A Memo To The McCain Campaign, Re: Tom Ridge

To: John McCain, Rick Davis, Art. Culvahouse
Cc: M. Salter, S. Schmidt, N. Wallace, C. Black
Bcc: Mike Murphy; Lindsey Graham;
From: The Atlantic
Subject: Choosing Gov. Ridge: Pros and Cons

Unsolicited advice, I know, but some of you and some of your key supporters are really enthusiastic about asking Gov. Tom Ridge to join the ticket.

Before you even begin to consider the benefits, you will ask yourselves whether Gov. Ridge meets the pre-selection criteria. First, does Sen. McCain trust him and like him? The answer is: yes. Second, does Gov. Ridge meet the instantaneous plausibility test for commander in chief; in other words, will votes pause when they hear his name, or will say, yeah, he could do the job? The answer is: yes.

So here’s a closer look at the benefits and the drawbacks from the perspective of someone who has no horse in this race.

The Benefits

1. Pennsylvania. For once, conventional wisdom is right. In Pennsylvania, where perhaps a few thousand votes could mean the difference between 0 and 25 electoral votes, Ridge’s brand is well-regarded among the voters, especially women voters, that Sen. McCain absolutely needs to keep from turning overwhelmingly to Sen. Barack Obama. Think about dispatching Ridge to the Philadelphia suburbs where he’d go toe-to-toe with Gov. Ed Rendell. I know you are worried about the Philly suburbs, and you know that Ridge will help you there more than just about any candidate.

2. The anti-Cheney. Vice presidential nominees will inevitably be compared to Vice President Cheney. Gov. Ridge has an entirely different demeanor; where Cheney is diffident, Ridge is warm; where Cheney has little respect for the press, Ridge enjoyed a solid relationship with them in Pennsylvania; where Cheney nurses a fetish for secrecy, Ridge is more habituated to the (relative) transparency one associates with state government.

3. He is 63 -- middle-aged, not old. Frankly, his age is at the upper end of the viability curve. His age will not draw attention to McCain’s, a problem that occurs if you choose either someone very young (Tim Pawlenty) or someone right around your age.

4. He will not make mistakes; he will stay on message; he will be loyal; he will not upstage Sen. McCain.

5. His mien compliments McCain's in that he has less of a temper and is more calm, but, again, not overly complementary in the sense that his temperament starkly reminds folks that you have a reputation.

6. You trust him and will not have to think about not trusting him; he does not harbor presidential ambitions.

7. He passed an FBI background check (a single-scope background investigation, to be precise) when he was appointed Homeland Security secretary.

8. Given his experience with the unwieldy bureaucratic experiment that is the Department of Homeland Security, Ridge knows what works and what doesn’t, and he can help drive a needed consolidation and reform of many of its elements.

9. His experience is diverse: twelve years as a member of the House representing Erie, six years as governor; an infantry sergeant in Vietnam; a chest full of medals; a Harvard graduate; a lawyer.

10. You disagree on very few issues: Ridge opposes gay marriage, favors the death penalty, has a solid conservative record on the economy; he favors restrictions on abortion (although he considers himself pro-choice).

11. His association with the Bush administration (see drawbacks) may help him win over conservatives who, when we was rumored to be on President Bush’s shortlist for defense secretary, questioned whether he was a hawk. But you really don't have to worry about those folks. They're solidly in your corner already.

The Drawbacks

1. Let’s dispense with the pregnant elephant right now: the problem is not so much the fact of Ridge’s abortion rights stance as it is the political press corps’ refraction of that issue stance to an immutable attribute. In other words, it will be a huge distraction. The media will obsess about Ridge’s abortion stance. They will ask you dozens of questions about it per week. They will use the stance to reduce Ridge to an archetype he does not inhabit: a moderate Republican. The media crucible will cause a stress fracture between McCain and some pro-lifers because it will force pro-lifers to view Ridge through a single, polarizing lens. Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign made it clear that many social conservatives were not single-issue pro-life voters in presidential races. The benefit to this drawback, is, of course, the opposite effect that the coverage will have on Republican women and Republican-leaning pro-choice independents.

2. Ridge’s association with the Bush administration and his tenure as the head of a bureaucracy that is widely judged to be a miserable failure. Before Ridge joins the ticket, he’s going to have to explain, precisely, what he role he played in ginning up those suspiciously-timed security alerts in 2003 and 2004; he’s going to have to account for the Department of Homeland Security; he’s going to have find some way to distance himself from the President without compromising his personal integrity.

3. Ridge’s post-administration business, Ridge Global, is merely a “security advisory” service, but he has many clients, will need to disclose them, and will need to find a way to distinguish between his work his and the work that lobbyists do. There are potential optic conflicts because Ridge did business with several companies that also obtained DHS contracts while he was in office. He has counseled foreign governments, too. Also: several Ridge deputies went to work as lobbyists immediately after leaving government.