C’mon, let’s play the parlor game du jour: Rick Santorum for vice president! Seriously, this could prove to be a fine spring season diversion. Mitt Romney appears primed for an inexorable trudge toward the nomination, picking up new delegates hither and yon at a speed of roughly five miles per hour, and that scenario will surely free up brain cells for idle speculation about the Republican underticket.
Enter Santorum. A decent case can indeed be made that he’s the perfect guy to mesh with Mitt.This is not a brand new concept, by the way; two of Pennsylvania’s top pundits, Terry Madonna and Michael Young, floated the notion of Rick as veep nine months ago. In a June column, they wrote that Santorum, by dint of his popularity among social conservatives, “could become the Dick Cheney of 2012 – someone few really like, but everyone understands to be necessary.” They repeated their Cheney line in another column two months ago, and argued that Santorum would be “the perfect balance to a ticket likely to need a lot of balancing.”A prescient observation, when one considers how the race has since played out. Romney surely needs a lot of balancing, and, at least on paper, Santorum would help him unite the party. Each has what the other sorely needs. The upside arguments:Romney is a hit in the upper income brackets; Santorum gets the downscale lunch-bucket crowd. Romney is weak with evangelical Christians; Santorum pulls them in. Romney is a bust down in Dixie; Santorum would shore up the region. Romney seems irresolute on the social issues; Santorum would provide ballast. Romney needs help in the critical Rustbelt states; Santorum has already proven his mettle with Republican Rustbelt voters, and he hails from swing-state Pennsylvania. Romney is the Washington outsider; Santorum, the Washington insider who could act as Romney’s Capitol Hill emissary, just as Joe Biden does for Barack Obama.Granted, a case can be made for somebody else. Marco Rubio, for example. The young Latino senator from swing-state Florida might help Mitt with Latinos – on that front, Mitt could use all the help he can get – but the news broke recently that Rubio was once a Mormon, and a two-Mormon Republican ticket might be too much for a party that has backed all-Protestant tickets since its birth in 1856.There’s buzz about Bob McDonnell, the mainstream conservative governor of swing-state Virginia, but he’s been hampered lately by his dealings with the wing-nut Virginia legislature that came up with the bright idea of requiring vaginal ultrasound probes for women seeking abortions. McDonnell did a gymnastic flip-flop on that one, saying yes until the inevitable firestorm inspired him to say no. He then settled for a probe-free ultrasound. Moderate women will remember.There’s also buzz about Rob Portman, currently a senator from swing-state Ohio, and by all accounts a decent guy. Supposedly he would help carry his home state (just as he supposedly helped Romney win his Super Tuesday squealer in Ohio), and, as I noted here yesterday, no Republican has ever won the presidency without carrying Ohio. But Portman’s most important previous gig was budget director for George W. Bush – during the years when the ruling GOP turned a budget surplus into a tsunami of red ink. That track record wouldn’t go down well with tea-partying conservatives.Santorum’s biggest edge over that trio is the fact that he’s running in the primaries, demonstrating virtually week by week that he compensates for Romney’s vulnerabilities. And we’ve seen this scenario before. John F. Kennedy picked a vanquished opponent, Lyndon B. Johnson, in 1960. Ronald Reagan did the same with George H. W. Bush in 1980. John Kerry picked the primary season runner-up, John Edwards, in 2004. All those pairings were marriages of convenience. It would be the same for Romney and Santorum. Yeah, they’re saying some nasty stuff about each other at the moment – Mitt whacks Rick for being a compromised Washington insider, Rick whacks Mitt for being untruthful and inauthentic – but that’s standard intramural gamesmanship, not nearly as severe as LBJ’s charge at the 1960 convention that JFK was unfit because of illness.No, the real problem for a Romney-Santorum ticket is that the potential downsides are arguably as abundant as the potential upsides. Pairing those guys might well help unite the party, but Santorum is anathema to swing-voting independents – the very same voters who typically determine the November winner. In that sense, he could be another Sarah Palin. Four years ago, Palin’s disastrous presence helped drive moderate Republicans to Barack Obama in swing regions like Bucks County and Montgomery County in Pennsylvania, and in swing states like Florida. Santorum’s obsession with contraception might do the same for moderate women.Second, there’s no guarantee that Santorum would help Romney win Pennsylvania. Even if one totally ignores what happened in 2006, when Santorum lost his Senate re-election by 18 points, one of the largest margins in Senate race history, the fact remains that running mates sometimes fail in their own backyard. For instance, John Edwards was chosen in 2004 based in part on the notion that he would help Kerry win North Carolina. He was no help.Third, the notion that Santorum would help Romney on Capitol Hill is perhaps a tad fanciful, due to the fact that Santorum…how shall I charitably put this…was not known among his colleagues for having deft diplomatic and interpersonal skills.But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here – and, needless to say, the Republicans are too obsessed these days with their own fractiousness to expend mental energy on the contours of the autumn campaign, much less 2013. Uniting the party is priority one. Santorum appears likely to have enough delegates to put himself on the table as a potential unifier. And maybe this was his game plan all along; as Madonna and Young insisted two months ago, “running for vice president is exactly what he is doing.”And hey, if Dick Cheney and Dan Quayle could dwell one heartbeat away, why not him?——-Obama’s Tuesday smackdown of the blustering GOP warmongers was rooted in the fact that Democrats are no longer cowed on national security. My Thursday newspaper column, here.
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