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Mitt Romney won’t be the first candidate confronted with the choice between “going safe” or “going long” in picking a VP. The problem for the imaginative among us is that the dramatic option tends to boomerang badly–think not just Palin, but Quayle in 88, who as laughable as it sounds to our ears, was initially viewed by the Bush team as a charismatic, fresh alternative; or Ferraro in 84, whose finances almost caused her to be replaced; or even the Reagan flirtation with picking Gerald Ford in 80, a forced marriage that might have made Reagan look quite dependent.
A campaign that has painted so carefully within the lines as Romney’s won’t risk joining that list, which means that Susanna Martinez, Bobby Jindal, and Marco Rubio need not apply. Not one of them, for all of their genuine talents, has ever been examined by the national press or subjected to a full background scrub–in fact, the one who has gotten some hint of scrutiny, Rubio, has already been tarnished by it. The risk aversion in the Romney camp will probably lead them to Rob Portman, a survivor of two federal confirmation processes and a politician from a state that Republicans have to have. As for the notion that he doesn’t help that much in Ohio, he certainly can’t hurt.
I will add one wishful note that actually combines the safe and the dramatic. Her name is Condoleeza Rice, a possibility who has endured the glare of ten years of attention, who exudes gravitas on an issue that will matter more this fall than we think today–defense cuts–and who has a record of seriousness on the other sleeper issue, the erosion of public education. Did I also mention that she ends in one fell swoop the narrative that this race is one between an inclusive, multicultural future and a lurch back to a whiter, duller past?
Yes, Rice is pro-choice. The mini -furor over that would die out when Laura Bush, a pro-choice conservative icon, puts her name in nomination. To be sure, the Iraq controversies will get worked over in the blogosphere, but to no real impact. It is true that she has never had to develop the skill of rallying a partisan crowd on the stump. It won’t matter for a campaign whose narrative is that charisma and electricity have not been the right skills to turn the country around. And there will be some who call it a move to distract from tactics that liberals don’t like, such as voter ID. That line will pale next to the storyline of a talented black woman who grew up in the Deep South and owes her rise to excelling at every level.
If only Team Romney believed in bold thinking.