If you thought the Republican primary field was a bit of a joke, wait until you get a closer look at the front runners for the vice presidential slot: the names most mentioned include a failed VP candidate from another party, a "business leader" who was fired for poor performance, a closet case who just found the love of his life (a woman), a man half John McCain's age who doesn't believe in evolution, a governor who publicly complains about his sex life, and of course the dredges of the primary itself.
Carly Fiorina, former Chairman and CEO of Hewlett-Packard, was recently included among columnist Stu Rothenberg's top three choices for John McCain's running mate. And, in fact, she has been spending a lot of time running around the country with and for him, probably much to the despair of Meg Whitman, CEO of eBay, who picked the wrong horse in the primary, Mitt Romney. As opposed to Whitman, though, Fiorina woefully mismanaged the company she was running, underperforming every single one of her competitors. The day she was fired, HP's stock went up 7%. For all this, Fiorina was paid $220 million, making her even wealthier than McCain's heiress wife. This discrepancy between rewards and results is of course not unusual among large corporations, but that does not make it any more palatable to voters, especially in the middle of a recession. That she so prominently figures in his campaign is more evidence that McCain really wasn't kidding when he said that economic issues were not "something [he] understood."
Perhaps Fiorina's main asset as a potential VP is that she could make the McCain brand go from "stodgy, white man" to "leading edge, relevant," from "laggard" to "leader," as she described her own greatest achievement at HP. If white men are in fact irrelevant, though, would it not be easier to just vote for the candidate in the race who is not a white man?
Rothenberg is also a big, big fan of Connecticut for Lieberman Senator Joe Lieberman, the man the Democratic Party picked as its VP in 2000. There are few precedents of twice-failed vice-presidential candidates (which we assume Lieberman inevitably would be), but one of them is Democrat Thomas Hendricks in 1876 and 1884. A striking parallel with Lieberman is highlighted on the US Senate's own site: "no one doubted that [he] was available for the nomination (...) but his constant availability in every presidential election (...) had devalued his candidacy." Were he to become McCain's running mate, Lieberman would also have the distinction of running for federal office under three different party banners in eight years: now that would put every other politician's flip-flopping in perspective. In a recent preemptive, back-handed defense of Lieberman, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that the Connecticut Senator voted with Democrats on every issue except for the Iraq war. This should be problematic for McCain, but Lieberman is a "good friend"/stage whisperer, and that counts for a lot. Then again, if being a "good friend" of McCain's is the main qualification, why not pick someone fresh to the VP world, like Hillary Clinton?
Lieberman's desperate ambition pales in comparison to Florida Governor Charlie Crist's. This is not only because Crist is the political George Hamilton, burnt to a crisp year-round, but because after 30 years of "confirmed bachelorhood," Crist is getting married. To a woman. To Crist's credit, he was able to win a competitive race for the governorship and remain popular in office all while being a "bachelor" and favoring some significant forms of gay rights. But it may be that with Mississippi, say, in play in the presidential election, Crist is taking no chances, hoping that openly heterosexual wedding bells will make prejudiced voters forget his relationship with a man identified as his "long time partner" by the Broward Palm Beach News Times. That said, the pickings must be slim, and McCain desperate for Florida's electoral votes, for him to seriously consider the Governor so soon after Crist's Florida homeboy Rep. Mark Foley and Idaho Sen. Larry Craig were ran out of DC by a lethal combination of media attention and homophobic right-wing furor.
Tim Pawlenty, Governor of Minnesota, essentially has the opposite problem. An unremarkable man who squeaked to reelection in 2006, he has been married (to a woman) for over 20 years. His wife loves fishing, football and hockey (not that there is anything wrong with that), but apparently doesn't love sex. At least not with her husband, which he recently shared with us on a Minnesota radio station. Perhaps he was joking (this is the kind of joke men make when they REALLY need some), but wouldn't it be challenging for voters to avoid picturing the vice presidential candidate as chronically afflicted with vasocongestion? Or as having non-marital, illicit, un-American or heathen paths to release his frustration? All in all, probably not the right look for a man a heartbeat away from the presidency.
We only wish there was some hint of sexuality to Bobby Jindal, the 37 year-old squeaky clean Louisiana governor, who, in a breathtaking gesture of hypocrisy, was propelled to victory in a state normally little known for rewarding respectability. We also wish there was some hint of rationality in the former McKinsey consultant's approach to evolution, which he deems to lack basis in science, favoring giving schoolchildren a "choice" and "letting them decide for themselves" which of the "theories" most appeal to them. This remarkable open-mindedness, however, does not apply to sex education in Louisiana's public schools: Jindal believes it is best "handled at home." Such religious tolerance is sure to play well with moderate swing voters and those libertarian-minded Western states in which McCain is struggling, from Montana to Alaska to Oregon. It also finally puts Brown University, who awarded Jindal's degree in biology, on an equal footing with Harvard, where George W. Bush "earned" his MBA.
Of the GOP primary leftovers, two are thankfully little mentioned nowadays: Fred Thompson, older in appearance and lazier than McCain, and Rudy Giuliani, whose one-note incompetence and corruption took him from front runner to big joke in about a month. That leaves the first and second runners-up: Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney. Huckabee kind of doesn't seem interested in the job, perhaps because he is more focused on those highly profitable tax and drug money haven junkets, or perhaps because he is playing it really cagey. At the other end of the spectrum is Romney, practically panting at the prospect. This is a little sad because the same problems that undermined him in the primary are sure to resurface. While it is his Mormonism that is consistently considered to be the biggest barrier to national success for Romney, there are many other challenges.
As he was in the primary, Romney is still assumed to be "presidential" and "telegenic" (media code for the unmentionable "handsome"), considered a leading quality for a vice presidential candidate. This, though, has far more to do with the middle-aged white male heterosexual press corps' fantasy of what they themselves would like to be and to look like were they president: rich, tall, born to privilege and "square jawed." In reality, Romney has the sex appeal of a napkin holder (acknowledging that beauty is subjective) combined with the blow-dried, wild-eyed seething intensity of a 1980s televangelist (or perhaps Jim Jones.) He wasn't "telegenic" enough in the GOP primary, and he sure won't be "telegenic" enough in a general election. McCain is also said (probably by Romney boosters) to be salivating at the prospect of the former Massachusetts Governor's fund-raising skills. These are certainly a step above McCain's, but here too he fell far short in the primary, in which nearly half of the Romney campaign's funding came from the candidate's personal fortune. In any event, it is all moot, as McCain has chosen to go the public financing road, showing remarkable self-awareness about his ability to raise money beyond what his wife can provide.
Of course, there are other potential candidates, some of whom may not be as flawed as the front-runners. The irony for the GOP this year is that it finds itself in the position of having to really think about diversity, normally something that haunts Democrats. Placating Christian conservatives, attracting unaffiliated voters, and not looking like the "stodgy, white man" ticket is a tall order for a party whose most recent choice was Dick Cheney.