On Sunday, Reuters reported that GOP-nominee designate Mitt Romney might announce his running mate selection “earlier in the summer.” Here are three names for Romney’s reviewers to consider: Dan Quayle, Sarah Palin, Dick Cheney.
Together they tell you a lot about what’s ahead and how the campaign should prepare.
Dan Quayle: Though all but forgotten now, and considered best forgotten by most who remember, Quayle was actually a very shrewd selection when George H.W. Bush tapped him at the start of convention week in 1988. In the Senate, he had shown himself a serious and astute senator. He had become one of the body’s acknowledged experts on arms issues relating to the Soviets, essential knowledge with the Evil Empire coming apart at the seams. Then, too, the Midwest was the crucial swing region of the country that year. Quayle was the one GOP Midwestern senator or governor acceptable to all segments of the Republican Party.
Yet within minutes of the announcement and Quayle’s arrival by riverboat in New Orleans, it became evident that the surprise of the forthcoming nomination was a shock to the young designee’s system. He acted as if someone had slipped him a handful of uppers. Then the press discovered the details of his draft history in the Vietnam years. Quayle stammered the incredible explanation that if he had known two decades earlier that he would one day be a vice presidential nominee, he wouldn’t have done what he did.
You get the idea. The man had in no way been emotionally prepared for a national campaign. His is the first lesson, then, for Team Romney: Give your person a week or two to digest the idea of the nomination. Let him or her get his mind and nerves around that fact. As experienced as the designee will surely be, running on a national ticket is different than anything else. Help the candidate get himself or herself ready for the rollout.
Sarah Palin: In many ways, the Alaska governor was a brilliant pick. Energizing to conservatives, she could have been equally so to independents. In Alaska, she had taken on the establishment of her own party, brought integrity to the governor’s chair, and negotiated good oil agreements with the major producers. But it is clear now that no one in the campaign was designated to plan a rollout for her. Red Meat Sarah was put on display at the convention, but that was it.
There should have been a series of speeches in the two weeks following Palin’s convention speech, say on 1) challenging political establishments to achieve reform (as she had done), 2) the needs of special needs children and their parents (with her Down’s Syndrome child, she would have been ideal to speak to such a matter), 3) the policy challenges of developing the nation’s energy resources (thanks to her Alaska experience, no elected official was more expert on this matter than she), and 4) something about the Arctic (an emerging national security area at the time) or Canada (with which she had official dealings as governor).
A series of interviews focused on each of these questions should have gone hand in hand with the speeches. Then, with the candidate having had time to adjust to her new life and her public identity more fully developed, she could have been booked for more challenging interviews, like the one with Katie Couric.
Dick Cheney: The former White House chief of staff and Secretary of Defense added maturity and national security experience to George W. Bush’s year 2000 ticket, but he did not bring a single state or party faction with him. Still, the nomination was not going to be an emotional jolt to him. He had spent a long time in the spotlight and on the firing line. And he was so well known to the Washington media that the Democrats didn’t have a prayer of redefining him, though they tried. As a result, despite the absence of a rollout, Dick Cheney had no problems stepping onto the national stage.
The lesson for Team Romney is that successfully selecting a vice presidential candidate only begins with making a good choice. Despite media pressure, the man or woman must be given time to adjust to the emotional rigors of a national ticket. And a plan must be developed and executed for highlighting those aspects of his or her experience by which the campaign will want him or her defined.
The Romney operation has been outstanding at calm, considered, deliberate action, even in moments of crisis. The rollout of the vice presidential nominee will provide an opportunity to put all those virtues on display.