Rob Portman: Why Is This a “Safe” Pick?

Conventional wisdom says that Romney cannot afford an embarrassing hail mary running mate like Sarah Palin was for John McCain. Romney needs a “safe” pick, the story goes, to reinforce his image as a sober, thoughtful candidate.

Once this message hit the mainstream, we all started hearing about Ohio Senator Rob Portman. Portman is billed by everyone with a keyboard or TV camera in front of them as the safe pick for Romney. Portman apparated into our collective consciousness moments after the media reached a consensus on the safe theme. This may be a coincidence, but I personally believe Portman has operatives spreading the narrative that he is the only “safe” pick for Mitt Romney, because when you look at the field of possible running mates and decide, “Let’s Play the Safety Dance!” there is nothing particularly safe about Portman and there are a number of other candidates that better fit the mold of a safe running mate.

As Futurama noted: "Y'know, that dance wasn't as safe as they said it was"

We can dance if we want to/We can leave your friends behind

Seriously ask yourself why Mitt Romney needs a safe pick? Certainly a buffoon would reflect badly on the candidate, but short of that the reason that Mitt Romney needs a safe pick is to reinforce his narrative as a serious candidate and to distance himself like a Etch-a-Sketch in a paint mixer from the right wing sentiment of the GOP. When the media speaks of safe picks, they aren’t just condemning Sarah Palin, but also Virginia Governor and ultrasound enthusiast Bob McDonnell and Congressman Paul Ryan whose Medicare depleting budget is already an Albatross for Romney. These are candidates that Romney is said to personally like, but who remind voters that Mitt Romney, for all his flip-flopping, is at heart a “severely conservative” guy.

Rob Portman may be a pleasant enough fellow, but his resume hardly distances him from the far right. Portman served in the thick of the Gingrich House of Representatives and willingly joined in the government shutdown and Clinton impeachment. He is an outspoken supporter of the Paul Ryan budget that is dragging down Republican candidates everywhere.

Worried about the “war on women?” By all means look for the safe pick who voted for the Blunt Amendment to allow businesses to deny contraception coverage.

Nor does Portman distance Romney from the image of a flip-flopper. Portman called the House vote to pass the Balanced Budget Amendment one of the proudest moments of his career, and then served as George W. Bush’s budget director and oversaw a $469 billion expansion of the debt.

And it’s not as though his work prior to public office looks much better. While Mitt Romney was off stuffing dollar bills into his suit and raiding companies for personal, tax protected wealth, Rob Portman was representing Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. I don’t necessarily believe lawyers should be judged for representing someone, but realistically these are the charges that make someone look decidedly un-safe.

A place where they will never find/And we can act like we come from out of this world/Leave the real one far behind

Meanwhile, the media has hidden from view a number of candidates that are, if not more safe, at least as safe as Portman.

Where is Tim Pawlenty? A conservative former governor with executive experience, no ties to the Bush administration, and who has been vetted by the national media, having run for President before.

Whatever happened to Mitch Daniels? He is another Midwesterner and also served as Bush’s budget director. Basically he is Rob Portman with executive experience.

He may be getting older, but someone like Lamar Alexander who has served as a senator, governor, cabinet secretary presents an air of experience and authority.

It’s not that any of these candidates are without downsides, but the idea that Rob Portman has cornered the market on safety is flawed. But this has been an excellent example of the runaway train that can develop among the media when someone starts a meme. And if Rob Portman isn’t behind the campaign to characterize himself as safe, then this should be a lesson to future VP hopefuls that the right way to get the job is to take advantage of out of control media memes.

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