As GOP presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, comes down to the wire on his vice presidential pick, one thing is clear: The odds favor a vice president whose last name begins with a P: Pawlenty, Portman or Petraeus.
Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota Republican, is a conservative who governed a liberal state with excellent fiscal, budgetary and management results, and has an easy manner on television. While knowing just how to parry the media swords, he didn’t quite know how to go for the kill when he was running against Mr. Romney in the Republican primary.
Mr. Romney’s major flaw is he’s too perfect. He doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, tithes 10 percent of his earnings on top of taxes, and has – in Bill Clinton’s words – “a sterling business career.” Thus, an image of strength will be critically important in a VP candidate, meaning a soft Pawlenty might not be his best pick. Let’s face it; this race is going to be the toughest, meanest election in American history. Nice + Nice = Electoral Defeat.
Then there’s Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman, who is on everybody’s short list. Mr. Portman is smart and affable with an aw-shucks sense of humor, who knows how to play hard ball in the Senate without breaking china or ruffling feathers. He’s held all the important jobs you would want in a vice president: member of Congress, U.S. Trade Representative, director of the Office of Management and Budget and now senator from the critical bellwether state of Ohio, where he won 82 out of 88 counties two years ago. To top it off, he has stood in for presidential and vice presidential candidates in debate prep since 2000, playing Al Gore for George W. Bush, John Edwards for Dick Cheney and, most recently, Barack Obama for John McCain. He studied videotapes and absorbed briefing materials for hours on end until he had their positions down cold, handing in a near-perfect portrayal in mock debates.
The guy is good. Mr. Portman has essentially been groomed for veep. But, in some ways, he’s the mirror image of Mr. Romney. And while no one would say he lacks spine, he does not have quite the spine-building experience of, in my humble opinion, the best pick for vice president: retired Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, current Director of Central Intelligence, who was nicknamed “Peaches” in grade school.
Gen. Petraeus’ strength, gravitas and balancing experience towers above the rest. For starters, he’s a four-star general who served 37 years in the U.S. Army. He would be the only one in the race with this critical military experience. His last assignments were: commander of the International Security Assistance Force and commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan from July 4, 2010 to July 18, 2011. Preceding these four-star assignments, he was 10th commander, U.S. Central Command from October 13, 2008, to June 30, 2010 and commanding general, Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNGI-I) from February 10, 2007, to September 16, 2008. As commander of MNGI-I, Gen. Petraeus oversaw all coalition forces in Iraq and the successful implementation of “the surge” that turned the tide as that country descended into bloody chaos.
The general’s foreign policy, military, intelligence and diplomatic experience balances out Mr. Romney’s business, economic and government background. Critically important, he’s seen war up-close and is no “arm chair general,” ensuring prudence if recommending military action and seeing it as the last resort. The counterinsurgency strategy he spearheaded was precisely to use human tools – resources of the heart and mind – to preempt and prevent conflict. It’s basically the point the late Rep. Charlie Wilson made in the aftermath of the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan about how to prevent the next war, which could have avoided the making of Osama bin Laden, a “freedom fighter” from that earlier conflict. What a difference 25 years makes. If guided by principles as set forth in the Gen. Petraeus’ signature counterinsurgency strategy, our world would be a much less dangerous place.
All the arguments aside, just look at the three men. Which one would best complement Mitt Romney on stage in Tampa, Fla., on Aug. 30? To me, it’s hands down: the no-nonsense, Clint Eastwood-like war hero named David H. Petraeus – a.k.a. Peaches – who has demonstrated in deeds his love for his country.
Mary Claire Kendall served in the Department of Health and Human Services under President George H.W. Bush.