The Case Against Rob Portman
Yesterday we made the case for why John McCain should pick former Ohio Rep. Rob Portman as his vice presidential running mate. Now the case against Portman.
A Bush Guy
Portman has spent his entire career in the orbit of the Bush family -- not exactly a sterling credential in this political environment.
Portman's ties to the Bush family go all the way back to then Vice President George H.W. Bush's 1988 campaign on which Portman worked before joining the White House general counsel's staff after Bush's victory.
His connections carried over to George W. Bush as Portman became chief liaison between the Bush campaign -- and eventually the Bush White House -- and Capitol Hill. Of Bush, he told the New York Times in 2003: ''He has a clear sense of what makes this country great. It makes it worthwhile being here to be with someone who has that passion.'' (You can be sure that Democrats will dredge that quote up over and over again in the fall if Portman winds up on the ticket.)
And then, of course, came Portman's stints as U.S Trade Representative and director of the Office of Management and Budget. In both posts, Portman was the face of the Bush Administration on two issues -- trade and the economy -- on which the American public has diverged sharply from the current president over the last several years.
In places like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, free trade agreements are largely viewed in a negative light, blamed for the destruction of the manufacturing sector. (Need evidence of how unpopular these trade agreements are? Witness Barack Obama's denunciation of NAFTA in the run up to the Ohio primary.)
And, with the economy now the dominant campaign issue and voters very unhappy about its direction, does McCain want to remind voters of Bush's approach to the nation's finances?
Barack Obama's campaign has already made clear that its main message against McCain in the general election is that McCain's election would be tantamount to a third Bush term. Putting Portman on the ticket hands Democrats a potent talking point in their attempts to link the duo.
The disparity in energy levels between the Democratic and Republican bases is apparent in a number of ways -- the numbers of dollars raised by each side and the number of votes cast in the respective primary fights being the two most obvious measures.
Much of that disparity has to do with the utter disdain (we'd say it another way but The Fix is, after all, a family-oriented blog) with which the Democratic left views President Bush. Combine that with the genuine excitement the liberal left feels toward Obama and the lack of passion the Republican base has shown for McCain and you quickly begin to see why the GOP is in such a tough position heading into the fall.
McCain has very few options to re-energize the party base left to him between now and November. The clearest opportunity for him to create a spark is his choice of a running mate -- a moment when the full glare of the media spotlight will shine on McCain.
If, in that coveted moment, McCain picks -- wait for it....drumroll please -- "Rob Portman" there is the real possibility that he will have blown his one chance at re-orienting the race.
Portman is many things -- as we outlined in the case for him yesterday -- but he is neither well known nationally nor the sort of person who is going to get the base (or anyone else other than DC-based folks) particularly excited about the Republican ticket.
Portman is a guy who has spent his entire professional life either as a lawyer, staffer or politician. He's not the sort of choice -- like Joe Lieberman in 2000, for example -- that would dominate national news for days on end -- the sort of choice many Republican strategists believe McCain needs at the moment.
Portman's biggest strength is that he has demonstrated an amazing aptitude to navigate the tricky corners of political Washington. That makes him a smart choice if McCain has the luxury of picking someone he believes can help him to govern effectively, as opposed to someone who can help get him get elected in November. Given the toxic political environment, McCain may not get to make that choice.
Nice as a Minus
It's hard to find someone in Washington willing to say a bad word about Portman. Sure, there's some professional jealousy about Portman's rapid rise in Congress and the Administration -- a show horse, not a work horse, his critics allege -- but those hits on him are few and far between.
Because, during his time in Congress, and even while he worked within the Bush Administration, Portman showed a willingness to work regularly with Democrats on a variety of issues. (Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin is an unabashed Portman admirer, for example.)
While a penchant for bipartisanship is commendable, it is not a common characteristic on the curriculum vitae of a vice presidential pick whose job largely is to serve as the official attack dog of the ticket.
There is real doubt in Republican circles whether Portman would be willing to transform from nice guy to hit man for the purposes of electing McCain. It's also worth noting that Portman has expressed interest in running for governor in 2010 and might not want to sacrifice his golden boy reputation in the Buckeye State if it appears as though McCain is likely to come up short this fall.
Agree? Disagree? What did we miss in making the case against Portman? Feel free to offer your thoughts in the comments section.
July 30, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
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