Mitt Romney became the de facto Republican nominee at the end of March, after he dispatched Rick Santorum in Illinois’ primary. Romney’s rivals were just too weak to catch him. But the political press corps had to write about something. And so, a month ago, the Veepstakes began. Republicans close to the candidate talk about whom he might pick. Republicans nowhere near close to him speculate about it and get on TV anyway. Pollsters go into the field and ask voters whom they want, as if these voters had any idea who the junior senator from Ohio was.
It’s an agonizingly dull process, so we’ll try to make it bearable. Below, you can see word clouds of all the terms, tropes, and clichés used to describe the 11 people most often named as possible vice presidential picks. The words were pulled from articles about the ’stakes that ran from March 28—when the endorsements started to roll in—to this week.
Anna Weaver did the trawling, and Chris Kirk did the clouding.
Kelly Ayotte: The junior senator from New Hampshire won her first election, ever, in 2010—an unexpectedly brutal primary followed by an easy general election win during the GOP wave. But she’s female, and she endorsed Romney early, so she makes the media long-list.
Chris Christie: So, where’s fat? The veep-watchers have found euphemisms to describe the fact that New Jersey’s governor overpowers his enemies and that he said he couldn’t handle a presidential race of his own. Reluctant explodes across the screen even though Christie’s said he’d be open to serving Romney.
Mitch Daniels: Indiana Gov. Daniels always ranks high, if only because he was the last, most credible “savior” of the GOP when it was trying to avoid picking Romney.
Nikki Haley: Christianity and Sikh make frequent appearances as reporters explain that the rookie South Carolina’s governor naturally follows that first, more popular faith.
Bob McDonnell: Nearly every story about Gov. McDonnell mentions the problem that Virginia Republicans put in his lap: the mandatory ultrasound bill. Although he eventually signed a compromised version, the controversy seems to have stuck.
Tim Pawlenty: He’s been mentioned as a place-holding veep for so long that reporters keep circling around the only interesting thing the former Minnesota governor once said, back in 2006: That the GOP should be the party of Sam’s Club, not the country club.
Rob Portman: The Ohio senator served in George W. Bush’s administration, which mostly cuts against him. That fact appears high in Portman stories.
Condoleezza Rice: She has ruled out ever taking the job, repeatedly, but when Republicans are polled, they drop her name. No other female candidate for the job has any foreign policy cred, so that’s what the media leads with.
Paul Ryan: The press has figured out that hugging Ryan’s budget gave Romney credibility with the right. And it has to quote the Democrats who say they’ll hang Ryan’s Medicare plan on Romney, whether or not he makes the ticket.
Marco Rubio: Nearly every story about the young senator from Florida asks whether he could close the GOP’s gap with Hispanic voters. Stories about Rubio’s childhood membership in the LDS church and his (probably innocent) fib about his family fleeing Castro rarely get mentioned.
John Thune: The South Dakota senator has been tipped for greatness ever since he beat Tom Daschle in 2004. And yet veepstakes stories don’t go into great depth on his accomplishments. They point out that he, uh, couldn’t hurt.
Sources: ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, Time, Newsweek (and the Daily Beast), the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Journal, The Atlantic, and Politico.