Quin makes a characteristically impressive case for why either Jon Kyl or Bobby Jindal would be great vice presidential choices for Mitt Romney. As my column last week made clear, I’m a Kyl man, but I’m certainly not immune to the charms of Jindal, one of the most effective Republican governors in the nation (for proof, see my recent praise for the education reforms Jindal is implementing in Louisiana).
Still, I think Kyl is the superior choice for Team Romney. Here are a few reasons why:
1. Capitol Hill Experience — With Romney never having held elected office in Washington, having a Vice President with preexisting influence and relationships in the Beltway would go a long way towards advancing his agenda. Jindal isn’t exactly a Washington unknown — he spent just under two years as an Assistant HHS Secretary in the Bush Administration and had a two-term stint in the House — but his background pales in comparison to Kyl, who’s been a member of Congress for 25 years. And with Kyl currently serving as Republican Whip in the Senate — the position responsible for counting votes — his skill set is uniquely suited for helping Romney get legislation through Congress.
2. Foreign Policy Experience – Kyl has become a major figure on foreign policy in recent years, leading Republican opposition to both the New START Treaty and the Law of the Sea Treaty (both of which he has been right on, IMHO). Jindal has no commensurate experience. For Romney, who is also a foreign policy neophyte (and whose foreign policy pronouncements — identifying Russia as the nation’s largest security concern and threatening a trade war with China, for instance — have been dotty at times), having someone of Kyl’s stature would flesh out the ticket in the area where the presidency confers the greatest power — and requires the greatest responsibility.
3. Playing the Number Two Role – Let’s stipulate up front that neither Kyl nor Jindal are electrifying speakers. Neither is going to bring to the ticket anything as energizing as Chris Christie’s blue collar pugnaciousness or Marco Rubio’s stirring eloquence. But while Kyl is steady and workmanlike, Jindal can come across awkward and uncomfortable in public appearances. This was famously the case with his 2009 response to President Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress, a speech so widely panned that it’s thought to have delayed whatever presidential ambitions Jindal may have had by at least one election cycle. And while he hasn’t had a moment that bad since, Jindal can still be halting and uncomfortable when he appears on national television.
Personally, I’m inclined to give the guy a break on this. It’s obvious when you’re watching him that Jindal’s awkwardness is a function of his precociousness. This is the nice kid who’s always been the smartest in his class but has never quiet figured out social cues. That earnestness, however, will make it tough for him to play the traditional attack dog role of the number two on the ticket. Kyl, on the other hand, while hardly a demagogue, would be very effective employing the same strategy as Dick Cheney did as a vice presidential candidate — using his age and gravitas to dismiss Obama as callow and incompetent.
4. The Future – My own preference is for the vice presidency as a sort of emeritus post, reserved for senior statesmen whose presidential ambitions either (a) never existed or (b) are exhausted. That also prevents the VP’s political interests from clashing with those of the president, a situation which has caused many an unsettled White House in years past. Ideally, I’d like it to be a terminal position, which makes sense for Kyl, who is retiring from the Senate this year and has forsworn any further electoral ambitions.
Jindal, by contrast, just turned 41 and has a bright future ahead of him regardless of whether he gets tapped for the post or not. His current gubernatorial term lasts through January 2016, which would line him up well for a presidential run should Romney lose. Alternately, he could run against Democrat Mary Landrieu when her seat in the U.S. Senate comes up in 2014. In the interest of retaining Jindal as one of the party’s main leaders well into the future, these options seem preferable to me to marooning him in the vice presidency, which more often than not — barring presidential death or departure — puts an end to one’s career in elected office.
Regardless of whether you support Jindal, Kyl, or someone else, there’s one thing that has to be admitted about the veepstakes: Unlike this year’s presidential race, there’s an embarrassment of riches.