By Ted Frank, GQ
GQ sent Jason Zengerle to Ted Frank, one of D.C.'s top vetters, to find out if he had what it takes to be the next Sarah Palin. (He didn't.) We also asked Frank to discuss vetting issues for the Republican politicians most widely speculated to be in the running for Mitt Romney's vice presidential slot. The short answer, of course, is: vet every candidate for everything. But Romney's team will need to anticipate the opposition research the Obama campaign is engaging in, and, to that extent, will want to look especially closely at the following issues for the following candidates. Here's Ted Frank's take:
Tim Pawlenty, former governor, Minnesota
The Risk Area: Attacks on Romney
The advantage of selecting a candidate who has already run for president is that he already have some experience with the scrutiny that comes with a national campaign. The disadvantage, in the YouTube age, is that a candidate such as Pawlenty has given dozens, perhaps hundreds, of recorded speeches where he might have spoken ill of Romney. This isn't fatal (recall the first George Bush complaining of Ronald Reagan's "voodoo economics"), but the campaign will need to be prepared for the inevitable viral videos. Romney already has the problem of threading the needle defending his Massachusetts healthcare plan while opposing to the federal Affordable Care Act; Pawlenty previously highlighted that contradiction. How will Pawlenty respond when pressed on his earlier comments? But the same things that make Pawlenty a good presidential candidate on paper -- a smart economically conservative blue-state governor with legitimate evangelical Christian credentials, an inspiring biography and a sharp-as-a-tack wife who'd appeal to women voters -- make him a good match for Romney's ticket. (Disclosure: I co-hosted a couple of Pawlenty fundraisers for his short-lived campaign, and donated enough money to pay for a handful of Ames straw-poll votes.)
Chris Christie, governor, New Jersey
The Risk Area: Prosecutorial Deal Making
(1) As a U.S. Attorney, Christie negotiated at least one deferred prosecution agreement where a corporate defendant gave money to Christie's alma mater, Seton Hall, and avoided criminal prosecution. To date, there has been little fuss over this, perhaps because the Obama Department of Justice likes the flexibility of being able to engage in similar slush-fund arrangements that fund favored special-interest constituencies outside of the spotlight of legislative appropriations. Will the rules change if Christie becomes a national political figure and opponents (and journalists) look for scandals to create? (2) Mitch Daniels got lambasted by social conservatives in 2011 for calling for a "truce" on social issues to focus on economic issues. But Christie, unlike Daniels, has actually proclaimed himself pro-choice. Will Christie's red-meat forthrightness be enough to assuage social conservatives that he can be on a ticket with Romney? Dick Cheney got a pass on gay rights but evangelicals were happy with Bush on the top of the ticket. Obama seems to have done Romney a big favor by picking two fights with the Christian right this year, which might permit Romney to lock down that vote without having to explicitly balance the ticket. (3) The obvious one is health issues: does the 300-pound-plus Christie have the physical stamina to run for vice-president? What do his doctors say?
John Thune, Senator, South Dakota
The Risk Area: Religious affiliations
Like most Bush-era Republican Congressmen, Thune is going to have several budget-busting votes on his record that might make it awkward to attack President Obama's spending record. I would expect the Obama campaign to use surrogates to attack Thune's membership in "The Family," and, while the bipartisan Christian organization is almost certainly innocuous, a Romney-Thune communications team will want to be prepared for questions and investigations on the subject: Thune's stated "Christian worldview" may be too aggressive and polarizing for independent voters. The selling point of Thune is that he can supposedly carry swing-state Iowa votes from his next-door South Dakota base; if the Romney team is making that political calculation, you would think a HBS-trained presidential candidate will want empirical proof of the proposition.
Rob Portman, Senator, Ohio
The Risk Area: Ties to Bush 43
Portman has never run in a heavily contested election, so will need closer vetting than one would expect given the length of his political career. As with Thune, vetters will need to be prepared to analyze potential attacks based on his Bush-era budget votes, especially because of Portman's role on critical committees and as head of OMB. Portman worked for D.C. lobbying firm Patton Boggs in his early career, and vetters will want to scrutinize his work there carefully. Romney has hinted that he wants a running mate with executive-branch experience: does the Bush administration Trade Representative count? Does Romney-Portman attract more swing-state Ohio votes than Romney-Pawlenty?
Marco Rubio, Senator, Florida
The Risk Area: Uproven policy chops
High risk, high reward. The rules changed after Sarah Palin, at least for Republicans. Palin got dragged through the cable TV news mud because she knew details about Paul Revere that the media didn't, but a Joe Biden still gets a pass for blundering about Lebanon in a nationally televised debate. National Republican politicians without an Ivy-League pedigree are presumed by the media to be of subpar intelligence, and are going to be held to an unfair double standard that pre-Palin politicians weren't subjected to. The Romney team is going to want to know how Rubio would respond to a Palin-level of scrutiny on policy minutiae. Washington Post reporter Manuel Roig-Franzia's unauthorized biography is a several-hundred page vetting report (and opposition research guide) in and of itself.
Bobby Jindal, Governor, Louisiana
The Risk Area: Faith-based extremism
He has surprising ties to Louisiana trial lawyers (butting heads
with Louisiana Republicans and the Chamber of Commerce in defending certain abusive lawsuits) and vetters will want to look at those connections very closely lest he be embarrassed by a Dickie Scruggs-type scandal. (Scruggs was imprisoned on bribery convictions after a famously successful career waging class-action lawsuits.) If Jindal runs for national office, Democrats will publicize his authorship of a New Oxford Review article about "spiritual warfare" and attending an exorcism, as well as his signing an anti-evolution bill as governor.
Ted Frank, a lawyer in Washington, D.C., was part of the team that vetted Sarah Palin for John McCain's presidential campaign in 2008.
How will Trump’s administration impact you? Learn more