The NY Times reports that John McCain is planning to meet with three potential running mates at his Arizona ranch this weekend: Charlie Crist, Bobby Jindal, and Mitt Romney. None of them would be wise choices for VP. Let me approach this one at a time.
Clearly, McCain owes a favor to Crist, who no doubt helped put him over the top in the crucial Florida primary, so this very well could be who McCain ends up choosing. The problem is he isn’t particularly liked by conservatives. I also think McCain should be able to win the Sunshine State without him on the ticket.
Jindal would, without a doubt, add instant conservative appeal to his ticket, as well as youth, and a brilliant mastery of policy. But the problem is that at 36, he’s still quite inexperienced, and thus picking him to be a heartbeat away from the presidency will undercut the central argument McCain is making against Obama. And I know this is a factor more for the future of conservative politics in general than for McCain specifically, but after years of the Bush administration, conservatives are in desperate need of a strong story of successul governance. In eight years, Jindal will still be young, but he could have a Giuliani-type turnaround story in Lousiana–only without the personal bagage or problems with social conservatives. Nominating him as VP would be like when a baseball team trades away its top pitiching prospect midseason in hopes of winning now.
The same commentators who spent all of last year trying, without success, to convince the grassroots that Romney was the candidate for conservatives, are now arguing that McCain can instantly win over conservatives by picking Romney. That is ludicrous. If Romney had truly closed the deal with conservatives, he would have captured the nomination. Instead, he was chased out of South Carolina after spending millions there running ads and building an organization, and finished a distant fourth. He couldn’t consolidate conservatives in Florida after Fred Thompson dropped out of the race, even as talk radio and conservative pundits rallied around him. And then he got crushed on Super Tuesday.
Also, good luck running a “Straight Talk” campaign with Romney on the ticket. On top of the fact that he wouldn’t win over conservatives, Romney would be an absolute albatross on nationally, because in the process of twisting himself in a pretzel on issue after issue in the primaries, the general public came to see him as a phony. In the most recent Gallup poll to ask about Romney, around the time he dropped out of the race in February, he came away with a net unfavorable rating of 12 points. And having run the most negative campaign of any Republican, the Democrats can spend all fall running ads of Romney attacking McCain, especially on economics. Furthermore, Romney’s actual strengths as an organizer and executive will not be very relevant in the number two slot.