By Kelse Moen
Forget NASCAR; endless speculation about John McCain’s running mate has become Republicans’ new sport of choice. The blogs and news media, who spent so many hours analyzing every slight permutation to the presidential election, had to realize that their fun would not last forever. Still, when John McCain clinched the Republican nomination, where were they to turn? Why, the second spot on the ticket, of course!
While combing through reams of conjecture and pipe-dreaming, one comes to see a certain consistency in conservatives’ thoughts here. The general wisdom goes that McCain will have to choose a conservative governor, preferably a southerner, to assuage Republican doubts about the unconventional senator’s candidacy. There are, to be sure, those who think he should pick Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani, but the wisdom of picking one of those liberal northeasterners, who voters have repeatedly repudiated, seems questionable at best.
Mike Huckabee is of course worthy of some attention. His campaign proved to be more durable and popular than anyone would have expected one year ago. He could clearly help McCain’s standing with the powerful Evangelical voting bloc, which McCain famously alienated in 2000 and which has never quite forgiven him. Yet Huckabee’s economic populism–consisting of tax hikes, increased spending, and market regulations–offers little respite from Clinton or Obama’s socialistic agenda. Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, both reliable conservatives, receive frequent mention as well. Picking either of them would be a safe move for McCain; he would strengthen the ticket’s conservatism while drawing little controversy or even, perhaps, attention.
Yet if I were to advise McCain (and seeing as I constitute one third of an influential blog, I don’t see why I shouldn’t), I would tell him to go for another popular option: South Carolina governor Mark Sanford. Sanford is one of the country’s leading advocates of fiscal conservatism and limited government. He has forcefully butted heads with South Carolina’s own tax-and-spend legislature. As a Congressman in the nineties he earned high marks from the American Conservtaive Union and voted against all the wasteful spending he could get his hands on. A McCain-Sanford ticket could remind our discarded Goldwaterites that Republicana still belong to the party of limited government, even after a decade of bloated spending and a unitary executive.
Choosing a running mate is not always important in a presidential election. Who really remembers Michael Dukakis’ choice anyway? But for John McCain, it is very important. He is too old to seek a second terms (or maybe even to survive his first), putting the would-be VP as the clear Republican candidate for 2012. And even if the Republicans go down in flames this November, the running mate will still be considered the party standard bearer, a designation of great importance to this hierarchical group.
Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Hopefully, when it comes to picking a VP, it will be McCain’s time to be right.