The Democratic case for why McCain should pick Romney.

Notes from the political sidelines.
April 21 2008 2:14 PM

The Other Dream Ticket

The Democratic case for why McCain should pick Romney.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Running With the Big Dogs: While Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama deflected Charlie Gibson's question about running together, last week was a big one for Democrats' other dream ticket: any Republican pairing that includes Mitt Romney. With a well-received cameo at a national press dinner and nods from Great Mentioners like George H.W. Bush and Karl Rove, Mitt is back—and campaigning hard for the No. 2 slot.

When John McCain wrapped up the Republican nomination back in February, the odds against picking Romney looked long indeed. The two spent the entire primary season at each others' throats. Romney trashed McCain over "amnesty" for illegal immigrants; McCain joked that Romney's many flip-flops proved he really was "the candidate of change." Even Rudy Giuliani, not known for making peace, chimed in from Florida that McCain and Romney were "getting kind of nasty," implying that they needed to come chill with him at the beach.

Sure enough, after a little time off, Romney felt better—good enough to begin his vice-presidential audition. He went on Fox to say, "There really are no hard feelings." He interrupted his vacation in Utah to host a fundraiser for McCain. After months of dismissing McCain as a Washington insider, Romney flip-flopped and praised him as a longtime congressional champion of Reaganism. Lest anyone fail to notice, Romney confessed that he would be honored to be McCain's running mate, and practiced ripping into the potential Democratic nominees: "When it comes to national security, John McCain is the big dog, and they are the Chihuahuas."

Of course, any big dog should think twice before agreeing to a long journey with Mitt Romney. The past would not be easy for McCain, Romney, and their staffs and families to overcome. Before New Hampshire, McCain's alter ego, Mark Salter, called Romney "a small-varmint gun totin,' civil rights marching, NRA-endorsed fantasy candidate." After the primaries were over, Josh Romney suggested that the Five Brothers wouldn't be gassing up the Mittmobile for McCain anytime soon: "It's one thing to campaign for my dad, someone whose principles I line up with almost entirely," he told the Deseret News. "I can't say the same thing for Sen. McCain."

For Mitt Romney, that won't be a problem: Any grudge would vanish the instant McCain named him as his running mate. And by the Republican convention in September, Romney's principles will be due for their six-month realignment.

The more difficult question is, What's in it for McCain? Actually, Romney brings more to the ticket than you might think. As in any partnership, the key to happiness between running mates is a healthy division of labor. When Bill Clinton and Al Gore teamed up in 1992, Clinton had spent most of his career on the economy, education, health care, and other domestic issues; Gore was an expert on national security, the environment, and technology. Even the Bush-Cheney pairing made some sense: Bush cared only about squandering the surplus, privatizing Social Security, and running the economy into the ground; Cheney was more interested in hoarding executive power, helping narrow interests, and tarnishing America's image in the world.

So, McCain and Romney are off to a good start: They come from different backgrounds and share no common interests. McCain, a soldier turned senator, prefers national security above all else. As a former businessman and governor, Romney rarely brings up foreign policy—for reasons that sometimes become apparent when he does so. In his concession speech, Romney said he was dropping out to give McCain a united front against Obama, Clinton, and Bin Laden. "In this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror," he said. "We cannot allow the next president of the United States to retreat in the face of evil extremism!!"

For the general election, the McCain campaign must decide what to do with conservative positions it took to win the Republican primaries. Here again, Romney is a godsend: a vice-presidential candidate who'll flip-flop so the nominee doesn't have to. No one can match Romney's experience at changing positions: He has been on both sides of abortion, talked out of both sides of his mouth on same-sex marriage, and been for and against his own health care plan. It's a market-based approach to principle—just the glue Republicans need to expand their coalition. Moderates might assume Romney was only pretending to be conservative, and conservatives will thank him for trying.

Straight talk is all well and good for presidential candidates. But as Dick Cheney demonstrated, the job of a Republican vice-presidential candidate is quite the opposite—keeping a straight face while saying things that couldn't possibly be true. Take the economy, for example. McCain gets visibly uncomfortable whenever he ventures beyond fiscal conservatism. Romney is more flexible. In an interview with National Journallast week, he had no trouble contending that corporate tax cuts help the middle class. He spent the primaries warning that the United States was on a slippery slope to becoming the next France. Now he's perfectly happy to argue that we have to cut corporate taxes to keep companies from moving to France.

In his surprise appearance at the Radio & Television Correspondents dinner in Washington last week, Romney showed another virtue that makes him perfect for the role—a vice-presidential temperament. With his "Top 10 Reasons for Dropping Out," he proved that he is ready to poke fun at himself on Day 1.

A vice president needs to be good at self-deprecation, yet not so skilled that he outshines the boss. By that standard, Romney's audition was perfect: He chose good material ("There weren't as many Osmonds as I had thought"; "As a lifelong hunter, I didn't want to miss the start of varmint season") and delivered it just awkwardly enough to leave the audience wondering whether to laugh or feel slightly uncomfortable.

After watching him up close in the primaries, Team McCain no doubt harbors real reservations about Romney. Some conservatives distrust him so much, they're running full-page ads that say, "NO Mitt." A Google search of John McCain, Mitt Romney, and food taster produces more than 100 entries.

But looking ahead to a tense fall campaign, McCain should put those concerns aside and listen to voices from across the spectrum. This could be the issue that unites the country across party lines. Democrats like a little fun at Mitt Romney's expense. The McCain camp does, too—perhaps more so. And after last week, we know that—ever the good sport—even Romney's all for it. ... 2:14 p.m. (link)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

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Twist and Shout:When the news broke last August that Larry Craig had been arrested in a restroom sex sting, he had a ready answer: The Idaho Statesman made him do it. He claimed that the Statesman's monthslong investigation into whether he was gay made him panic and plead guilty. Otherwise, he said, he feared that what happened in Minneapolis might not stay in Minneapolis, and the Statesman would make sure the voters of Idaho found out.

Craig's jihad against the Statesman didn't go over too well in Idaho, where people are more likely to read the newspaper in the restroom than worry about it afterward. On Monday, the Statesman was named a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News Reporting for what the committee called "its tenacious coverage of the twists and turns in the scandal involving the state's senator, Larry Craig."

The story took yet another strange twist and turn this week. For the past six months, the entire political world has been wondering why Craig promised to resign when the scandal broke, then changed his mind a few days later. In a rare interview Wednesday with the congressional newspaper the Hill, Craig finally found someone to blame for staying in the Senate: The people of Idaho made him do it.

According to the Hill, Craig said "support from Idahoans convinced him to reverse his pledge to resign last year." This was news to most Idaho voters, who have viewed the whole affair with shock, outrage, embarrassment, and dismay. But Craig didn't stop there. The Hill reports that he also said his decision not to run for re-election "pre-dated the controversy."

Last fall, Craig stunned Idahoans by insisting he was not gay, not guilty, and not leaving. Now he says it's our fault he never left, he was leaving anyway, and if he's not running, it's not because we don't believe him when he says he's not guilty and not gay.

Unfortunately, Craig's latest explanation casts some doubt on the excuse he gave last fall. If he had already decided long ago that he wasn't running for re-election, he had less reason to panic over his arrest, and much less to fear from voters finding out about it back home. In September, he made it sound as if he pled guilty to a crime he didn't commit to avoid a political firestorm back home. If politics were of no concern, he had every reason to fight the charges in court. For that matter, if he was so sure he wouldn't run again, he could have announced his decision early last year, which might have staved off the Statesman investigation before it got started.

Craig's latest revelation undermines his defense in another way as well. If he is telling the truth that he had made up his mind not to run before his arrest, that would be the best explanation yet for why he risked putting himself in a position to get arrested. Eliot Spitzer's re-election prospects plunged long before he got caught, too.

Nothing can fully explain why public figures like Craig and Spitzer would flagrantly risk arrest. But we can rule out political suicide if they'd already decided their political careers were over. ... 3:55 p.m. (link)

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

B.Looper: Learned reader Kyle Sammin recalls that Idaho's Marvin "Pro-Life" Richardson has nothing on 1998 Tennessee State Senate candidate Byron "Low-Tax" Looper. Besides changing his name, Looper also murdered his opponent. Under Tennessee law, the names of dead candidates are removed from the ballot. So even though he was quickly charged with homicide, Looper nearly ran unopposed. The victim's widow won a last-minute write-in campaign. Looper was sentenced to life in prison.

Bloopers: The Pittsburgh Pirates are now the most mediocre first-place team in baseball history. In their season opener Monday night against Atlanta, the Bucs provided plenty of evidence that this year will turn out like the last 15. They blew a five-run lead in the ninth by walking four batters and booting an easy fly ball. Pirate players said they'd never seen anything like it, not even in Little League. For an inning, it looked like the team had gone on strike to demand more money.

But to every Buc fan's surprise, the Pirates won, anyway—12-11 in 12 innings—and with no game Tuesday, Pittsburgh has been above .500 for two glorious days. New General Manager Neal Huntington e-mailed me on Monday to promise that the team's new regime is determined to build an organization that will make the people of Pittsburgh proud again. That might take a while. For now, we're content to make the people of Atlanta feel really embarrassed. ... 1:35 p.m. (link)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

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Larry Craig

Danger Is My Middle Name:Outgoing Senator Larry Craig can take consolation in one thing: out in Idaho, everyone wants his seat. Fourteen candidates have filed to run for the Senate, including eight Republicans, two Democrats, two Independents, and a Libertarian. Hal Styles Jr. of Desert Hot Springs, California, entered the Republican primary, even though he has never been to Idaho. "I know I'll love it because, clean air, clean water and many, many, many mountains," he says. "My heart, my mind, my body, my soul, my thoughts are in this to win."

The general election will likely be a rematch between former Democratic congressman Larry LaRocco and Republican Lt. Gov. (and former governor) Jim Risch. If Idahoans find those two insufficiently embarrassing, however, a number of fringe candidates have lined up to take Craig's place. According to CQ, one Independent, Rex Rammel, is a former elk rancher who is angry that Risch ordered state wildlife officials to shoot some of his elk that got away. The Libertarian, Kent A. Marmon, is running against "the ever-expanding Socialist agenda" he claims is being pushed by Democratic congressmen like John Dingell.

But by far the most creative third-party candidate is Marvin Richardson, an organic strawberry farmer who went to court to change his name to "Pro-Life." Two years ago, he made that his middle name and tried to run for governor as Marvin "Pro-Life" Richardson. State election officials ruled that middle names couldn't be used to make a political statement on the ballot. As plain old Marvin Richardson, he won just 1.6% of the vote.

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