The departure of Mitt Romney today from the presidential race, followed shortly by the announcement that Mike Huckabee is staying in, has led to lots of speculation that Huckabee is running to be John McCain's vice president. Indeed, people have been saying that same thing since McCain won New Hampshire, and there is little doubt that the two men share tremendous regard for one another. McCain not long ago suggested that he considers Huckabee a friend. And given Huckabee's electoral success in the South, some have argued, a McCain-Huckabee ticket makes sense.
It doesn't. The last thing McCain needs to do at this point -- or in July, when these discussions are more appropriate -- is willingly acquire liberal baggage. And despite Huckabee's embrace of the Fair Tax, which has its virtues, he is a class-warfare liberal on economic policy. More troublesome, however, is his naivete on national security and foreign policy, well documented here and elsewhere.
The conventional wisdom on runningmates is that they don't matter. That may be less true on the Republican side this year than it has been in the past. Two reasons: McCain's age (he'll be 72 on Inauguration Day), and the expanded role of the vice presidency under Dick Cheney. We are not likely to see again soon a vice president with the kind of power Cheney has wielded under George W. Bush. But in certain respects his reshaping of the office is bound to have some lasting effects.
So McCain's choice could take on added significance. Former Pennsylvania Representative Pat Toomey, now head of the Club for Growth, has some suggestions for him in an article in today's Wall Street Journal. He recommends five conservatives: South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford; South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint; Indiana Representative Mike Pence; former Senator Phil Gramm; and Forbes CEO Steve Forbes. The final two are probably better suited to be Secretary of the Treasury. (And McCain floating Forbes for that slot early could help him in his efforts to convince McCain doubters that he takes seriously his pledge today to draw heavily on the advice of his "fellow conservatives.") Each of the other three -- Sanford, DeMint and Pence -- would bring conservative credentials and seriousness about policy that would surely help McCain among the Republican base. (See Toomey's case for them here.
There are two others who are almost certain to get a long look: Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and former Ohio Representative (and OMB Director and U.S. Trade Representative) Rob Portman. McCain and his staff have strong personal regard for Pawlenty and the governor endorsed McCain early. The two men were to have traveled to Munich, Germany, together this weekend for a national security conference, but McCain pulled out to remain on the campaign trail.
Portman left OMB last summer to return to Ohio, where he is said to be contemplating a run for governor against incumbent Ted Strickland in 2010. Portman is regarded as a strong conservative -- he was close to Vice President Dick Cheney after working with Cheney as his debate-prep opponent -- but has earned widespread praise as someone who can work with Democrats. He is a policy wonk, but someone who can communicate effectively, too.
This list will grow like kudzu.