As Dan mentioned earlier, ABC News' report that the Romney campaign is not even vetting Sen. Marco Rubio as a possible running mate is raising more than a few eyebrows. Here's the nut of the Jonathan Karl's exclusive:
Knowledgeable Republican sources tell me that Rubio is not being vetted by Mitt Romney’s vice presidential search team. He has not been asked to complete any questionnaires or been asked to turn over any financial documents typically required of potential vice presidential candidates. Although it is possible that Rubio may yet be asked to go through the vetting process, it has been nearly two months since Romney named his long-time aide Beth Myers to run his vice presidential search. The fact that Rubio has not been asked to turn over any documents by now is a strong indication that he is not on Romney’s short list of potential running mates.
As the article states, Beth Myers and her team have been at it for approximately two months, and Governor Romney told me directly that he receives regular updates, and is "very involved" in the process. If it's true that Rubio has been asked neither to produce any personal documents nor to submit to an intensive questioning session, it seems very unlikely that he'll be offered the second slot in a last-minute whirlwind. Rubio is a rising star who with considerable political talent. He is beloved by the base, having just won CPAC Chicago's Vice Presidential straw poll without even showing up. And he is widely viewed as the embodiment of at least a partial solution to Republicans' Hispanic problem, a perception likely shared by the White House. Some close Rubio allies say they've been caught flat-footed by the ABC bulletin, according to Buzz Feed:
"Either we’re being punked and he is being vetted and they are trying to create the element of surprise, or someone has an ax to grind with him, or he’s not being vetted and someone wants him to be," [Ana Navarro] said.
So what's actually going on here? I see three possibilities:
(1) The report is accurate, and Rubio is out. For all of his many attributes, Rubio is young and has never held an executive position. He's served in the Senate for less than two years, and is working diligently to spread his wings. Perhaps he asked not to be vetted. After all, though his denials on this front were slightly less emphatic than Chris Christie's "I'm not running for president" refrain, they were still fairly categorical. The pro-Rubio camp will argue that he's equally qualified to be president as Barack Obama was at this stage four years ago -- plus, he'd merely be the number two guy behind a healthy and vital nominee. Fair points, but not necessarily decisive on the larger question of whether Rubio is prepared to be president in January, if need be. It's also possible that a Rubio proponent planted this story to light a fire under the base, and possibly pressure Romney to reconsider his cost-benefit analysis.
(2) This could be a head fake from the Romney campaign to throw official Washington off the scent. This would be Ms. Navarro's "punked" scenario. I must confess that I find it rather peculiar that two seemingly surefire short-listers have reportedly been "eliminated" from the Veepstakes. Have Bob McDonnell and Marco Rubio both been removed from consideration? Really? While I'm as intrigued as the next guy, I still find it hard to believe that Team Romney (not known for its erratic or risky strategies) would intentionally be playing mind games with the press. The upside seems small.
(3) Romney has adopted the 'Hippocratic oath' approach to his Vice Presidential selection: First, do no harm. There's been much pontification about the former Massachusetts Governor being best served by a boring, reliable and uncontroversial running mate. Think Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, or former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota. Neither man is likely to electrify many voters, but neither is prone to costly mistakes. Both are likeable, if bland, Midwesterners with sufficient experience, and both have been prominent Romney supporters dating back many months (recall, Pawlenty endorsed Romney soon after dropping his own presidential bid last September). It's conceivable that Romneyworld is leaking word about Rubio early on to help tamp down expectations among conservatives, essentially serving notice that the eventual pick will not be one of the oft-mentioned "rock stars."
As indicated above, I find the second option relatively implausible. If I had to bet, I'd say reality is some mix of scenarios one and three, and three in particular. President Obama is a vulnerable incumbent. Rasmussen has put Romney ahead in the daily tracker for ten straight days, with more bad economic news on the way. Though Obama's DREAM Act by fiat move has broad support, its impact on the race will mostly recede when other campaign factors -- like SCOTUS' Obamacare ruling and the next jobs report -- inevitably overwhelm it. Parting piece of unsolicited advice: If Romney has resolved to take the "safe" route, it might make sense to roll out his choice sooner rather than later. If the base is expected to react to his pick with a collective meh, Romney should rip the bandaid off, so to speak. Let people be underwhelmed...in July. If the Veep isn't likely to generate an explosion of enthusiasm (read: donations), why not announce the selection mid-summer and unleash that person to get to work as a top surrogate and an assiduous fundraiser? By the time September rolls around and most people start paying attention, conservative grumbling would be old news.
UPDATE - I reached out to the Romney campaign for comment on ABC's story and received a two word response: "Can't confirm." I was also cautioned not to read too deeply into Navarro's comments.
UPDATE II - The Romney campaign has passed along a partial transcript of the candidate's forthcoming interview with Sean Hannity:
Hannity: “What did you make of the ABC News report this morning that said Marco Rubio was not being vetted but Governor Tim Pawlenty was being vetted? Any comment on that story?”Mitt Romney: “I get a kick out of some of the speculation that goes on. I’m not going to comment on the process of course. But I can tell you this: only Beth Myers and I know who is being vetted.”Hannity: “Does that mean Ann Romney doesn’t know?”Romney: “Even Ann doesn’t know. We talk about the possible people that I might select. But in terms of actually who is being vetted, that is something only two people know. And Beth Myers doesn’t talk.”
I'm not totally familiar with the intricacies of the vetting process, but how is it possible that only Romney and Myers know? I can't imagine they're doing all of the research themselves. Perhaps he means that the team has a Chinese wall erected such that individuals only know about whom they're vetting, but don't have a full picture of the possible field.