Why Veeps Matter

Even though he starts out agreeing with the David Brooks column I was just arguing with, Josh Patashnik comes around to an point I can get behind:

... it also surprises me how little regard some people have for the vice presidency. I've heard people argue against Webb, Chris Dodd, and Evan Bayh on the grounds that their selection would jeopardize a safe Democratic Senate seat. This isn't a totally irrelevant consideration, but it should still be way down there on the priority list. There are a hundred senators, and seats change hands relatively frequently.

By contrast, a vice-presidential nominee is somebody who (in addition, of course, to being potentially a heartbeat away from the presidency) will instantly become one of the four or five most recognizable figures in the party, and will likely be a frontrunner for the presidential nomination at some point in the future. It's somebody who, with any luck, will be popular enough to campaign with and raise money for candidates across the country for years to come. And yet the conversation hardly focuses on this at all. One of the most important things a party does is cultivate talent for the future, and selecting a vice presidential nominee is absolutely critical in that regard. It's like deciding what to do with the top pick in the NFL Draft. Are you going to wind up with a Peyton Manning, or a Tim Couch? I can give you three reasons why the GOP presidential field was so weak this year: Dick Cheney, Jack Kemp, Dan Quayle.

Granted, there are other factors to consider ... But far and away the most important question is: Is this somebody you want closely identified with your party brand for the next two decades? Anyone trying to make the case for selecting a particular running mate should be prepared to explain why the party will benefit if that person becomes, overnight, one of its biggest names.

As far as the GOP's (rather thin) roster of rising stars goes, I think this argument would militate against picking Bobby Jindal and in favor of picking Sarah Palin. Jindal already has a national profile (and a movement-conservative cheering section), and having him as the whiz-kid Republican Governor of post-Katrina Louisiana is arguably better - both for the party and for him - than having him as the (very) junior partner in a weak Republican administration that's facing off against an ascendant Democratic Party. Palin, on the other hand, has no such national profile, and absent unforeseen developments is unlikely to obtain one so long as she's occupying a governor's mansion that's just south of Yellowknife. Like Jindal, she's a great political story, but it's hard to see how that story gets told unless the Palin brand gets taken national somehow - and it might be worthing risking subjecting her to the "losing veep's curse" to give her a place on the national stage.

That said, it's be hard to blame her if she wanted to put her family first for the next few years or so.