There are more kinds of lies in politics than there are Inuit words for snow. And when Mitt Romney said the other day that he didn't have a short list for VP, he was telling a "Washington lie," a false statement meant to forestall further questions without actually deceiving anyone: "We really haven't had a discussion yet of putting together a list or evaluating various candidates," Romney said.
Despite his denial, Romney has a short list for VP that includes Gov. Mitch Daniels and Gov. Bobby Jindal. Romney also has a list of tall people.
Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, a Romney adviser, told NPR that Romney's list of possible vice presidential nominees is 20 names long, including Marco Rubio, Kelly Ayotte, and Rob Portman. I was shocked to discover recently that "Rob Portman" is not a generic placeholder name but was actually George W. Bush's U.S. Trade Representative when he traded our jobs for magic beans. Later Portman was Bush's Director of the Office of Management and Budget when that administration turned a surplus into record deficits. That experience could help a President Romney deal with the budget deficit much in the same way the Leonardo DiCaprio character in Catch Me If You Can helped the FBI catch check forgers and con men after he was arrested for similar crimes. Or it could just be a really bad idea.
One person no longer on the short list is New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. She checks a lot of boxes as a swing state Latina, but she crossed herself off when she criticized Romney's self-deportation strategy on illegal immigration, adding, "I have no doubt Hispanics have been alienated during this campaign." A simple "no thank you" would also have been acceptable.
But don't mention any names to Romney. Diane Sawyer dangled the Rubio carrot in front of him but failed to get Romney to bite. "Well, I think he's one of the terrific leaders in our party, but I think it's way too early to begin narrowing down who the potential vice presidential nominees might be," said Romney. "But we're beginning that process, we'll talk about a lot of folks, and then go through the kind of vetting and review process that you have to go through to make sure whoever you select will pass the evaluation that's required by the American people."
In other words: Not Sarah Palin, nor anyone like her. And definitely someone who knows Africa is not one country and that Queen Elizabeth is not the head of England's government.
Picking a vice presidential nominee is usually an exercise in overcompensation. Weak in the South, JFK picked LBJ. Weak on decency, Richard Nixon chose Gerald Ford. And when George W. Bush seemed like he needed parental supervision, he tagged Dick Cheney. It's not a perfect system.
Republicans would be safer if Mitt Romney overcompensated for his shortcomings by buying a sports car. Romney can't pick a well-loved candidate without highlighting that he's the least-liked nominee in a generation. Besides, choosing someone who is better liked than Mitt doesn't narrow down the list at all.
The last nominee who chose a VP to accentuate his own positives was Bill Clinton, who probably knows a little something about how a wingman can help you close the deal. Al Gore, Jr. amplified Clinton's virtues -- a young Southerner with a new take on Democratic ideals. Romney could pick a running mate who amplifies his own special brand of "You must pay the rent" capitalism, but Ken Lay is dead, Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase is under FBI investigation, and Montgomery Burns is a fictional character.
Ironically, the best advice on picking a travel buddy for the campaign trail comes from Mitt's dad, George Romney. When George ran for president in 1968 he released 12 years of his taxes, saying, "One year could be a fluke, perhaps done for show." This year, Mitt has only released one year of his taxes. In other words, Romney should choose someone after getting a heck of a lot more information from them than he has deigned to share with voters about himself.
There's a special someone out there for Mitt Romney who will look just perfect standing next to him atop the Republican ticket. In fact, there are dozens of Republicans out there qualified to be vice president. The real problem is that Mitt has too many weaknesses for any one running mate to overcome.