A lot of speculation has taken place among the media's talking heads as to who John McCain will pick as his running mate. As is the norm when mainstream pundits discuss Republican politics, their suggestions are not in the party's best interest.
Beyond that, they're also lazy. The media looks at who is in the race, who was in the race and a few other national leaders of prominence and keeps speculation to within those small groups. That's the equivalent of a corporation picking its company president out of a hat. Vice Presidents are chosen based on geographic or national appeal. Not because someone also ran, wasn't popular and lost (or is popular, but only among the same demographic that backs the top of the ticket), but at least has a familiar face and will save the media interns some time from having to research his already known background.
To understand who would best appeal to swing or to wavering Republican voters, the talking heads would first have to understand the conservative-leaning mindset, or at least the mindset of those who don't subscribe to the media's 45 year deamonization of conservatives. But to do so would challenge their own beliefs, beliefs formed without so much as researching the other side. It would also take time, thought and energy, three traits that today's media has little use for.
So here are some true picks that make sense for Sen. McCain to consider and that are in his best interest. For those reasons you probably won't hear much about them in the media:
Michael Steele - The former Lt. Gov. of Maryland is one of the most articulate and thought provoking politicians in the nation. He's energetic and would add vigor and appeal to the ticket. He connects well with audiences and with the public in general. With him on board the GOP ticket may also end up being the historic one this year, as Steele's a proud African-American Republican, but that's a side benefit.
Steve Forbes - How about fighting an election on the economy with Steve Forbes at your side? Need I say more? The down side is that he doesn't bring excitement to the ticket. But if the main issue is the economy....... well, let's just say we'll have our man.
Tom Ridge - This former Governor of Pennsylvania and Director of Homeland Security left the Bush Administration long ago enough to be considered a relatively fresh face. The drawback is that he's not exciting and is still connected with the old administration. But he helps put Pennsylvania into play. And this year, that factor may be most necessary.
Lynn Swann - Swann is energetic, exciting and intelligent. He's another great candidate. As an African-American, he'd inspire and make history, just as would Steele. Had Swann done the impossible and won the Pennsylvanian Governorship during the tidal wave of 2006, I'm sure he'd be on the top of any short list. Still, he does help in Pennsylvania and nationwide. Furthermore, while Steele will help in Maryland, it's so doubtful that he could actually carry the state and is only being recommended for his nationwide appeal (something he'd enjoy more than Swann, with Steele having held elective office). But on a regional battleground level, what Swann can provide in Pennsylvania may be more than enough to help carry the state.
Jim Webb - This would be the ultimate coup d'etat pick. Webb is on the Democrats’ short list for VP Nominee should the "dream ticket" to nowhere not come about. It may not be doable for McCain, but should Webb, the Reagan Democrat, come around on national security and recognize that his new party's positions are more fraught with harm than with good, he may just go for it
Jon Tester - A more realistic coup d'etat pick. The Junior Senator of Montana is a folksy, down to earth, moderate Democrat who may join the McCain ticket sooner than Webb would. Like Webb, he'd need some convincing.
Joe Lieberman - He'd join the ticket and is the most realistic player in the coup d'etat scenario, having already been sidelined by far left Democrats. As he's already announced his support for McCain, partisan Democrats would not be moved at all. But very few solid Democrat voters would be moved by a Webb or Tester move either, and Lieberman has more stature among independent swing voters.
In short, one can divide the best picks for McCain into three categories:
Large National Appeal or Excitement - This gives us Michael Steele, if we go with new, energetic, exciting and historic and also makes Jim Webb, Jon Tester or Joe Lieberman strong national unity candidates.
Needed Economic Experience - This gives us Steve Forbes, who would reassure the public in uncertain economic times.
The Swing State Strategy - Tom Ridge or Lynn Swann (incidentally, Swann also has the same "new, energetic, exciting and historic" theme that Steele enjoys, but not to the same extent as Steele, as despite being an articulate and energetic candidate, he's never held elective office).
It should be noted that Mike Huckabee truly distinguished himself in this campaign. But Mike for veep probably isn't even in his own best interests. I believe that the GOP actually has the advantage this year. In the end, people will recognize good stewardship of the nation's security for what it is and want it to continue. The economy will certainly not be believed to be McCain's fault (despite what are sure to be the media's best efforts to pin any bad news on him). After all, he's been a lone voice of fiscal reason for years. In fact, as the public views this election more closely, the benefits of Republican economic policy, including the tax cuts that staved off the last recession and our long period of economic growth and record low unemployment will provide the GOP with credit where credit is due.
However, if John McCain wins and retires after one term, it will be hard for any Republican to continue a 12 year victory streak. It's more likely than not that the next few years will not be great ones for the economy and although these economic conditions will not be caused by the government, the party in power will bear the blame. As such, being forced to run as the party's natural successor in 2012 or 2016 (if McCain does run again and win) would not be something Gov. Huckabee would look forward to. For this very reason, some of the other governors mentioned as possible veep picks should also stay clear, possibly seeking Cabinet positions instead. And it's hard to see how any of them can strengthen the ticket more than any of those listed above.
Huckabee has a bright future in the Republican Party. And while we're on this topic we should also mention Duncan Hunter. Had Hunter been a senator, a governor, military leader or even a big city mayor, he would have done far better in this year's primaries. Hunter has the ability to succinctly explain the conservative point of view on a whole host of issues. Much of his philosophy is rooted in common sense and compassion. He's tough on immigration, but for security reasons. On all issues, he's practical, sensible and without malice. Expect him to begin a run for governor, lieutenant governor, or for a senate seat in 2010. Also expect him to become a much larger force in GOP politics.
Other candidates may detract conservatives from the ticket, an already weak spot, align the ticket with the current administration (whose standing will improve, in many respects, over time - and not even over much time, but that doesn't help for now) or fall flat. These are scenarios the media would most like to see come about and take credit for. For the same reason, these are all scenarios that John McCain should avoid.