Friday, March 9, 2012

On Rubio and the Vice Presidency

From: National Journal

Are we suffering from Marco Rubio Derangement Syndrome?

Our monthly Vice Presidential Power Rankings, which we updated yesterday, ruffled some feathers among the Florida press corps. Adam Smith and Marc Caputo each thought our decision to drop Sen. Marco Rubio a spot -- he's ranked second this month, first last month -- was driven by an inaccurate assessment of the amount of scrutiny Rubio got when he won his Senate seat in 2010.

Both Smith and Caputo are guys who know more about Florida politics than almost anyone (We'd add Beth Reinhard, National Journal's politics correspondent and the co-author of this week's magazine cover story, to that list). And they have a point: The Florida political press is more active and provides harsher scrutiny than the political press corps in most states, and Rubio felt the glare during his last race.

But there is a real and genuine fear among many senior Republicans -- the kinds of people who will be consulted about an eventual vice presidential pick -- of repeating mistakes of the past. Virtually every Republican we talk with about the vice presidential pick brings up Sarah Palin and her jarring transition from small-state governor to national political figure. Republicans took a lesson away from the 2008 presidential contest: It's impossible to prepare someone for the national spotlight in just a few months, let alone a few weeks (Rick Perry helped hammer home that lesson).
Caputo makes our point for us, in a more articulate manner: His Miami Herald wrote stories on Rubio's "using a secret budget maneuver to help a friend bid on a lucrative Florida Turnpike contract; failing to disclose a generous home loan tied to supporters; campaigning against budget earmarks while earmarking $250 million in the Florida Legislature; striking up pricey consulting contracts with hospitals he helped steer money toward; big spending on a Republican Party of Florida credit card that drew the interest of federal investigators; railing against debt while borrowing heavily in his private life; or allowing his Tallahassee home to go into foreclosure during a bank dispute."

That reporting showed up in plenty of Florida papers. But to the 280 million or so Americans who don't live in Florida, that's new information.

New information and deep dives on someone's legislative history aren't selling points that a presidential nominee looks for in a running mate. The first rule for a vice presidential running mate is the same as the rule Hippocrates ascribed to doctors: First, do no harm.

Compare Rubio's political resume to the other top-ranked contenders: Virginia is close enough to the Beltway that anything Gov. Bob McDonnell does will get some national attention (See his recent foray into ultrasound legislation, for example). New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's term in office has been marked more by the fights he picks with unions and Democrats than by major legislative achievements; before he was governor, his only public record is as a prosecutor, a job that sure doesn't come with a voting record. Sen. Rob Portman has about three decades of experience dealing with the Washington press corps, first as a top Republican congressman, then as director of the Office of Management and Budget, and now in the Senate. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has a long record in public office, and he's done a turn in the national spotlight (Who can forget his less-than-stellar response to President Obama's first address to Congress?). And Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has lept onto the national stage with his budget proposal, which Republicans rallied around while Democrats hammered away.

If any of those five candidates become Mitt Romney's vice presidential nominee, the first profile pieces will be pre-written. If Rubio becomes the nominee, the national media will dig breathlessly through his voting record (and through Caputo's and Smith's reporting) and spin every nugget about his time in Tallahassee as something new, and potentially scandalous (Who could resist dredging up $250 billion in earmarks and a home in foreclosure?).

Marco Rubio is not like Sarah Palin in that his team began managing his national image long ago; they keep tight control on his image and limit his exposure to the media, and while they might deny his interest in the national scene (they do), they have positioned him well should Romney decide to pick him, or if he decides to run on his own four years down the road.

But Rubio is like Palin in that he would set off a brushfire of new scrutiny from those who haven't had an excuse to write about him yet. He's young, he's new, and, like Palin, he would be a first -- the first Hispanic American to serve as a major party nominee. Like Palin, Rubio would threaten to overshadow the man who's supposed to be his boss.

There's no denying Palin's experience is a painful cautionary tale to the elders in the Republican Party. And they are conscious that choosing Rubio -- or some other fresh face on the national scene -- would risk the same scrutiny Palin got. Rubio would likely handle that scrutiny better than Palin did (We're pretty sure he could rattle off a few newspapers he reads), but that doesn't make the underlying nervousness go away.

Based on that feeling, which bears out in our reporting, we dropped Rubio all the way down to the number 2 spot.

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