Axelrod on Romney's VP search: Hey, if it were me, I'd pick Pawlenty

Three possibilities. One: He’s telling the truth. What does he have to lose by being honest? Romney’s not going to make his pick based on what the other team’s quarterback thinks, so he might as well let it rip. Two: Reverse psychology. Ax hates the idea of a veep like Pawlenty whom it’d be hard to demagogue, so he calculates that by cheering publicly for him, he can taint T-Paw’s image on the right by branding him “the guy Obama was hoping for.” Maybe that’ll give Romney second thoughts. Three: Reverse reverse psychology. Ax secretly wants Pawlenty on the ticket because he’s the least dangerous option. Unlike Portman, he’s not a threat to deliver a key swing state, and unlike Rubio, Christie, and Ryan, he’s not a particularly stellar communicator. But Ax also knows, per his reputation as a master Machiavellian strategist, that righties will assume his strategy is more cunning than a crude reverse psychology play. So he names the guy he’s truly hoping for, anticipating that his opponents will conclude that he’s deviously trying to throw them off Pawlenty’s trail — and therefore Pawlenty really should be the pick.

I’ll spare you the reverse reverse reverse psychology theory and say merely that I cherish the idiotic veepstakes news cycle every four years like few other things in life. Easy content all day long; the only limit is one’s own willingness and ability to navel-gaze. Magical.

“If I were picking, I’d pick Pawlenty,” Axelrod told National Journal. “You shouldn’t write that, because everybody will think I’m trying to bait [Romney] into picking Pawlenty.”

Virtually everyone in Obama’s high command is girding for a Pawlenty pick. Numerous interviews revealed that no one expects Romney to pick the other veep finalists, such as Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (a former budget director and trade representative for President George W. Bush) or Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. Portman and Pawlenty have long been on Romney’s short list. Ryan is experiencing a late surge of supportive conservative clamor. There are also, however, some conservative Ryan doubters…

“That’s my influence,” Axelrod told NJ. “I’ve been saying Pawlenty for four months. The reasoning, as a strategist, would be: He is acceptable to the Right and the evangelicals, but he’s not scary to moderates. He’s good on television. He’s been through this.”…

“Even though it was an abortive attempt [at the presidency], he has some sense of what this national thing is like. He’s got a good working-class story, which is probably a good complement to Romney, and he’s been out there defending him. He’s proven his commitment and loyalty. So, for those reasons I expect Pawlenty. He’s not a Washington guy. He doesn’t have the Bush taint that Portman does.”

Whether it was intentional or not, one of the effects of the Obama attack ad blitz over the past six weeks has been to make it less likely that Pawlenty gets the nod. If Romney were up three or four points right now, T-Paw would be a no-brainer: He’s the safest possible pick, and when you’re on track to victory, that’s all you want. Now that Obama’s out to what looks like a small but steady lead, Romney may be more inclined to gamble — which, potentially, works out well for Axelrod, if in fact a “bold” pick like Ryan ends up being as toxic to undecideds as Democrats suspect. This’ll end up being a sterling test of Romney’s remaining confidence in his battle plan, then. If he goes with T-Paw or Portman, then he’s bet the farm that the “it’s the economy, stupid” pitch is enough to erase O’s lead down the stretch and win the election. His advisors are playing it cool right at the moment, all but laughing at the recent polls as summer noise. But for what it’s worth, none other than Paul Ryan is now the plurality favorite on InTrade. Dude?

Here’s Scarborough and crew this morning joining the Christie bandwagon. I’ll say this for the big guy: He’s the only VP pick I can think of who might move votes towards the GOP purely by dint of his performance on the trail. Ryan would do an expert job of defending his budget and making the case for entitlement reform, but realistically I think the best-case scenario there is simply neutralizing the Democratic Mediscare attacks. Rubio and Jindal would be flawless, but the chief effect of that, I suspect, would be to make voters comfortable with them as number two despite their youth rather than make them more enthusiastic to vote for Romney. Christie is more of a salesman; his plainspoken Jersey persona is such that he could get through to low-information undecideds on Romney’s behalf in a way that more polished pols simply can’t. That alone isn’t reason enough to pick him, but if he does end up being picked, that’ll be why.

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