Sen. John McCain joked on CBS "This Morning" Wednesday that Sarah Palin might make a good vice presidential running mate for Mitt Romney. On Tuesday, Sarah Palin suggested that Romney ought to "go rogue" and pick Florida Rep. Allen West for his veep.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is still the heavy favorite to be the Republican vice presidential nominee - at least, according to the online betting site Intrade. Rubio’s odds are currently hovering at around 27 percent, far ahead of all other names being bandied about, such as New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (10 percent), Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (9 percent) and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan (6 percent).
But while Rubio may still be the conventional wisdom candidate of choice, we think Ryan, the House Budget Chairman, may actually have surpassed him as the real favorite among GOP insiders right now.
More than any other, Ryan seems to embody the right combination of seriousness, impeccable conservative credentials, and a useful regional affiliation. He is safer than Rubio or Martinez but not as boring as Portman or Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell; he would complement Romney (and this is, of course, assuming Romney is the eventual nominee) without overshadowing him. Perhaps most important, Ryan would bring an authenticity and a kind of political courage to the ticket - embodied in his willingness to make tough choices when it comes to entitlement reform - that Romney has seemed to lack.
One piece of evidence that Ryan’s vice presidential stock is indeed rising: President Obama is attacking him. In remarks at an Associated Press luncheon Tuesday, excerpts of which were released in advance by the White House, Obama ripped into Ryan’s budget plan as “thinly-veiled Social Darwinism.” Obama surrogates have begun referring to the “Romney-Ryan budget,” while the DNC released an online attack ad putting the two men in a Valentine’s heart to a spoof of the tune “That’s Amore.” (For what it’s worth, the ad uses Ryan’s comments from his appearance at a recent Monitor breakfast, in which he praised Romney’s entitlement speech as “very good.” )
A factor behind this growing wind at Ryan’s back may have been the much-discussed HBO film “Game Change,” which clearly spelled out the dangers of putting a thinly vetted candidate on the ticket in a bid for starpower. There has been much chatter in the wake of the film’s premiere about how the Palin pick in 2008 made it all but impossible for Romney to go with any candidate not widely seen as qualified to be president (read: with serious policy chops). This growing consensus was summed up in a Boston Globe op-ed by former New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu - whose father has been a vocal Romney surrogate - warning Romney about the perils of putting “a brand new face” on the ticket instead of a “serious, experienced” candidate.
It’s true that Romney needs to improve his performance among Hispanic voters and women. But it’s not a given that putting a Hispanic or a woman on the ticket would automatically help with either of those problems. And it would run the risk of looking more like a political calculation - a Palin-like choice - than a principled decision about who would be best positioned to serve.
Tuesday's Wisconsin primary also served put Ryan front and center in the campaign landscape, as he joined Romney on the trail after endorsing him late last week. And his popularity among the GOP base has been on full display: During a weekend appearance at a Faith and Freedom Coalition convention, CBS News reported that the crowd’s “heartiest applause” did not go to any of the presidential candidates (Romney, Rick Santorum, or Newt Gingrich) but to Ryan. Perhaps most important, the two men look comfortable with one another. The footage of them campaigning has been largely flattering to both - including the April Fool’s Day prank that Ryan and some Romney staffers played on the former Massachusetts governor, bringing him to a purported campaign stop that was in fact an empty room.
Unlike Rubio, who still insists he has no interest in being vice president (and who followed his endorsement of Romney by telling The Daily Caller, “there are a lot of other people out there that some of us wish had run for president — but they didn’t”), Ryan has indicated an interest in joining the ticket and has been a strong advocate for Romney on the stump. Although Romney was already favored to win in Wisconsin, Ryan’s endorsement may well have carried him to an even more resounding victory. And if Ryan winds up on the ticket, it could potentially put Wisconsin in play in the fall.