Friday, August 17, 2012

Should Hillary replace Joe?

There are other things to write about in the world, but when the Politico Arena asks about the vice president, I must answer the call (and enjoy the 10 days every four years that anyone actually cares about the vice president). The other day, in the wake of Biden's obnoxious comments, the Arena question of the day was about Hillary replacing Biden. A fun rumor, but it is not going to happen.

I wrote:
First, replacing the vice president is almost always a bad play.

The last president to pull it off and win re-election was FDR. Eisenhower, Nixon, and Bush Senior (or at least some of their advisors) all toyed with doing it, but there were constituencies in the party that rallied behind the VP. The one president to actually remove his vice president and replace him in the past half-century was Gerald Ford. Replacing Rockefeller with Sen. Dole (who came off badly in the debates with Walter Mondale) probably wasn't what defeated the ticket but it certainly didn't help.

On the off-chance this could be engineered, Hillary would not be a good replacement. This is not due to any fault of her own. She has proven savvy and capable as secretary of state and her experience as an active first lady legitimately gives her insight into the unique pressure cooker that is the White House. However, she brings her husband and he is problematic baggage. Again, this is not through any fault of his own, but rather because ex-presidents need to be kept a healthy distance from the Oval Office. Bush Senior was rarely around when his son was president and Reagan stayed away from Bush Senior. These were sound precedents and should continue.

A few additional notes. First back in the nineties I was a bit of a Clinton-hater, I have come to respect the virtues (irony alert) of the Clinton Administration.  But I still think ex-Presidents need to stay off the main-stage.  That being said, nothing prepares one for the Presidency like serious time in the White House.

Biden's comments were pretty bad, and if it were a Republican probably would have far more blowback.  One of the difficult things about politics is how policy preferences and values began confused in the public debate.  Opposition to a specific policy intended to help a community or population does not mean those opposed hate that population.  It means they have legitimate questions about the efficacy of that policy or the whether that policy should be prioritized.  That is not to say that this opposition is not at times a cover for unacceptable views but one should not leap to that conclusion.  Being a Republican does not mean I don't care about the (fill in the blank here - poor, women, African-Americans.)  It means I have questions as to whether the policies Democrats prefer will help that population or whether the other costs of that policy will outweigh the benefits.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ryan as Governing Partner

So we have a VP candidate and the media have something to talk about.  The term game-changer will be used as punctuation in every comment about it.

VeepCritique will not be left out, however the focus here is on the vice president as governing partner.  So let’s dispense quickly with the politics of Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan and rush to how a Romney-Ryan team might work together.

The Politics of Picking Ryan
The impact of the vice presidential candidate is nearly always over-estimated (historic analysis is pretty consistent on this) and usually involves trade-offs.  The candidate that appeals to the unaffiliated voter will perturb the base and vice-versa.  There is no magic bullet in VP selection, the key is to do no harm and maybe get a bit of help.

This choice was over-shadowed by McCain’s unfortunate selection of Sarah Palin.  Romney wanted to avoid this at all costs and he did.  Ryan is young and telegenic (and really does look like he could be another member of the Romney brood.)  But he is not an amateur; Ryan has been in the House of Representatives for seven terms and has become the party’s leading spokesman on the budget.  One does not get that far in life merely by being cute.

Whether or not Ryan’s views will hurt or help Romney’s candidacy is tough to say.  His budget plan gives plenty of fodder for the Democrats to rally their base – just as it gives the Republicans plenty of fodder to rally theirs.  How it will impact the undecided voters is tough to say (presumably the ultra-analytical Romney team has done some pretty serious study of this question.)  But most voters don’t do in-depth studies of complex issues, they make their decisions based on general impressions.  Republicans mean less government and taxes – Democrats mean more government and taxes.  The rest is commentary.

Finally, over the next decade the budget will be THE ISSUE.  The United States is facing some pretty serious fiscal challenges – we can address them (we are the wealthiest society in history) but the sooner we do so the less difficult the adjustment.  Ideally we would have taken this stuff on in the 1990s.  One may not agree with Ryan’s plan – but at least he is in the game in a serious way.

Ryan as Governing Partner
The top determinant for the vice president’s role in an administration is whether or not the president is inclined to turn to his vice president for advice on critical decisions.  It is unknown if Ryan and Romney have this kind of relationship.  Often this friendship is forged in the heat of the campaign as the individuals and their staffs learn to work together.

One past indicator is that older Presidents do not tend to take advice from younger vice presidents.  The most influential vice presidents in recent years have been Mondale (four years younger then the President), Gore (two years younger then the President), Cheney (Cheney five years older then the President), and Biden (19 years older then the President.)  Quayle, by contrast, was 23 years younger then President Bush Sr. Another example is Eisenhower who was 23 years older then Nixon.  This is the age difference between Ryan and Romney – it is not destiny, the sample of President-Vice President relationships is extremely small.  But it could be a factor.

That being said, Ryan would almost certainly have a role in a Romney White House.  It is extremely difficult to block the vice president out of the policy process.  The West Wing office along with access to White House meetings and the President have become traditional perquisites of the vice president.  They are not enshrined in law, but it would be embarrassing to remove them.  It would be a public admission that the President did not have confidence in the Vice President.

Vice presidents strongly associated with a wing of their party are often expected to be their advocate within the White House.  They are usually disappointed.  The vice president can make the case, but ultimately the president decides and the vice president must publicly support the decision or risk alienating the commander-in-chief.  Most vice presidents have advocated forcefully for positions that were not in line with their previous political views (and which they may have privately opposed).

Vice presidents are probably at their most influential as a high-level sounding board that can compensate for a President’s analytical weaknesses.  President Carter, an engineer by training, labored over details in an effort to find perfect technical solutions.  Mondale sought to remind him of the political realities that had to be taken into consideration.  In contrast, Clinton had a fine-tuned political antenna and maneuvered according. Gore would counsel him to take stands on principle.

Whether Romney is open to having Ryan play this role is an open question.  Ryan will almost certainly play an active role as advisor, administration spokesperson, and point of contact with Congress.  Whether or not he will also be a source of influence in the administration is difficult to know, not only for outside observers, but probably for the candidates themselves.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Romney's VP Options: A Resume-based Analysis

The question of personal chemistry is unknown to outsiders. There are rumors that Romney and Pawlenty have a warm friendship, but these are rumors. All of the top choices are experienced politicians who have probably had to learn to get along with their colleagues. 
That leaves the issue of experience. The Presidency is a job like no other. Romney is a capable individual with a variety of experience, but there is little doubt that he will find very steep learning curves with many aspects of the Presidency. At a recent forum at the Brookings Institute, Ambassador Chase Untermeyer, who was an assistant to Vice President Bush and then head of Presidential Personnel in the George H. W. Bush White House, observed that Capitol Hill experience should be a pre-requisite for the vice presidency. The last two vice presidents who came from governorships to the vice presidency were Agnew and Rockefeller – both had difficult experiences in their new role. Congress is a unique institution and a new president who does not know it well himself will need counsel and will probably benefit from his VP’s personal contacts. 
In terms of Hill experience the leaders, by far, are Rep. Ryan and Sen. Portman. Both were elected to the House of Representatives seven times. But Portman was also elected to the Senate and has the additional virtues of substantial executive experience close to the White House as a staffer, OMB chief, and US Trade Representative. All of these positions are in areas where Romney may find that he needs an experienced hand to offer assistance and advice. 
On the one aspect of the VP selection process that is clear to outsiders (resume) Portman has a strong lead. But there are many other factors – including the all-important issue of personal chemistry.
It occurs to me, I did not address the question of Chris Christie.  He is a talented politician and interesting character.  But he has been governor of New Jersey for less then 3 years.  Prior to that he was US attorney for New Jersey for six years.  This is important experience, but not electoral experience.  Most importantly, Christie's background suggests little that substantially augments areas where Romney is weak - experience with Washington and international affairs.

Another candidate worth a bit more examination is Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.  He has a bit of Washington experience - 3 years in the House and 2 years as Asst. Secretary at HHS.  He is an extraordinarily capable politician and young enough to have multiple shots at the presidency himself.  But his Washington experience is slender and offers Romney little complementary experience.

Finally Rubio also has only two years of Washington experience, thus not bringing the right skill set to the table.