This election year is reminiscent in many ways of 1980, when Ronald Reagan won the presidency. The polls indicated a close election between him and President Jimmy Carter for most of the year, followed by a landslide that few saw coming.
Reagan, who had failed to obtain the nomination in the previous election years 1968 and 1976, beat several other GOP candidates in the primaries to get the nomination. Despite an economic recession, double-digit interest rates, and State Department employees held hostage in Iran, Democrats were confident they could beat Reagan, based on diminishing his successful two-term governorship of California to "he's just an actor," not too bright, conservative in the extreme, and at nearly age 70, too old.
The candidate they had worried about more was George H. W. Bush, whom Reagan had vanquished in the primaries. Bush was the standard bearer for moderate, Rockefeller Republicans and independents. He had a golden resume, making him highly qualified for the office and commanding lots of respect in both parties. He was expected to do very well in the primaries, but ended up losing because he was perceived as wimpy, whiny and, well, boring. When he tried to put those images to rest, he just came off as goofy:
"To kind of suddenly try to get my hair colored, and dance up and down in a miniskirt or do something, you know, show that I've got a lot of jazz out there and drop a bunch of one-liners, I'm running for the president of the United States...I kind of think I'm a scintillating kind of fellow." -- Goerge H.W. Bush, in 1988
The goal of most presidential candidates in picking a running mate is, or should be, who is prepared and qualified to step into the presidency if something should happen to me? This was a critical decision for Reagan in order to calm those who had worries about his age. When he selected Bush, he put that concern to rest and had the additional benefit of calming those who worried about his extremism by selecting someone who was acceptable to the more centrist parts of the GOP.
Over the years, other candidates have made the mistake of not considering succession as their main goal. They see this first "presidential decision" as an opportunity to excite and nail down their supporters, and perhaps draw in some new ones. Candidates who have taken big risks with their selections, such as Walter Mondale's selection of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, and John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin in 2008, are now in retrospect seen as desperation moves in otherwise losing campaigns. Mitt Romney doesn't need a Hail Mary pass. He needs to pull a Reagan and offer a cautious selection that won't rattle the nation in excitement for three weeks and then drop like a stone when the electorate realizes the No. 2 spot isn't really that important except if one actually expects the veep candidate to occupy the Oval Office.
Such would be the case this year, were Mitt Romney to select Condoleezza Rice or Marco Rubio.
And so, we come to the question: Who is a cautious selection; boring, whiny, well-qualified?
Right. Tim Pawlenty.
The most convincing indication that he will be selected: when he recently mentioned that he has "tatts." Goofy. Done deal.
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