The Next Vice President
With less than a calendar year until someone from the GOP goes heads up against Barack Obama, the focus has correctly been on which person is best qualified to tackle the nation's problems and, of at least equal importance, most capable of displacing the dangerous administration currently in charge.
Of lesser concern at the moment is the undercard to that event. Still that undercard is not a throwaway. The Vice Presidential position is key for the GOP. Allowing for a diverse ticket that fulfills the campaign message on all of the open fronts, foreign and domestic, that the looming election will be battled upon.
While the sitting President is an unquestioned threat to the future vitality of this great nation, his Vice-President is a laughable embarrassment. If there is no democratic push to 'make Joe go' and seek a new running mate for the general election the GOP has an opportunity to exploit that weakness and attack on the flank.
In '08 Biden was chosen because he was white, male, a foreign policy wonk, a DC insider and lifer and because (most importantly maybe) he posed absolutely no threat or ability to steal 1/1,000th of one watt of the star spotlight shining on the Democratic nominee. On the other side Sarah Palin was chosen for all the exact opposite reasons. She spoke to the base that John McCain could not connect to. She was a young, attractive outside-the-beltway state executive. The contrast of Biden and Palin was marked on almost every front.
Assuming (and it is a fairly safe assumption) that the GOP standard bearer this go-round will be another white guy, let's take a peek at the "should be official" 2012 Republican running mate checklist.
1) Not another white guy.
2) Speaks the language.
And that's it. A two-item list. Those qualifications mean that, no matter how effective a Paul Ryan or a Tim Pawlenty might be, they fail on the first. Which leaves us with a short field of true contenders.
Marco Rubio is the first, and obvious, choice. Rubio is everything the nominee will want. Smart, young, ethnic, Florida, attractive family, Tea Party and he speaks the language. In his case that language to, say, Romney is more than just Spanish. It is the Southern Tea Party conservative vote, or better stated it is the "everything Romney is not to the base" language.
The other option (this is not to say 'second choice' in any way) should be Condoleezza Rice. I could almost make a case that, had she run for the nomination, given what has taken place so far in this process we might well be talking about her as the potential candidate. Rice speaks the language of geo-politics better than anyone in this country. In a world that is 'this close' to erupting into flames Condi Rice is a front-and-center player whose abilities and expertise are greatly needed. There is no one I can see in the country who hits every possible check mark more than Condi Rice.
There are others who might make strong running mates, but I would make the case that Rubio and Rice are so far and away the leaders that, at the moment, if I were at a race track I would 'box bet' Romney, Gingrich, Rubio and Rice and take my chances that the eventual team will be a combo of those four and those four alone.
For all the (pointless) chatter about how 'weak' the 2012 GOP field is/was, pairing either Mitt or Newt with either Marco or Condi becomes such a formidable debate team that Democrats ought to be screaming for this White House to make a mid-course correction and replace Biden. The problem there is that Hillary Clinton would likely never accept and short of her the other options in the democratic field of vision prove that it is the democrats who are the party of weak candidates.
As to Herman Cain: Like many of you I love Herman and like many of you I think it would be a wonderful comeback story should he find a way to rally from under this cloud. Since we have seen stranger things happen we have to leave the door cracked. If it did pass that Cain salvaged, and then roared, he would need a running mate entirely different that Rubio or Rice. He would need a foreign policy white guy with deep political chops. He would need exactly what Obama was seeking in '08. And that is a problem. That current GOP list includes not-broadly-attractive Southern and Tea Party faves (Sessions, Cornyn, Graham) and White RINOS (Brown, Collins, McCain). Interestingly McCain might have been the best running mate available to Cain had he not been the '08 nominee. Cain/McCain would have been more than an alliteration.
This coming election is not the time to play a surprise card (Dan Quayle, Palin) or go to the old school obvious (George H.W. Bush, Dick Cheney). It is the time to elevate the strong voices within the party that can speak to the areas the nominee cannot and to establish the potential for a hand-off in 2016 or 2020.
Yes the attacks on Rubio will be that he is not seasoned (compared to whom/when, Mr. Obama?) or that he is not "authentic Hispanic" (author rolls eyes). The assault on Rice will tie her to George W. Bush. But those are known in advance and can be strongly game-planned against. These players have otherwise been fully vetted. Go after Rice with the picture of the note she handed to Bush stating Iraq is sovereign? Might not be able to use that if Iraq is another Obama Middle East mess. If anything Rice can attack on foreign policy like none other. Her strengths and qualifications in the face of the dire situation in the Middle East far outweigh her ties she would have to any past unpopular action. It is the GOP's duty to make sure this election focuses on 'here and now' and nothing else.
The days of using the second slot on the ticket as a dismissible item are over. Obama's election and the past Vice Presidential runs of Ferraro and Palin allow the GOP to dismiss any claim of pandering no matter its choice.
To the GOP nominee, whomever he may be. Make a strong substantive move in choosing and promoting the ticket. Resist the temptation to look to your left or right on stage in a debate and think "Vice President" to anyone standing there. Use the two-item checklist to pick from the two most qualified. Rubio and Rice are those two.
Thomas Nelson is the pen name of a mainstream media employee.