Mitt Romney having pretty much clinched the GOP Presidential nomination, the press coverage follows its usual quadrennial arc and now turns to who Romney might pick as his running mate. This focus is a symptom of the press’s relative allergy to substance — it’s just the latest horse race. served up largely because the primaries now lack drama. Not only is the coverage of the who’s in, who’s out, who’s traveling with the Candidate, variety, but the focus is all on ‘what the candidate brings to the ticket’ in terms of electability.
And that undoubtedly reflects the questions being debated in Romney HQ, since Job #1 is to get elected.
But as voters and citizens (and as the press) that really isn’t the question we should care about, or certainly not the one we should care most about. What we ought to care about is whether the prospective Veep is qualified to be President.
I wasn’t the greatest fan of then-candidate Obama’s choice of Joe Biden, and I don’t think (and didn’t think) that Biden would be a wonderful President, or even a good one, but I was satisfied that he had the basic knowledge and temperament (if perhaps not the ideal communication skills) to do the job if tragedy struck. In no way whatsoever did I have that feeling about Sarah Palin then (or now).
We should not set the bar so low: the realities of modern life mean that there is a real danger that a President may die in office, even early in the term, and the Veep has to be ready to step in. That calls for someone who doesn’t just seem like they might grow into a Presidential candidate in eight or ten years, but someone who — even if not willing or able to do well in a primary — is capable now of doing the job.
Marco Rubio, UM JD ’96, has qualities that attract (some) people: real political talent that has taken him far and quickly, a good speaker, a pleasant demeanor, a rare minority Senator in a party with a poor recent history with minorities, and — if you happen to agree with them — mostly orthodox GOP views on most issues but with the ability to charm the Tea Party without actually drinking quite as much Tea as some other GOP Senators. He’s no fool (except maybe for palling around with corrupt David Rivera), and he’s ambitious. But what he doesn’t have is much national experience or much on his c.v. that suggests any particular thoughtfulness. And for me, at least, it is very hard to imagine he has yet accumulated the experience and knowledge that would make him someone you could comfortably imagine suddenly becoming President any time soon.
Then again, Candidate Obama did not have that much national experience when he ran for President. (And, you might say, look how that worked out. Not optimally, that’s for sure.) But he did have a few things suggesting gravitas that Rubio cannot match. For example, Obama taught at Chicago and it seems was taken seriously by the law faculty there. Much more importantly (to me), he’d written two serious books, Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope, books (especially the first one) that revealed something about his character and vision. And according to at least one person I know who was involved in the editing process, he wrote them himself. And while Rubio speaks well, Obama speaks (or at least, spoke) better and deeper. Indeed, Obama’s lack of experience was part of the argument for why the relatively centrist Biden was a good fit (we know now that in addition Obama himself was much more centrist than people who were not closely following his campaign may have grasped). Mitt Romney of course has no national experience at all other than running for President; his government experience is at the state-level — but it is managerial/executive experience and that historically has often served future Presidents well. (But see Jimmy Carter.)
Do the people pushing Rubio as Veep ever worry about this stuff? One sees no sign of it. They should: not just because it is good politics (although it might be), but because it is what is good for the country. Rubio is no Agnew or Quayle or Palin, but he’s no Obama or JFK either, nor even a Gore or Mondale (or Cheney, but that’s good). What grounds are there to think Rubio has what it takes?