|Jon Kyl: The Man Who Should be Romney’s Running Mate|
By Troy Senik
Thursday, June 07 2012
There’s an axiom in American politics that gets trotted out every four years: that the most presidential decision a candidate for the nation’s highest office gets to make prior to taking the oath of office is his choice of a running mate. What a wonderful world it would be if that were the case.
The truth is that the selection of a running mate – like most decisions made within the hothouse of a presidential campaign – is usually made for almost entirely tactical reasons.
Ronald Reagan chose George H.W. Bush in an attempt to unify the conservative and moderate wings of the Republican Party. Al Gore tapped Joe Lieberman in the hope that the Connecticut senator’s criticism of President Clinton’s sexual peccadilloes would help distance Gore from the Arkansas rake. Barack Obama turned to Joe Biden when a Russian invasion of the Republic of Georgia only a few months before Election Day delivered a jarring reminder that the Obama campaign had neither wisdom nor experience to offer on foreign policy matters (for the record, the addition of Biden did nothing to boost the former factor).
In most cases, the choice of a Vice President is too clever by half, hinging, as it so often does, on calculations infinitely more intricate than those made by voters. Can vice presidential candidates really provide the margin of victory by delivering a wayward swing state? In exceptional cases, perhaps, but not as a matter of any regularity. Does anyone cast their vote for the man at the top of the ticket based on his choice of a running mate? It’s doubtful, unless the number-two spot is filled by someone so unpalatable as to repel otherwise persuadable voters.
Lost in the day-to-day gamesmanship of campaigning is the truly presidential facet of choosing a running mate: It allows a potential president to act as an Electoral College of one, handpicking a successor over whom the American electorate has no independent discretion. Rather than letting that decision be guided by electoral marginalia, it is thus preferable for one – and only one – criterion to guide the choice: the nominee’s ability to capably assume the office of the presidency at a moment’s notice.
The presidential nominee who best met this charge in recent years was George W. Bush. Dick Cheney was, in many ways, an ideal choice for Vice President. He had a lifetime full of serious responsibilities both in and out of government. He possessed a discerning wisdom that only accrues through age and experience. He had the confidence to offer his counsel to the president without either hesitation or varnish. And – perhaps most important – he was unfettered by any need to advance his own political ambitions.
The Cheney pick should be a model for Mitt Romney as he begins the process of thinking about who should fill out his ticket come November. Many of the names already being floated – Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan and Bobby Jindal, for instance – are serious figures with substantial accomplishments to recommend them. But all are relatively young and risk their contributions to the nation being prematurely halted by accepting the number-two position, which has a tendency to become a black hole for political strivers (of the 10 vice presidents that preceded Joe Biden, only two – Lyndon Johnson and George H.W. Bush – were subsequently elected to office). Better instead for Romney to pick an eminent figure at the end of his public career, someone who has a depth of experience and a lack of political ambition similar to Cheney’s. And someone, most important, who could be confident in the Oval Office from day one.
Two prominent figures in Republican circles are natural fits for this role. The first is Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, a man with deep and varied experience that includes two previous stints in the White House (first as chief political advisor to Ronald Reagan, then as OMB Director under George W. Bush); and a leader who has proven during his tenure in Indianapolis that he is perhaps the single most competent public-sector executive in the GOP. Unfortunately for Romney, Daniels seems to be taking himself out of consideration. When asked by a reporter last month if he had been contacted by the Romney campaign to be vetted for the number-two spot, Daniels replied, "If I thought that call was coming, I would disconnect the phone," a fairly definitive answer from a man who tends to abjure political doublespeak.
That leaves one remarkably qualified candidate: Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, who is set to retire from professional politics following this fall’s election. With four terms in the House of Representatives and three terms in the U.S. Senate under his belt, Kyl is intimately acquainted with the ways of Washington yet has never succumbed to typical Beltway pathologies. He remains one of the most conservative senators in the nation (his lifetime ratings put him in the ranks of Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint), yet he hasn’t been content to simply play the role of gadfly. As the Republican Whip in the Senate, he’s the second highest-ranking member of the GOP caucus in the upper chamber.
Kyl could add immeasurably to a potential Romney Administration. In recent years, he’s been a leading Republican voice on foreign policy (he led the resistance, for example, to passing the New START Treaty and is currently doing the same on the Law of the Sea Treaty), an area where Romney has no experience and, as yet, no well-defined vision. And as the man currently charged with counting votes in the Senate, Kyl would be an invaluable ally for Romney to have when it comes time for the D.C. outsider to begin attempting to move legislation through Congress.
Jon Kyl has virtually everything you’d want in a vice president: a lifetime of experience, a conservative record as deep as it is long, an aversion to excess publicity (a trait almost unheard of in the U.S. Senate), a discerning mind and an even temperament. Oh, yeah, and one other thing: He’d be ready on the first day. Mitt Romney would do very well to move Jon Kyl to the top of his short list.
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