Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Mitt Romney and the Conservative Succession

For a GOP nominee, picking a vice president is like picking a Supreme Court Justice.

Two names.

Richard Nixon.

George H.W. Bush.

As soon-to-be Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney starts out on his vice-presidential vettings, this that or the other name floats conspicuously.

The Washington Times's indomitable Ralph Z. Hallow and Stephen Dinan reported yesterday that two different polls of conservative activists show an overwhelming preference for Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Reports the Times:

CHICAGO -- Sen. Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants and a rapidly rising Republican star, emerged this weekend as the clear favorite of conservative activists to be the GOP vice-presidential nominee, according to two polls sponsored by The Washington Times.

Conservative activists meeting at the Conservative Leadership Conference in Las Vegas and at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Chicago both said Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, still needs to work on shoring up his conservative credentials, and Mr. Rubio was the top choice for running mate.

In The Washington Times-CLC poll in Nevada, which was released Sunday, Mr. Rubio was the pick of about 28 percent of activists, while in a broader survey, The Washington Times-CPAC poll taken in Chicago, Mr. Rubio was the choice of 30 percent.

What is the real news in this story?

That's right -- it isn't Senator Rubio. It's the sentence that says conservative activists are signaling to Team Romney that there is a real need to understand that Romney "still needs to work on shoring up his conservative credentials…"

Which brings us to Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush and, for that matter, a handful of other recent vice-presidential selections in both parties.

The office of the vice presidency of the United States was once famously described by its first occupant, John Adams, as "the most insignificant office" ever imagined by man. Adams may have been the first to complain about the job, but not the last. FDR's Texan John Garner, picked when a powerful House Speaker in 1932, colorfully and typically said the job wasn't worth a "bucket of warm spit." (OK…We've cleaned up ole Cactus Jack's quote a bit. History records he actually said "piss.")

But eventually… a long eventually, maybe, but eventually… this changed.

Vice presidents became real powerhouses. Believe it or not it was the hapless Jimmy Carter who finally changed this, being the first president to give his vice president -- Minnesota's Walter F. Mondale -- a West Wing office and the right to sit in on any and all presidential meetings. Carter made of Mondale what vice presidents had never been -- a partner. And from Mondale on down to Joe Biden, with varying degrees of success, this partnership between president and vice president became a potent part of a number of administrations.

The fierce admiration -- and sheer hatred -- engendered by Dick Cheney is a testament to the potential power of a contemporary vice president.

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