthy and makes me want to reach for the sick bucket again. It's difficult to appeal to the hard-pressed public when you're completely isolated from the recession and spending cuts.

Before I go through the potential candidates, I want to clarify a little something about my use of the word 'moderate'. For a start, even many moderate Republicans are still quite comfortably to the right, on some issues far more so than many members of the public. Romney, at heart, is a relatively moderate Republican, but his current politically expedient persona is to espouse more conservative policies and pretend he's always been that way in order to woo Republicans in the primaries. I suspect that if he wins the GOP's nomination, we'll see Mitt's slightly more moderate policies rise to the surface again.

Jon Huntsman
This would be the united ticket approach; both are fairly moderate Republicans - Huntsman moreso than Romney on most issues. This has the benefit of ensuring ideological consistency and minimal disagreements and potential for gaffes. Whilst Romney could focus on the economy, the budget deficit, and other pressing domestic issues, Huntsman would be a superb speaker on foreign policy and international issues. Since both Romney and Huntsman are good speakers who are able to articulate well without being dull, they'd both stand a good chance of winning over voters and performing well in their respective debates.

However, this ticket would come at a big cost. As governors, both of them launched policies which are unpopular with conservative voters, particularly in the field of health care and welfare. Such a ticket would risk alienating a large number of more ideological conservatives, to the extent that they might turn to the Libertarian candidate or other minority parties in sufficient numbers to lose Romney the election. The power of 3rd party appeal should not be underestimated; 3rd party candidate Ross Perot stood against the more moderate Republican candidate George H.W. Bush, and played a massive role in ensuring that Bill Clinton won in 1992 by sucking away votes from Bush. Romney and Huntsman would risk the same fate if they fail to impassion their base voters. Furthermore, this ticket would suffer from some further dangers. Aside from being very similar ideologically, they're also similar in background and life. With them both possessing substantial wealth of their own and both having been born into privileged backgrounds, there's a risk that they'll seem out of touch with the squeezed middle, and Obama will have plenty of traction to claim that they can't possibly understand how their policies would hurt.

Newt Gingrich
He would bring a lot of gravitas and experience to the campaign, and since he's considered a more consistent conservative would also allay the fears of many grassroots conservatives who are concerned about Romney's more moderate stance. Newt's (that's actually such a stupid name, isn't it?) biggest legacy is probably the Contract with America, the notable strategy the Republicans pursued in the House elections in 1994. The Contract outlined a series of conservative pledges and policy plans which the Republicans planned to pursue if they won a majority, and having done so, pursued a great deal of under Gingrich's term as Speaker of the House from 1995-99.

Gingrich would therefore help to bring some satisfaction to concerned conservatives, though he's not entirely the right's poster boy. There's been a good deal of upset for his apparent former support for cap-and-trade on carbon emissions, and his co-operation with Nancy Pelosi on climate change - as seen in this wonderfully well-acted advert. He's also been divorced twice and had two affairs; having listened to right-wing talk shows, I know this is upsetting some conservatives. Furthermore, unlike most other candidates, who are former governors, Gingrich's policies and actions during his tenure as speaker. Perhaps most notable was the pursuit of spending cuts, which culminated in a short-lived government shut-down. Especially as the executive played their cards right by shutting down things which would cause the most disruption and evoke an emotional response from the public, the shutdown won't be remembered well by many and they may be concerned that Gingrich will continue to show such obstinacy.  The media as well as Obama are certain to bring up the Contract with America and the Government shutdown, giving ample opportunity for criticism. Finally, there's the little issue of the bust-up between Romney and Gingrich, particularly recently with Newt calling Mitt a 'vulture capitalist' over his work at Bain Capital in restructuring businesses, resulting in the loss of a number of jobs. Whilst such sparring could adequately be put behind the pair, with patriotic-sounding arguments that country comes before politics, it's questionable whether the pair could work together well, and the media would certainly be prodding to know how the enemies could suddenly become chums.

Chris Christie
This would be a partnership somewhat reminiscent of Kennedy and Johnson in terms of the two striking a very different appearance and personality. As has been pointed out elsewhere, Christie would strike a remarkable contrast with Romney. Whilst Mitt comes across a smarmy, self-righteous management-type, Christie comes across far more down to earth, and he does a very good job of connecting with the public and coming across as a genuine and approachable person. Mitt's a figure of sharp suits and class image; Chris mostly succeeds in being an Average Joe, particularly as he comes from quite a modest background - another contrast with Romney. So, in terms of image and communication, the two would work well together; the balanced ticket certainly works well in this area.

In terms of policy, Christie is quite moderate, which in many ways is a big bonus. He's Governor of New Jersey, which is usually a very strongly Democrat state; both its Senators are Democrats, the last time a Republican Presidential candidate won in the state was in 1988, and hadn't elected a Republican Governor since 1996. He's therefore got some policies which more conservative Republicans won't find particularly appealing, and on some policies, he's in contrast with Romney. Illegal immigration, for example - Romney noticed that some of his rivals had common sense by supporting a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants. He saw the opportunity to actually have a position on something, and has presented himself as the hard-liner on illegal immigration by opposing any form of earned citizenship, and proposing to build a fence on the border with Mexico. (Even this sort of hardline move would still leave a long way to go; only about half of illegal immigrants enter the country by crossing the border, the other half overstay their visas). And there are other issues on which Christie risks alienating conservatives with some of his positions; for example, he's voiced support for some gun control measures and said that climate change is real and man-made.

On the whole, though, due to his ability to win over more centrist voters, I think the Romney/Christie ticket would stand a very high chance of winning. However, I don't think Christie would actually accept the offer; despite intense pressure, he didn't run for President this year, but he has made the right noises recently by endorsing and praising Romney.

Rudy Giuliani
Best known for his stint as Mayor of New York City, Guiliani is a popular figure with good name recognition, especially for the way he handled the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Having been touted as a potential candidate in this year's Republican race, he failed to put himself forward, perhaps predicting that the GOP's chances this year are not certain.

The first bonus of choosing Guiliani which sticks out is that he's from a very different background and, like Governor Christie, strikes a visual contrast with Romney. Whilst both Mitt and Rudy hail from the East Coast, Guiliani certainly doesn't fit into the stereotypical Republican image; he was born into a poor working class family, and his father was a convicted criminal. Becoming a successful lawyer then politician out of this background could help boost his popularity and allow the Romney ticket to reach out to the less-well-off and look less detached. He can even beat Obama at his own game, because the current President's background looks positively privileged compared to Giuliani's.

However, there are some skeletons in his closet which could seriously harm his chances. Giuliani had previously been a Democrat, then an independent, then finally a Republican. Even Giuliani's mother has suggested that his change of allegiance only took place because he was finding employment opportunities from Republicans. At a time when 'flip-flop' is fast becoming the buzzword of the year, Rudy's changes of party might haunt him and seriously damage his chances of being taken seriously by the Republican base. Whilst clearly this didn't hinder him in getting elected twice as mayor of New York, it's worth remembering that NYC is far more liberal than many other places, and Giuliani was elected as a moderate Republican. With this combination of relatively moderate Romney and moderate Giuliani, it seems unlikely to me that the ticket would be able to galvanise the Republican base particularly successfully. On the flipside, Giuliani has a strong record on dealing with 9/11, and he can draw upon his record of reducing crime in New York city, which should impress conservatives. However, his record on things like gun control could harm his chances, especially with the powerful NRA lobby. Conversely, the combination of Romney and Giuliani would make a highly electable duo for moderates and a higher chance of garnering the votes of disappointed Democrats, as the two are not extreme like some Republican contenders.

But Giuliani appears to have no plans to join up with Romney, and Romney probably won't be much of a fan after he went on TV and correctly damned him as someone who changes his positions to get himself elected:
"I've never seen a guy change his position on so many things so fast, on a dime. Everything... pro-choice, pro-life; he was pro gun control [...] then he becomes a lifetime member of the NRA; he was pro cap and trade, now he's against cap and trade; he was pro [healthcare] mandate for the whole country, then he becomes anti-mandate and takes that page out of his book and republishes the book. I can go on and on."

It's a shame really, because this had the potential to be quite a dynamic duo. But perhaps all is not lost for the former Mayor; more recently he criticised Gingrich for his attacks on Romney. It seems this is just a sign of him being a fairly objective outside observer who isn't expecting to get any offers, but there's a slim chance it's a stab at reconciliation now Romney is fast emerging as the frontrunner.

Bobby Jindal
This chap caught my eye because of his ethnic background - he's the first Indian-American governor, and - it has to be said - minority Republicans are a fairly rare breed. As I delved deeper, I was very struck by this little-known Republican Governor. For starters, he has some very impressive electoral statistics; he was elected in Louisiana in 2004 with a whopping 79% of the vote, and again in 2006 with a mind-boggling 88%. This is a man with class at winning elections! He became governor of Louisiana in 2007, and was comfortably re-elected in October last year. He was even touted as a potential running mate of John McCain in 2008.

This chap, though, would be a supremely conservative choice, including being adamantly pro-life, pro-gun, anti-gay marriage, and favours building a fence on the border with Mexico, as well as having cut taxes and spending. If you wanted more evidence, he endorsed Rick 'I love the death penalty' Perry for the Republican nomination. This wouldn't necessarily rule him out as Romney's pick, as it would help to appeal to the conservative base, but it does risk alienating more moderate voters.

Tim Pawlenty
Remember him? He was in the Republican race until the Ames, Iowa straw poll placed him third, at which point he dropped out. Clearly in retrospect dropping out at that stage was an incredibly silly thing to do; Michele Bachmann placed first in the poll followed by Ron Paul in second place. Romney polled just 3.4% of the vote, showing that the poll meant absolutely nothing and bears no relevance to what is actually happening in the votes which matter.

Dropping out at such an early stage because of the poll shows some very poor judgement, and frankly I think he should be lashed 40 times for jumping the gun on the basis of an informal and inconsequential poll, but he's still a potential candidate for running mate. He's recently endorsed Romney, probably in an attempt to remind him that he still exists and in the hope of securing some kind of position within the Romney empire if he's elected President.

His views are, like some of the others explored here, more conservative than Romney's. I can't be bothered to yet again explore go through the rigmarole of exploring them - suffice to say that he'll appeal to Tea Party types, but potentially not mainstream voters. Also like others, he's made the right noises by endorsing Mitt Romney.

Who, who?!
I seem to have found some good points in all of them, and then enough bad points to discount them. I'm really none the wiser than when I started. There's a fine balance to strike; pick someone too conservative and you make it difficult to win the middle ground, pick someone too moderate and you risk losing core Republicans and conservatives and create the risk of losing votes to a 3rd party protest candidate. Despite the risks of this, I think Christie would be the best choice. A main reason being that Christie is a passionate and likeable speaker and a decent man; he is therefore very different to Romney. I'm predicting that Romney's wealth and business background will become a major issue in the campaign. Perhaps it is vacuous of me, but I really do think it's important that Romney's running mate strikes a contrast with him, especially in terms of family background. The pair will risk alienating some Republicans, but it is still easy to draw up dividing lines with Obama, especially as this election will be fought primarily on the economy and the deficit. This is not one of those moments in American history where there's a strong public desire for a return of conservatism to government; the election will be won or lost on the centre ground, not by pandering to the Tea Party. For this reason, the relatively moderate and pragmatic Chris Christie is the best choice. Failing this, Rudy Giuliani would be a good pick, for much the same reasons.

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