Josh Rogin makes the case. And yeah, I realize it’s goofy to be thinking about this now, but it’s less goofy than it was in other recent election cycles for two reasons. One: Identity politics may dictate the VP slot in 2016 in a way that it hasn’t in other recent election cycles. I argued recently that Cory Booker’s the frontrunner for veep across the aisle despite his lack of federal experience, simply because Democrats fear that Hillary won’t be able to preserve Obama’s coalition on her own. They need to keep turnout among black voters as high for her as it was for the first black president. Booker, the would-be first black vice president, could help. On the flip side, between the incessant “war on women” attacks and the likelihood of Hillary being nominated, Republicans will be desperate to counter with a woman on the ticket themselves. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, who delivered the SOTU rebuttal, is probably too low profile. Susana Martinez, who might also help with Latino voters, will be on the shortlist but maybe she’s too exposed on ObamaCare to satisfy the base. Obvious solution: Ayotte.
But is Ayotte too hawkish? That’s the other reason it’s worth thinking about this now.
“Her prospects are good. Why not Pence-Ayotte or Walker-Ayotte?” said Weekly Standard Editor and conservative power-broker Bill Kristol. “Defense and foreign policy will be a big issue, and she’s a leader on that. And since she’s already on the vice presidential short list, she might want to look at running for the top job.”…
Ayotte’s conservative credentials were challenged late last year during the debate over the government shutdown, when she ultimately cast a key procedural vote that could have stopped the closure before it began. That lead to a confrontation between her and Cruz behind closed doors. Ayotte demanded that Cruz disavow attacks on her by the Senate Conservatives Fund a group tied to Cruz and founded by former Sen. Jim DeMint.
Palin, who once called Ayotte the “Granite Grizzly” also has turned against her. Last summer, Palin publicly called for a primary challenger for Ayotte after Ayotte supported the immigration reform legislation that was working its way through the senate…
“Her positioning as the female amigo in the McCain-Graham foreign policy triumvirate is a weakness in the GOP primary because that’s not where the Republican party grassroots are any more on this issue,” one senior GOP strategist said.
I don’t think her vote for the Gang of Eight bill will disqualify her. Rubio had a much bigger role in it and he’s still in the presidential mix, and Rand Paul, who voted against it, nonetheless has called repeatedly for immigration reform. Scott Walker and Chris Christie are both pro-reform too. Ayotte can hide in the crowd on that issue. Plus, she earned some goodwill from righties in voting no on the Toomey/Manchin background checks bill, for which she took all sorts of heat from big-name gun-grabbers like Mike Bloomberg. Our last VP nominee voted for TARP and was forgiven. Ayotte can be forgiven for voting for amnesty, especially if reform ends up going nowhere in the House. (Which, admittedly, is unlikely.)
What makes this an interesting topic is the defense angle. Obvious question: With grassroots conservatives less hawkish than they used to be, although maybe not quite as “non-interventionist” as Rand Paul, what kind of ticket does the GOP need to field in 2016 with respect to foreign policy? Can they get away with putting Ayotte, the “third amigo” in the McCain/Graham superhawk alliance, in the number two slot? I’m tempted to say that they’ll have to balance the ticket with a hawk in one slot and a less hawkish nominee in the other, but I can’t think of any nationally prominent GOPer who qualifies for the latter role except Rand Paul. Which means, if Ayotte really is the VP frontrunner, either a Paul/Ayotte ticket is in the offing or else the conservative base is going to have to tolerate two hawkish candidates on the ballot. Watching Rand lose would be hard for his admirers under any circumstances, but asking them to then turn around and pull the lever for a pair of interventionists would be much harder. What exactly is the tolerance threshold on the right for an all-hawk ticket this time around?
But maybe I’m underestimating Ayotte. While Maverick and Graham were beating the war drums over Syria last year, she issued a statement opposing military action. She came out strong in support of the NSA last summer after the first Snowden leaks were published but later sided with Democrat Jeanne Shaheen in calling for a comprehensive review of the agency. Maybe she’s in the process of shifting her brand from superhawk to hawkish-leaner — just in time for the veepstakes! — and we just haven’t noticed yet.