Home National Politics Schapiro wrong on McDonnell vs. Christie as Jeff buys the Conventional Wisdom

Schapiro wrong on McDonnell vs. Christie as Jeff buys the Conventional Wisdom

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by Paul Goldman

Richmond Times-Dispatch writer Jeff Schapiro, clearly the most provocative regular columnist on state politics, has been seduced by the Conventional Wisdom saying that Governor McDonnell’s rise on the national scene has been “eclipsed by the latest Chris Christie trial balloon.”

Jeff is right that the two men, both elected the same year, have two different styles, two different political personas, and have taken two different paths to national prominence. McDonnell’s path has involved working his way up the Republican Governor’s Association route and in the state public opinion polls slow and steady, pointing to things he has done in Virginia. For his part, Christie has been the hare in the race, his style wowing the talk show/bloggers/pundit Commentariat with claims of being the Superman the GOP is looking for, or I suppose the Lone Ranger now that Mr. Perry isn’t firing silver bullets.  

Now, the New Jersey Governor has been urged by some very major GOP folks to get into the race for the top spot. In my view, stated again, McDonnell is wise to do exactly what he has been doing, as it has given him a credible and sustainable path to national prominence. The result: McDonnell has emerged, as yours truly predicted months ago, on the short list of GOP VP possibilities.

In contrast, Christie’s style seems to me to be a negative for a VP choice, given the history of how the second spot plays out in a national election. Also, I’d remind everyone that in the modern era, GOP VP choices from East – Lodge in 1960, Miller in 1964, Agnew in 1968 and 1972, Jack Kemp in 1996 – proved very bad choices.

On the latter point, it’s because the East is (mostly) solid Democratic. With regard to the first point, it’s because running mates who overshadow the Presidential candidate due to style, like Sarah Palin or Geraldine Ferraro, don’t tend to work out well. Better VP choices tend to add stability, experience, and political balance, such as Johnson in 1960, Muskie in 1968, Mondale in 1976, Bush in 1988, Gore in 1992, Cheney in 2000 and Biden in 2008.

As for McDonnell, he has played it brilliantly, and anyone familiar with politics has to give him credit for this, as it can’t be by accident. At this point, McDonnell is a solid Southern option with assets for a Republican 2012 VP choice.

     

     

True, governors or ex-governors have tended, historically speaking, to want to take a figure identified with Washington, DC as a balancing VP. Carter-Mondale, Reagan-Bush, Clinton-Gore, Bush-Cheney, are all examples, and it makes sense.

BUT NOT in 2012. Today, the toxic environment in DC is something the GOP nominee will want to stay as far away from as possible. That is a major reason why not a single GOP senator is trying to win the presidential nomination this year; at this point, the public doesn’t want to hear about Washington, DC anymore than is absolutely necessary.

SO: If Romney is the nominee, the Virginia Governor is a sure bet. Rookie Senator Marco Rubio is going to be at the top of every list, but he will not be chosen. Senator Portman from Ohio is a very solid choice in normal times, but unless he comes out of the Super Committee with a huge image boost, again he is seen as from Washington.

So yes, normally a Perry or Christie would go for a Senator, but not this time. This means a sitting Governor will lead the list. The GOP only has a few that make sense, and of them, McDonnell is clearly the most popular of any in a key swing state. A Texas-Virginia duo might be too Southern, so McDonnell will be in the middle of the list, a default choice probably. A New Jersey-Virginia combo is classic North/South, but I can see Christie going another route, possibly for former Minnesota Governor (and former presidential candidate) Tim Pawlenty.

Christie will be best with a VP who fades quickly into the background, as the New Jerseyan will not need anything but a second name on the ballot. Pawlenty is Mr. Fade Into The Background personified — everyone liked him alright, but he created no passion. Pawlenty’s also from a different geographic region (the Midwest) than Christie. A perfect VP, in other words, for Christie. But if Christie thinks he needs to go South, I can see him going for former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, another guy with an easy-going image. Again, McDonnell will be on the short list but unlikely.

Net, net: Governor McD has played his hand quite well, and contrary to Mr. Schapiro, couldn’t have done any better without divine intervention. As for Mr. Christie, he appears to be in love with the CW. We shall see what happens.

Either way, Governor McD is where he was predicted to be, ahead of Christie for the VP spot. And Governor McD has not been eclipsed at all by Christie; quite the opposite, his VP campaign has been helped by Christie.

P.S. Jeff Schapiro is surely correct in saying Christie is shooting for First not Second place on the ticket. One suspects this has always been on the New Jersey Governor’s mind, evidence being that he has allowed his name to be out there for President so long and now is “reconsidering.”

I’d also note that Christie never took a Shermanesque pledge not to run for the White House, and in fact it would appear he indeed be giving serious thought to a run this year.