GOP insiders want Rob Portman for VP

Politico is out with a piece that highlights GOP strategists’ opinions of who Mitt Romney should select as a running mate. The picture that accompanies the article features the faces of five different potential vice presidential nominees. Conspicuously absent from the picture: Paul Ryan and Allen West.

The article backs up what National Journal found in its latest Insiders poll. Strategists primarily think in terms of preparedness and political advantage. Those considerations propel candidates like Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to the top of the list — and relegate “bolder” to the bottom. Portman boasts experience as a former director of the Office of Management and Budget and hails from a crucial swing state. Rubio has his Hispanic heritage, youth and charisma on his side — and it also doesn’t hurt that he’s from Florida.

It’s hard to know who has Romney’s ear on this issue, but I hope whoever advises him plants an idea bigger even than the idea that he should pick a running mate based on political considerations and presidential preparedness. Romney has the opportunity to define the terms of the election with his choice of a vice presidential running mate. Sure, he can’t ignore demographic factors or experience in his selection, but he has a chance to make this not primarily about politics, but primarily about ideas. He should choose to make this about which party has the better vision for the fiscal future of the country. We might be in the midst of an anemic recovery, but the longterm crisis we face is the same as the crisis we faced in 2008: Unless we reign in spending and reform entitlement programs, we’ll be Greece before we know it.

It could be that Rob Portman can articulate the need for fiscal responsibility as well as anyone. It could be that he would satisfy political considerations, presidential preparedness and the “game change” factor. But there’s no doubt Paul Ryan would satisfy on all three scores.

John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin taught us that a vice presidential candidate can be a powerful spokesperson for conservative principles during and after a campaign. The same GOP strategists who now push Portman also lament Palin’s selection, as though her lack of experience on the national stage was the reason John McCain lost the 2008 election, when, in fact, he lost it for himself. Either that or Barack Obama won it with a flashy campaign and a complete evasion of the vetting process.

It’s up to the presidential nominee to win or lose the election, but, by his selection of a vice presidential running mate, the candidate either gives the movement another meaningful leader or does nothing more than maintain the status quo. It’s for Romney to decide which he’ll do.