I’d bet cash money that it’s all just a coincidence, driven largely by Romney’s comparative chumminess with Paul Ryan on the trail and Rob Portman’s role in helping him win Ohio, but rumors of a whisper campaign against Rubio inside the Beltway have been bubbling for months. Is this another case of the whispers? If so, who’s doing the whispering?
From George Will, who wants Romney to wonk out with either Ryan or health-care whiz Bobby Jindal:
Faux realists will belabor Romney with unhistorical cleverness, urging him to choose a running mate who supposedly will sway this or that demographic cohort or carry a particular state. But are, for example, Hispanics nationwide such a homogeneous cohort that, say, those who came to Colorado from Mexico will identify with a son of Cuban immigrants to Florida (Sen. Marco Rubio)? Do these realists know that, according to exit polls, Nevada’s Hispanic Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, won only about a third of the Hispanic vote in 2010?
Michael Crowley at Time agrees, arguing that Rubio’s appeal to Latinos could be vastly overstated. I’ve wondered before myself whether Rubio might pass on VP even if it’s offered because he doesn’t want his future presidential ambitions to be tainted if Romney ends up underperforming with Latinos and losing. Even if Rubio nets the ticket 10 points with that group, it’s at least possible that other factors unrelated to him will cost them 15 — and he’ll be blamed for that failure, which will haunt him if he runs in 2016. If he’s going to risk his reputation as the GOP’s savior among Latino voters, I would guess the only reward worth it is the presidency itself.
Meanwhile, without mentioning Rubio by name, Major Garrett argues that you can take it to the bank that Portman will, in fact, be Romney’s VP:
Portman is vetted, more so than any other potential pick. He’s been confirmed not once but twice to cabinet posts — U.S. trade representative in 2005 and Office of Management and Budget director in 2006. The files are ready and, by Washington standards, spotless. Romney knows his pick must get off to a good start and any “surprises” after the rollout will deprive his campaign of precious time, energy, and momentum. Portman is a known commodity among Washington reporters and is regarded as both knowledgeable and accessible (and as a dispenser of well-timed leaks). In the frenzied environment that will accompany the prelude to Romney’s pick, the Portman choice may land with a thud on the charisma meter, but it won’t set in motion a wave of “guess what” stories and will allow Romney to focus on the campaign, not thorny revelations that must be ritualistically turned into an us-against-them media meme. In fact, Portman might actually talk Boston out of its hypertensive and allergic reactions to reporters.
Portman is ready for the job and, more importantly, primed for the obligations that will fall upon Romney if he’s elected. In the transition, Romney will need skilled and quicksilver advice and guidance on the magilla lame-duck session that’s coming. In those precious few weeks in November and December the nation will have to decide the fate of the following: the expiring Bush tax cuts, the expiring payroll-tax cut, unfinished spending bills, the expiring Medicare “doc fix” that shielded physicians from a 27 percent premium cut, extended unemployment benefits, the scheduled $1.2 trillion across-the-board discretionary spending cut (sequester), the farm bill, and quite probably, a transportation bill. Oh, and one other thing. A $3 trillion debt-ceiling increase will come up then or right after Inauguration Day. A lame-duck Congress with a president-elect may decide to punt these tough issues to the new administration. If so, no governor or minty-fresh Tea Party senator will suffice. Portman knows the West Wing like few others (he also served in the White House Counsel’s Office and the Office of Legislative Affairs under President Bush the elder). He knows the House and Senate and served on the super committee. He knows what the numbers are, what they mean, and how the politics of budget, taxation, and trade work. Romney will have to govern and govern quick. The headaches will be immediate and the choices difficult. If governing matters, Portman prevails.
Yeah, as impressive as Rubio is, I’d prefer to see him show some chops on policy for a few years. So far in the Senate he’s distinguished himself in my mind chiefly for being hawkish to a McCain-esque degree on foreign policy. I’m no dove, but I want to see how that impulse plays out over time before installing him one heartbeat away.
More media Rubio skepticism? There’s also National Journal’s poll of “insiders” that Tina wrote about earlier showing his odds dropping precipitously since October among Republicans and Democrats — although he’s still the VP frontrunner among both groups. Like I say, I think the Beltway rethink on him is all coincidence driven by the fact that we’re now thinking hard about veeps and that Ryan, in particular, is more of a star than ever thanks to Obama’s hatchet job on him this past Tuesday. But you never know with that whisper campaign. Are Rubio’s VP rivals nudging friendly columnists about his stock being overvalued? Are Democrats doing it to plant seeds of doubt about the guy in case he does, in fact, end up on the ticket? Or are Romney’s people doing it because they don’t want voters — especially some Latino voters — to get their hopes up only to be disappointed later? Further to that last question, read this BuzzFeed piece from a few days ago. Exit quotation from an unnamed GOP strategist close to Rubio: “[I]f Sen. Rubio is passed up, or not even asked, in favor of someone that is uninspiring or ‘safe’ I think there will be a lot of tough questions.”