Mitt Romney Reads Rob Portman's Amazon Reviews

I don't know about you, but when I have to make a large consumer decision — pretty much anything over $100 — I put way too much thought into it. This is partly the curse of the internet, where there is a near-infinite amount of information available about everything. So I read a million reviews, obsessing over every detail, trying in vain to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of every conceivable feature, eventually reaching a point where every option seems like the wrong one and I'm sure I'll be disappointed no matter what I choose. The last time I bought a smartphone it took me about six months.

I suspect that Mitt Romney is going through something similar right about now. Romney is a famously methodical thinker, and I picture him with a ten-page pro/con list for every possible vice-presidential candidate, going over and over them all until none of them looks like a winner. All his options have weaknesses, and none of them seems to have the ability to do anything but make Romney look bad for having chosen them. Marco Rubio? There he goes, in a bumbling and inevitably failed attempt to pander to Latinos by picking an inexperienced flavor-of-the-month. Rob Portman? Great, the guy who helped George W. Bush run up huge deficits as head of the Office of Management and Budget—way to show you've got innovative new economic ideas. Mike Huckabee? Yep, the predictable attempt to pander to the party's right wing that still doesn't like him.

In other words, Mitt seems kind of damned no matter whom he picks. That may be why Politico is reporting that the campaign is leaning toward one or another "incredibly boring white guy," in the words of an unnamed Republican official familiar with their process.

One of the things I find interesting about this is how different it seems from Barack Obama's choice of Joe Biden four years ago. Although I'm sure Biden was thoroughly vetted, it didn't seem like a decision born of much careful campaign calibration. Obama seemed to genuinely like Biden, and as a longtime senator he seemed like a reassuring presence of experience alongside a largely untested presidential candidate. But Biden didn't secure any particular constituency, nor did he raise the chances of winning a particular swing state. And if you look back over the Democratic VP choices in recent history, you see that while they all had their rationales, none of them was chosen with an eye toward securing a particular constituency, which might be what you'd expect, given that the Democrats are supposed to be a party full of interest groups and factions who demand tribute. Instead, the Democratic choices for the last few decades have been candidates about whom the average Democrat, or the average voter for that matter, would have said, "Yeah, OK, I guess he'd be fine."

It's the Republicans who have either swung for the fences, trying to shake up the race and do something dramatic, or used the VP pick to try to knit together a potentially fraying party. Dick Cheney is the exception, but Sarah Palin, Dan Quayle, and even Jack Kemp were supposed to be charismatic surprises who would inject energy and excitement into the campaign (I know it seems hard to believe, but at the time the Bush camp thought Quayle was going to be dynamite). The last time a Democratic candidate tried something similar was 1984, when Walter Mondale, facing a severely uphill battle, decided to make history by picking Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman on a major-party ticket.

If Romney were farther behind in the polls, he might try something similar. But I suspect that after he goes over all his pro/con lists for the thousandth time, he's going to stop and one name and say, "Well, I guess we'll go with him." The pick won't set anyone's heart aflutter, or suck up too much attention from the top of the ticket the way Palin did. And in the end, the race will turn out just the way it would have if someone else had been chosen.

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