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By Jay Cost

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A Bad Choice for Veep

That is how I would characterize the thought of putting Condi Rice on the Republican ticket.

I am sympathetic to the idea that McCain needs a veep candidate to satisfy conservatives. I expect most self-identified Republicans will ultimately vote for him in November, but their enthusiasm would be an asset. It would be good if he can firm them up with his veep choice.

However, McCain should not nominate anybody with strong attachments to the Bush administration.

George Bush's job approval rating is in the cellar. It has been in the cellar for two years, and there seems to me to be no reason to think that it will be anywhere but the cellar come Election Day. This means that the "median voter" - the guy or gal right smack dab in the middle of the electorate who will essentially decide the whole thing - disapproves of George W. Bush. If McCain wants to win this election, this is the person whose vote he must win. And nominating Bush's Secretary of State will hinder, rather than help him with this peron.

I can just imagine the announcement of Condi Rice as the nominee at the GOP convention. The next week, the media will revisit all of the foreign policy controversies of this administration. Democrats will supply them with plenty of handy-dandy sound-bites to populate the airwaves. That will be the week after Labor Day - the traditional start of the campaign. This is not what the Republican Party needs then.

The same goes for pretty much any Bush official - even somebody like Colin Powell. In that case, the media will revisit that speech he gave to the UN on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Does the GOP really want to have another pre-election conversation about those non-existent WMD's?

After all, nominating a Bush official plays against McCain's natural strengths as a general election candidate. He won the nomination in large part because Republicans who disapprove of George W. Bush supported him. The following chart makes that clear:

McCain's Performance in Early Primaries.gif

Voters in the Republican Party upset with Bush tended to prefer McCain to any other candidate. This is thanks to the image that McCain has cultivated over the last eight years. If McCain were to nominate Rice or any Bush Administration official, he would be acting contrary to this image. This would be a mistake. It is upon this image that the GOP's hope depends. The only way to win with an incumbent president at 33% in the polls is to run away from, if not against, that president. Nominating Condoleeza Rice or Colin Powell or Rob Portman or any other Bush official would impede that strategy.

Another bad idea when it comes to veep choices is the idea of nominating one of the Republican also-rans. I have heard Thompson, Huckabee, and Romney's names trotted out at varying points. All of these are poor selections. Each candidate this year manifested glaring political weaknesses. Thompson was a lousy campaigner. Huckabee was not a believable fiscal conservative. Romney seemed willing to say anything. McCain himself was weak. Above all, his campaign grossly misread the party's mood on immigration reform last year. Luckily for him, the Senate took that issue up last summer, not last fall.

Unfortunately for McCain, the Republican bench is a little old. The pool of Republican politicians has not been thoroughly refreshed since 1994. That's a long time. If McCain were young and inexperienced, this might be an asset, as the vice-presidential nominee would provide gravitas. But he's old. He needs vigor. That limits his choices considerably. In McCain's perfect world, Jeb Bush would have a different last name. But then again, if he had a different name, he'd probably be the nominee.

-Jay Cost