Some 20 million Americans in primaries and caucuses will take part in selecting the Republican presidential nominee. One person will choose the vice presidential nominee.
This has long struck me as absurd: One person choosing someone who, as a result, might become president for as long as ten years. But just about everyone in politics says it’s the only proper way.
Over the last 25 years, presidential nominees of both parties have engaged in conscientious consultation and have mostly made pretty good choices. No more picks at five o’clock in the morning to meet a convention deadline.
For even longer, every vice president has done constructive work of governance. Voters have come to expect a VP nominee who can contribute substance rather than one who can balance a ticket.
Ticket-balancing suggestions have come in to Mitt Romney. He should endorse a fiery cultural conservative, some Republicans say, although he’s not likely to name the undisciplined Rick Santorum.
He needs to name a Latino, say others. But the most obvious choice, the eloquent senator Marco Rubio, has reiterated his unwillingness to run. So has New Mexico governor Susana Martinez.
The argument that Republicans need additional support from Latinos may be overstated. The 2010 exit poll shows Republicans won 38 percent of the Latino vote — and that was enough for a national majority, since they carried whites by a record 60 to 37 percent.
Anyway, ticket-balancing is not the only successful approach, as Bill Clinton understood. When he clinched the Democratic nomination in 1992 as a southern moderate, it was widely assumed he would pick a northern liberal, as Jimmy Carter had.
Instead, he chose a fellow southern Baptist of his own generation with a reputation for moderation and congressional experience in national-security issues, Al Gore. They were from adjoining southern states, and when the ticket was announced they met on the bridge between West Memphis, Arkansas, and Memphis, Tennessee.
This unbalanced ticket won two elections, carrying six of 14 southern states in both 1992 and 1996. Democratic nominees from Massachusetts, both with southern running mates, carried none in 1988 and 2004.
A similar approach for Mitt Romney would be what opponents might call a double-vanilla ticket, with another white male as vice presidential nominee.
Four possibilities come to mind. One is Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman who endorsed Romney and campaigned with him all over Wisconsin. Romney has praised Ryan’s budget proposals and has endorsed the fundamentals of Ryan’s Medicare plan.