One man seems to be having a lot of fun in the Republican debates, even though almost no one gives him any chance of contending for the nomination.  Free of expectations for success, Newt Gingrich has turned himself into a reliable on-stage rally leader for party unity as well as a voice for attacking the media’s moderators when the questions cross the line into advocacy, at least in Gingrich’s mind.  Last night I summed up my feelings on Twitter about Gingrich, writing that I “[d]on’t want him as our nominee, but love having him on our side.”

Gingrich probably feels — publicly, at least — that he has a chance of winning the nomination.  However, his repeated efforts to provide cover for the other candidates on the stage rather than go on the attack doesn’t allow him much opportunity to differentiate himself from the frontrunners, or even the pack.  But as an e-mailer pointed out to me earlier today, the roles he has chosen for himself fit very nicely into another mold: the running mate.

Nominees choose running mates based on political calculations for broadening the appeal of the ticket.  Generally those come down to ideological and geographic diversity as well as a proven ability to campaign and draw votes.  Newt has been a national figure for so long that he probably doesn’t bring any specific geographic influence to a ticket.  His ideological positions have been flexible, to say the least, enough so that it might be hard for any ideological voters to find an affinity for Gingrich.  As far as drawing votes, he might have more baggage than attraction.

However, Dick Cheney didn’t really fit that mold either for George Bush, and it turned into a successful match.  Furthermore, Gingrich is making an impression on Republicans who want to see more unity of purpose in the campaign in opposition to Obama rather than each other.  His best quality, though, is his ability to push back against the media, both in and out of the debates.  Putting Gingrich on a ticket means having him front and center, defending the eventual nominee against all sorts of charges and allowing him to be an attack dog against the Democratic ticket.  After watching Gingrich take on these roles in the last three debates especially, the eventual nominee may want to keep him around for the general election, too.

The choice of running mate will depend on the nominee’s desires and needs, of course, and there may be better choices for the bottom of the ticket.  It seems, though, that Newt Gingrich is making a pretty strong case for inclusion on a short list.