As The Huffington Post's Howard Fineman wrote Friday, Mitt Romney has not been playing the political media game very well, turning what might have been a "two-day mini-story" about his Bain Capital past into "a major three-week distraction."
Fineman runs down all of the myriad ways Romney has misplayed his hand. But the biggest mistake of all has been Romney's various requests for retractions. All that has done is ensure that more people will go and read the stories that Romney doesn't want read, and that those stories will, in turn, continue to get discussed and, perhaps more importantly, be investigated.
There's almost nothing dumber you can do in politics than jump up and down waving a flag while yelling, "Hey, everybody! This is the vulnerable stuff that I am really worried about! Right here!" But that's what Romney has spent a lot of time doing. So it's hardly surprising that the Boston Globe went and discovered documentation that proved Romney "remained chief executive and chairman of the firm three years beyond the date he said he ceded control" and created "five new investment partnerships during that time." Romney practically begged them to do so. Anyone remember what happened when Gary Hart invited the press to "Follow me around"? (They followed him around.)
It's clear, however, that the Romney campaign has realized they've played this the wrong way, because they have happened upon a very good solution to their problem. Last night, the Drudge Report reported that the Romney camp had Condoleezza Rice atop their shortlist for possible vice-presidential picks.
This would be a smart move. If you have a bunch of political reporters riding your ass, the worst thing you can do is try to engage them. It's always much better to pull out your laser pointer, shine it in another direction, and tell the political media, "Look at the shiny light, guys! Betcha can't catch it!" Because they will definitely run over to the bouncing light and try to paw it.
Both Politico and The Hill are going all-in on Condi Rice coverage. Unbelievable.— Travis Waldron (@Travis_Waldron) July 13, 2012
And when it comes to riling up the cathouse, there's almost nothing better than vice-presidential speculation. It is always a very hot topic between the time a presidential nominee emerges from the primary pack and the eventual naming of the running mate, usually closer to the nominee's convention coronation. While the eventual running mate will be judged in terms of fitness for office and the benefits that he or she brings to the nominee's ticket, it is during the period before that decision is made when the presidential nominee can take the most advantage.
After all, the benefit a vice-presidential pick brings to the ticket is nothing compared to the potential benefit that many people who won't be the vice president could bring to the ticket.
Consequently, it's always good for the nominee to drag the process out. Christmas is always awesome until you open the box of socks.
And the media's obsession with the "Veepstakes" -- interesting that the suffix "-stakes" is even attached -- is pretty easy to understand. After all, it's a puzzle they can pretend to try to solve for weeks and weeks, and a puddle of high-proof speculation they can splash around in.
Additionally, there's nothing the pundit class loves to do more than play their game of round-table one-upmanship. They'll make the basic, safe predictions (Rob Portman, Tim Pawlenty), but they'll lean pretty heavily on their more "left-field" picks (like Condi Rice!) because they'll want to appear savvy and thoughtful, and because they're not going to lose any credibility for being wrong. (Speaking of which, Bill Kristol has responded to the Rice rumors by suggesting that Obama might "counter by selecting Hillary" Or ... not! That's how this game works.)
Now, there's very little chance that Rice actually becomes Romney's running mate. She has never indicated any desire to serve in that capacity. The American Conservative's Daniel Larison can explain the parade of negatives she would bring to Romney's ticket in richer detail than I can.
But suffice it to say that if the guy who wouldn't let Richard Grenell serve on Romney's team of advisors, director of issues analysis for the American Family Association Bryan Fischer, is saying "over our dead bodies" to the prospect of Rice on the ticket, then this is a non-starter.
But there's nevertheless tremendous benefit to floating the idea around. This gets the media yapping about Rice's plusses and minuses, and how Joe Biden would cope with her in a debate. It'll also maybe get them talking about how it alters the reckoning of African-American voters. These alone are topics the pundit class can dine out on through the weekend -- the Sunday morning chit-chat ratio between Romney's Bain problems and his vice presidential pick has now swung in a favorable direction, as far as Romney is concerned.
If there's any problem with Romney's game plan here, it's that he didn't think big enough. Rice is nice, but you know what would have set the media on fire? A rumor that Romney was vetting Sarah Palin.
At first blush that sounds quite stupid, given Palin's reputation among many of the more televised and chattering conservative talkers. No, Palin doesn't have a great reputation among Sunday morning conservatives. Yes, they would probably criticize Romney for floating the idea. But conservatives are already filleting Romney over his bungled response to Team Obama's "Re-Elect Bain" criticism. Given the choice, I'd rather have conservative pundits bitching about something I have no intention of actually doing -- picking Palin as V.P. -- then have them remind everyone about my actual vulnerabilities.
And the whole point of floating a juicy rumor isn't to actually fulfill it -- it's to manufacture a distraction. While the first stage of the "Palin as Veep" distraction would be "Romney must be crazy," the smart politician knows that if you just let the media breathe a little bit, they eventually come around to the "counter-intuitive take," in which they exhaust their intellectual ability trying to spin sense from something stupid.
So Romney missed the chance to rack up some extra points. Nevertheless, floating the Condi Rice rumor was a terrifically smart move on Romney's part because many in the political media are basically easily-to-manipulate twits with teensy cat-like brains and terrible control of their dumbest impulses.
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<strong>Who:</strong> Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> McDonnell <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/20/bob-mcdonnell-mitt-romney-endorsement_n_1218559.html" target="_hplink">endorsed Mitt Romney</a>, the only candidate besides Ron Paul to make it on his state's ballot, and Romney <a href="http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0711/59933.html#ixzz1TJCfqwQ4" target="_hplink">said last summer </a>that McDonnell would be on "any candidate's short-list" as a VP pick. Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.)<a href="http://goosecreek.patch.com/articles/veep-speculation-greets-mcdonnell-in-s-c" target="_hplink"> has already started referring </a>to McDonnell as "Mr. Vice President." <strong>His Response:</strong> McDonnell said on "Meet The Press" in March that he wasn't interested in the position. "I've got the job held by Jefferson and Henry," <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/maryland-politics/post/martin-omalley-touts-bob-mcdonnell-for-vice-president-kind-of/2012/03/11/gIQATP6I5R_blog.html" target="_hplink">he said</a>. "I love being governor of Virginia."
<strong>Who:</strong> New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Christie <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/04/chris-christie-president-2012_n_948401.html" target="_hplink">fielded numerous calls</a> to run in 2012, and is now attracting speculation as a possible VP pick by Mitt Romney, who called Christie, "one of the leading figures in the Republican party." <strong>His Response:</strong> Christie didn't do much to quell the rumors in December when he <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/23/chris-christie-vice-president-mitt-romney_n_1167557.html" target="_hplink">addressed them</a> by saying: <blockquote>I don't think you talk about that stuff. I think if you're the nominee you're afraid to talk about that stuff because you don't want to jinx yourself. I don't think [Romney] wants to be presumptuous enough to start talking to somebody about a vice president when he's not yet the nominee.</blockquote>
<strong>Who:</strong> Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Newt Gingrich <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/30/newt-gingrich-marco-rubio_n_1242912.html" target="_hplink">called Rubio</a> an "awfully good" choice, while Mitt Romney named him as an obvious choice for the short-list. As the Huffington Post's Carlos Harrison <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/02/marco-rubio-tea-party_n_1249480.html?ref=gingrich-2012" target="_hplink">reported</a>, "He's the posterboy for a demographic coveted by the GOP: a telegenic Tea Party favorite and a Latino. And despite being both young and a freshman among Washington, D.C., power brokers, he exerts outsized influence." <strong>His Response:</strong> Rubio himself <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2011/10/i-am-not-going-to-be-the-vp-nominee/" target="_hplink">seems less enthusiastic</a>: <blockquote>When asked at the Washington Ideas Forum at the Newseum in Washington DC, Rubio repeated twice for emphasis, "I am not going to be the Vice Presidential nominee. I am not going to be the Vice Presidential nominee." Asked during the forum if he would turn down an offer if the Republican presidential nominee asks him to, Rubio responded, "Yea, I believe so," adding again, "the answer is gonna be no."</blockquote>
<strong>Who:</strong> Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Ahead of the Nevada caucus, Sandoval <a href="http://2012.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/02/could-mitt-romney-pick-up-a-vp-in-nevada.php" target="_hplink">was speculated</a> to be a potential VP pick: <blockquote>Nevada's governor Brian Sandoval has been bandied about as a potential -- if longshot -- veep choice since his election in 2010. On paper, his resume looks solid. He's a young rising star in the party with strong approval ratings and, as a Hispanic Republican, could help a Republican nominee -- and especially Romney -- stop the bleeding with one of the party's weakest general election demographics. </blockquote> While no candidates have floated his name for VP yet, Mitt Romney <a href="http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2012/jan/26/mitt-romney-mentions-brian-sandoval-cabinet-possib/" target="_hplink">did mention him</a> as a possible Cabinet member. <strong>His Response:</strong> After endorsing Rick Perry last September, Sandoval <a href="http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2011/09/16/nevada-gov-brian-sandoval-wont-be-rick-perrys-vice-presidential-pick/" target="_hplink">denied that he was looking for a VP nod</a>. "I am absolutely committed to serving out my term," he said.
<strong>Who:</strong> South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Haley's endorsement of Mitt Romney <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/22/nikki-haley-romney_n_1221682.html" target="_hplink">didn't do him much good</a> in the state, but her name has still come up as a possible candidate for VP. <strong>Her Response:</strong> "I'd say, 'Thank you, but no,'" <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/News/south-carolina-gov-nikki-haley-shed-turn-vp/story?id=16050396#.T3nGGCvLx1Z" target="_hplink">Haley told ABC News</a>. "I made a promise to the people of this state. And I think that promise matters. And I intend to keep it."
<strong>Who:</strong> New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Martinez has attracted attention as the first female Hispanic governor, and Mitt Romney <a href="http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2012/01/23/new-mexico-gov-susana-martinez-says-no-thanks-to-mention-her-as-possible-romney/" target="_hplink">mentioned her</a> as a good possible running mate. <strong>Her Response:</strong> Martinez <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/205571-nm-governor-not-interested-in-vp-spot" target="_hplink">has said</a> she's flattered, but not interested: <blockquote>"She has no interest in serving as vice president and will not be a candidate for the position," Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell said in a statement according to the Santa Fe New Mexican on Friday. </blockquote>
<strong>Who:</strong> Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Barbour was considered a promising candidate for the 2012 nomination until he <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/25/haley-barbour-2012-presid_n_851969.html" target="_hplink">decided not to run</a> last summer. Mitt Romney has mentioned Barbour as a name <a href="http://www.examiner.com/charleston-democrat-in-charleston-sc/romney-names-possible-vp-candidates" target="_hplink">he'd consider</a> for vice president. <strong>His Response:</strong> Barbour wouldn't turn down the possibility of being VP, but he said he didn't anticipate being asked. "I don't think I'm a good running mate for anybody, but I do think Marco Rubio would be very attractive as would other people," <a href="http://foxnewsinsider.com/2011/11/07/mississippi-gov-haley-barbour-on-whether-he-would-consider-being-a-vp-pick-in-2012/" target="_hplink">he told FOX last November</a>.
<strong>Who:</strong> Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Daniels hasn't endorsed a candidate yet, but he's considered a potential pick for the VP slot. His book, "Keeping the Republic: Saving America by Trusting Americans," <a href="http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2011/09/19/mitch_daniels_stirs_vp_buzz_with_new_book_111382.html" target="_hplink">added to the hype</a>. <strong>His Response:</strong> Daniels was asked about the possibility <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/30/2012-gop-vice-presidential-candidate_n_988558.html" target="_hplink">last fall</a>: <blockquote>"There's no answer to this question," Daniels said when the vice president's job came up while he was promoting his book. He said he'd have to consult his family, which earlier vetoed the idea of him running for president.</blockquote>
<strong>Who:</strong> Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Brewer made headlines for a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/30/jan-brewer-pac-obama-fundraiser_n_1241794.html" target="_hplink">confrontation with President Barack Obama</a> at an airport in Phoenix. Does Brewer want another chance to take on the Obama administration? The <a href="http://www.azcentral.com/news/election/azelections/articles/2011/10/16/20111016brewer-vice-president-hopeful.html" target="_hplink">Arizona Republic</a> reports that her name has surfaced as a possible VP candidate. <strong>Her Response:</strong> None so far.
<strong>Who:</strong> Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Pawlenty was a short-lived presidential candidate, quitting in the summer after a third-place finish in the Iowa straw polls. He later endorsed Mitt Romney, who named him as a <a href="http://www.examiner.com/charleston-democrat-in-charleston-sc/romney-names-possible-vp-candidates" target="_hplink">possible VP candidate</a>. <strong>His Response:</strong> Pawlenty <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/24/tim-pawlenty-mitt-romney-vice-president_n_1299377.html" target="_hplink">said in an interview</a> that he'd taken himself "off the list" to be considered as Romney's VP.
<strong>Who:</strong> Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Portman is a supporter of Mitt Romney. In December, his home state's <em>Dayton Daily News</em><a href="http://www.daytondailynews.com/news/politics/portman-still-viable-as-vp-nominee-1301194.html" target="_hplink"> ran an article</a> touting his chances to become VP: <blockquote>His deep resume and absence of political negatives keep him in the discussion as a vice-presidential candidate. "I would be very surprised if the eventual nominee doesn't have Rob on the short list,'' said Tony Fratto, who served as White House press secretary to former President George W. Bush.</blockquote> <strong>His Response:</strong> Portman is noncommittal about being on anyone's presidential ticket. "I truly am not seeking that," he said in an interview with the Dayton Daily News' Washington Bureau.
<strong>Who:</strong> Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Jindal, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/12/bobby-jindal-rick-perry-endorsement-2012_n_959162.html" target="_hplink">who endorsed Rick Perry</a>, has seen his star fade <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/02/25/bobby-jindal-response-pan_n_169710.html" target="_hplink">since his widely panned State of the Union response</a> in 2009. But he is still viewed as a potential pick. Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) <a href="http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2011/11/gov-scott-bobby-jindal-would-be-a-great-vp.html" target="_hplink">praised him</a>, saying, "He's well-liked. He's a nice person to deal with. He clearly cares about people. He's willing to make tough choices," Scott said. "So I think he would make a great vice president." <strong>His Response:</strong> "I don't want a job from Governor Perry," Jindal <a href=" http://blog.chron.com/rickperry/2011/09/bobby-jindal-wont-be-rick-perrys-vp-but-says-hes-a-great-neighbor/" target="_hplink">said after endorsing the former candidate</a>. "I want Governor Perry to create millions of jobs for my fellow Americans."
<strong>Who:</strong> Sen. Jon Thune (R-S.D.) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Thune, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/22/john-thune-2012-not-running-for-president_n_826582.html" target="_hplink">once viewed</a> as a potential 2012 candidate himself, has <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/23/mitt-romney-john-thune-endorsement_n_1109456.html" target="_hplink">since endorsed Mitt Romney</a>. <strong>His Response:</strong> Thune has said he's not interested in the VP role, but<a href="http://www.kcautv.com/story/16449478/south-dakota-senator-john-thune-not-interested-in-vp-race" target="_hplink"> he wouldn't rule anything out</a>.
<strong>Who:</strong> Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Ayotte was an early supporter of Mitt Romney. He gave her an endorsement of his own, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/22/mitt-romney-kelly-ayotte_n_1108125.html" target="_hplink">naming her</a> as a possible pick for vice president. <strong>Her Response:</strong> Ayotte said she was "surprised" by Romney's comment, but that "certainly it was an honor to be mentioned." "I am very committed to representing New Hampshire," she <a href="http://www.unionleader.com/article/20111130/NEWS0605/711309959" target="_hplink">told the <em>New Hampshire Union Leader</em></a>. "It is such a privilege to serve New Hampshire in the U.S. Senate."
<strong>Who:</strong> Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Brownback endorsed Rick Perry for president, <a href="http://www.kansas.com/2011/09/23/2029027/brownback-endorses-perry-for-president.html" target="_hplink">prompting speculation</a> that he could be looking for a spot as vice president. Brownback also briefly ran for president in 2008. <strong>His Response:</strong> During the last election cycle, Brownback <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/03/13/brownback-would-be-honore_n_91341.html" target="_hplink">said he'd be "honored"</a> to serve as John McCain's vice president. He hasn't yet commented this time around.
<strong>Who:</strong> Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> West has been named as a strong contender by a number of his peers, including Herman Cain, <a href="http://livewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/entries/herman-cain-endorses-allen-west-for-vice-presdient" target="_hplink">who called him an "excellent choice"</a>, and Nikki Haley, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/05/nikki-haley-allen-west_n_1405401.html" target="_hplink">who said he would make a "good" pick</a>. <strong>His Response:</strong> "Yes, well, right now, you know, the focus is, of course, being a good congressional representative," <a href="http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2012/04/06/allen_west_i_would_say_yes_to_vp_slot_on_gop_ticket.html" target="_hplink">West told CNN's Kyra Phillips</a>. "But if someone were to make that call to me, which I really doubt is ever going to happen, you would have to make sure that it is something that god would ordain for you, and you'd have to talk to your wife, my wife and my two daughters about. But we have always stepped up to the plate to serve our country. And if it's the right fit, then I will do so."