Election 2012: Game Change 2.0

There has been much buzz recently regarding who the GOP nominee will choose as a running mate, and rightfully so; as John McCain showed in 2008, the vice presidential pick can make or break a candidacy. In McCain’s case, even though Sarah Palin energized a formerly unenthusiastic base, her presence in the race ultimately led to Barack Obama winning in a landslide because the discussion became almost solely about Palin and her flaws, rather than Obama’s abject unpreparedness. If and when Romney secures the nomination, his first decision, – picking a VP – will likely be essential to his strategy for the general election. With the Palin debacle still fresh in many Republican minds, an obvious plan would be for Romney to do exactly the opposite of what McCain did in ’08 and pick the most boring and nondescript candidate possible. However, Romney’s personality and characteristics practically prohibit this because Romney is nothing if not dull and unexciting. He has actually tried to play up his dullness as “sobriety” among a field of unpredictable blowhards, but his lack of enthusiasm has led to him being widely seen as robotic. So, Romney’s VP pick should complement his own qualities; youth to Romney’s agedness, energy to Romney’s constancy, and freshness to Romney’s staleness (Romney has been running for president for the past six years). With that said, it seems unlikely that a woman is in the cards, simply because any possible female VP pick (Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina, etc.) would not be thought of primarily as an individual running with Romney, but instead as an individual to be compared with the inarguably polarizing Palin. Romney will want to avoid any sort of comparison-drawing between his VP pick and McCain’s, so he is probably going to choose a man.

One particular figure comes to mind, and that is Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. Due to Romney’s weaknesses among his base, which mostly come from his infamous flip-flops, he needs a conservative favorite on the ticket with him come November to ensure that the right wing of the Republican Party does not just stay home on Election Day. This is not a huge problem, since all conservatives are fiercely united with the desire to remove Obama from office, but pacifying conservatives will allow Romney to go after the independents instead of having to campaign in Republican strongholds. Rubio fits this bill perfectly; he is beloved by the Tea Party, having been swept into Congress in 2010 during that great wave of Republican grassroots fervor. Rubio is young (relative to the 65-year-old Romney), smooth, and a masterful orator – starting to sound like someone we all know, right? Yes, there are many comparisons that can be drawn between Obama and Rubio, but considering that Rubio would be on the bottom half of the ticket and that the American people enthusiastically elected Obama in ’08, Rubio’s lesser experience (compared to Romney) would not be an issue. Plus, Obama could not criticize him for being unprepared, since that would be clear hypocrisy.

But besides his political prowess, Rubio also brings his heritage to the table; he is a Cuban-American from Florida. Florida is a must-win state, so Rubio would definitely be an asset there. Looking at the wider picture, one of Romney’s potential weaknesses is with Latino voters. Romney has always been an immigration hawk, so he sometimes comes off as dispassionate with respect to the plight of illegal immigrants in this country. Even though Rubio is Cuban, a minority among Latinos, his presence on the ticket would help send the message that the Republican Party is pro-immigration. A Romney-Rubio ticket would not come across as a tokenizing of Rubio due to his race, but as a genuine statement of the GOP’s commitment to the leadership and diversity that transcends race and culture.