Forget Nikki Haley, Paul Ryan, and Marco Rubio. The Ohio senator has the right style and background to be Romney's running mate.
Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee, Wisconsin sealed the deal, and he will pick Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio as his running mate.
Write it down. And harangue me mercilessly this summer if I am wrong.
Column writing, I have learned, is part provocation and part explanation.
There is nothing provocative about declaring that Portman will be Romney's running mate, except that it hasn't happened and I don't know it an as absolute fact.
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But everything tells me it will be so.
I'm not suggesting Portman, nor am I advocating for him. I don't know if he will be a good pick or a bad pick. What Romney and Portman make of the ticket is between them and the voters.
Here's why I think it will happen:
- Romney likes and respects Portman. They have genuine rapport. This does not come easily to Romney and it matters a great deal. Romney must trust his running mate and feel as if that "portfolio" is in safe and reliable hands. Everything I've learned about Romney's temperament tells me he won't risk his own sense of balance and confidence -- his sense of team dynamics -- by choosing a flashy or demographically appropriate running mate he doesn't trust and believe in.
- Portman wants the job. He proved it by enthusiastically endorsing Romney and throwing his Ohio organization fully behind him before the crucial March 6 primary. Romney won by 10,288 votes. Some Ohio Republicans believe Portman propelled Romney to victory. This much is certain: He did not fail his political audition. Portman backed Romney, went to work and produced tangible, possibly difference-making results. Ask yourself: Where would the race be now had Rick Santorum won Ohio? Portman doesn't guarantee Romney Ohio's 18 electoral votes. But nobody else can guarantee their state, either. Portman performed expertly in the GOP's 2010 wave election, winning with 57 percent and carrying 82 of 88 counties and 15 of 18 House districts. Lee Fisher, the lieutenant governor who beat Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner in that year's Democratic primary, did not start the race the pushover Portman made him appear.
- Portman is vetted, more so than any other potential pick. He's been confirmed not once but twice to cabinet posts -- U.S. trade representative in 2005 and Office of Management and Budget director in 2006. The files are ready and, by Washington standards, spotless. Romney knows his pick must get off to a good start and any "surprises" after the rollout will deprive his campaign of precious time, energy, and momentum. Portman is a known commodity among Washington reporters and is regarded as both knowledgeable and accessible (and as a dispenser of well-timed leaks). In the frenzied environment that will accompany the prelude to Romney's pick, the Portman choice may land with a thud on the charisma meter, but it won't set in motion a wave of "guess what" stories and will allow Romney to focus on the campaign, not thorny revelations that must be ritualistically turned into an us-against-them media meme. In fact, Portman might actually talk Boston out of its hypertensive and allergic reactions to reporters.
- Portman is ready for the job and, more importantly, primed for the obligations that will fall upon Romney if he's elected. In the transition, Romney will need skilled and quicksilver advice and guidance on the magilla lame-duck session that's coming. In those precious few weeks in November and December the nation will have to decide the fate of the following: the expiring Bush tax cuts, the expiring payroll-tax cut, unfinished spending bills, the expiring Medicare "doc fix" that shielded physicians from a 27 percent premium cut, extended unemployment benefits, the scheduled $1.2 trillion across-the-board discretionary spending cut (sequester), the farm bill, and quite probably, a transportation bill. Oh, and one other thing. A $3 trillion debt-ceiling increase will come up then or right after Inauguration Day. A lame-duck Congress with a president-elect may decide to punt these tough issues to the new administration. If so, no governor or minty-fresh Tea Party senator will suffice. Portman knows the West Wing like few others (he also served in the White House Counsel's Office and the Office of Legislative Affairs under President Bush the elder). He knows the House and Senate and served on the super committee. He knows what the numbers are, what they mean, and how the politics of budget, taxation, and trade work. Romney will have to govern and govern quick. The headaches will be immediate and the choices difficult. If governing matters, Portman prevails.
- Portman is to Romney what Al Gore was to Bill Clinton. He amplifies the central message and the skills set the "alternative" ticket brings. The choice is about President Obama and another term. It's a firing choice more than a hiring choice. In this context, the alternative needs to be acceptable, not exciting. Portman is not Romney in miniature and Romney isn't Portman in miniature. But they are both boardroom-ready and politically inclined. They are cool, analytical, data-driven and conversant in the central issue of the day -- the economy. This is not '92 and Romney won't have a force carving up the Democratic base like Ross Perot did to Bush the elder. Romney's not charismatic and never will be. Portman reinforces all that Romney offers or hopes to offer the country. And won't suffer charisma comparisons to Portman. Don't kid yourself that this doesn't matter to Romney.
I've interviewed roughly 30 Republicans and Democrats about a Romney-Portman ticket and the downsides and none of the above points are contested. They aren't even seriously debated.
There are real downsides and risks to a Portman pick expressed by Republicans and Democrats alike, but given different weight and emphasis: Portman's a bore, and their ticket would be boredom squared, or squares squared; he offers nothing to women voters or Latino voters; he carries the taint of Bush-Cheney policies; and he's not conservative enough for the Tea Party. To one degree or another, these are all valid complaints. But Romney has the same perceived "flaws" and he's going to win the nomination. Portman can't fix Romney's flaws. Neither can anyone else. That means all other things being equal, Romney will look for someone he knows and trusts; who has delivered for him; who can put a vital swing state in play; who can immediately help him tackle the hardest issues if he's elected; and whose selection tells the country Romney's first big decision as a nominee wasn't a gasket-blowing gamble or one festooned with the garish and outmoded trappings of regional or ideological balance.
I could be wrong.
But I doubt it.