The Case for Rob Portman as Romney’s V.P.
I have no idea whom Mitt Romney will choose as his running mate. But I’m fairly certain about who he ought to choose: Rob Portman. Here’s why.
Every successful presidential campaign has a theory of the case—a clear conception of the path to victory—which it works in every way to reinforce. This theory must begin with the character, experience, and priorities of the candidate and with the context in which the candidate is operating. A candidate who is challenging an incumbent must focus on the politically salient weaknesses of the incumbent and argue that he has what it takes to do better.
For Romney, there’s only one theory that makes sense, and he seems to understand that. He can’t credibly mount a populist case against an elitist president. He cannot credibly present himself as a root-and-branch reformer. And after his primary campaign, he cannot run as a moderate who will smooth the rough edges of his party and unify the country across partisan lines. (He may end up governing that way—the movement conservatives’ worst nightmare—but he certainly can’t say so now.)
Instead, he has to argue that Obama has proved inept as a manager of the economy and that he (Romney) knows how to fix it: “Because I spent most of my life in the private sector, I understand the conditions that encourage businesses to create jobs. As president, creating those conditions—which Obama has failed to do—will be Job 1.” And in an argument that combines criticism and hope, he can say, “Today’s economy may be the best that Barack Obama can do, but it’s not the best that America can do. As president, I can close that gap.”
Romney will never win a likeability contest, and he’ll have a hard time persuading average Americans that he truly understands the difficulties they face. His best hope is to persuade 51 percent of them that he’s an experienced, effective manager who knows how to get things done. (“We’ve heard all the inspiring speeches. How many jobs have they created? Americans don’t want to feel good, they want to do better. I’ve spent my life turning plans into realities. Isn’t that what counts?”)