VP Consolation Prize? Be the President!

Well sort of. Mitt Romney has tapped the man who was the Republican Veepstakes front-runner — until he wasn’t — Ohio Senator Rob Portman, as his sparring partner to prepare for the debates this Fall.

Given that the primary knock on Rob Portman is that he displays the charisma of a dish towel, it’s a little confusing that Mitt Romney would select the Ohio Senator to portray the most charismatic President since Ronald Reagan. As an aside, no, I will not count Clinton as a charismatic President. Bill Clinton was an effective speaker because of his empathy and command of wonk-level detail — not because he was warm, fun, or engaging. Remember speeches like this?

CNN explains that Mitt Romney may have selected Portman because he has experience portraying Barack Obama in debates because he played then-Senator Obama during John McCain’s debate prep sessions in 2008. Yeah, that worked out well for the GOP, didn’t it?

Personally, I’ve never understood the impulse to use an established politician as a debate sparring opponent. Politicians by their nature develop and constantly hone their own styles. A high-level staffer or consultant is much better prepared to cast off their own persona and immerse themselves in the role. There’s a fixation with the idea that “he/she got elected…they must have been good in their debates” when in reality becoming an elected official only proves that they were not so bad at their debates that they lost their election. That’s hardly the training regime a candidate should encourage. It’s like planning to play in a Major League Baseball game having only ever faced pitches in pre-game batting practice.

At least we don’t have to watch the faux debate between campaign stand-ins: John Kerry playing Mitt Romney and Rob Portman playing Barack Obama. There’s a spectacle that would make a Terrance Malick movie seem fast-paced and interesting.

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