Newt Gingrich, now riding a polling surge, has speculated about choosing his old friend Herman Cain to join him on the ticket
It's mid-2012. Newt Gingrich has won the Republican primary. (Thought experiment -- play along.) Who does he choose as his running mate?
The former House speaker has said -- only partly in jest -- that he might like to share the ticket with fellow candidate Herman Cain.
Gingrich and Cain participated in a two-man "debate" that was more like a lovefest in Texas earlier this month, and before it began, they struck the classic running-mate pose: adjacent arms around each other's waists, outside arms waving, like a two-headed presidential monster.
"I want you all to know, we both think you just saw the ticket, but we disagree about which of us has which job," Gingrich said.
Cain added, "So let's hold our hands up one more time like this. We're just sayin'!"
The Nov. 5 debate came at a time when the sexual-harassment scandal around Cain was reaching its zenith -- he would hold his defiant press conference aiming to put the matter to rest a few days later. Nonetheless, Cain's place atop the polls hadn't yet eroded, nor had Gingrich's rise been well established; at the time, the idea that Gingrich could be the one of the pair to finish on top was a humorous one. At the end of the Texas forum, Cain brought the house down by asking innocently, "Mr. Speaker, if you were the vice president of the United States, what would you want the president to assign you to do first?"
A couple of weeks later, the idea of a Gingrich-Cain ticket came up again in an interview with the conservative publication Newsmax. Asked if such an arrangement would meet his approval, Gingrich said, "I think it's a real possibility" --though he added that he'd want to consider a number of potential candidates, such as perpetual GOP dream candidate Marco Rubio, the Florida senator.
Of course, Gingrich has made a habit of flattering all his primary opponents. In a September debate when each member of the field was asked which competitor he or she would share the ticket with, his answer was: "I'm going to disappoint those who want this to be a Hollywood game. These are all good friends of mine. I couldn't imagine hurting any of their feelings by choosing one tonight."
Cain, for his part, gave that argument a twist. "This is a game, and it is hypothetical. I'll play the game," he said. Mitt Romney "has a shot" if he would replace his economic plan with Cain's "9-9-9" proposal, but if not, "I would probably go with Speaker Gingrich," Cain said. (Gingrich, who at the time didn't seem like a threat to his fellow candidates, was a popular choice: Rick Santorum also picked him, while Rick Perry expressed a frightening desire to "take Herman Cain and mate him up with Newt Gingrich.")
But Gingrich and Cain seem to share a particular bond. Before their joint appearance in Texas, the two went on CBS's "Face the Nation" together in early October.
Both Gingrich and Cain hail from Georgia, though neither was born there and Gingrich has lived in the D.C. area for years. (The commonly heard idea that presidential and vice-presidential nominees must be from different states turns out to be a myth, so this would be no obstacle.) And they have known each other for more than a decade. When Gingrich was speaker and Cain was a businessman beginning to make waves in conservative circles, Gingrich reportedly brought Cain to Washington to meet House Republicans.
Molly Ball is Time magazine’s national political correspondent and a former staff writer at The Atlantic.