You can blame the heat. Blame midsummer boredom. You can even blame ennui, what the French and the pretentious call “boredom.” But if you’re a political junkie, the only cure for the July blahs is to pick the vice president.
Nobody but Mitt Romney has an authentic clue about who he’ll choose for a running mate, and he probably doesn’t yet know himself. But everybody else pretends he does.
The Republican National Convention doesn’t begin until Aug. 27, and the only heat in Tampa will be provided by the Florida weather. The national nominating conventions, once great entertainment and actually important, have been reduced to reunions for the press and a coronation for a candidate chosen in the primaries. The voters have caught on and the only way Mitt Romney and the political con men can ensure a decent television audience is to preserve a semblance of anticipation, if not mystery, about a running mate.
This is not good enough for the scribblers, shouters and blabbers of the press. Speculation must run riot if they fulfill their responsibility to choose the veep. Such stories are known in the trade as “dope stories,” and the weasel word “may” is always the operative verb. Reuters got the riot going with a dispatch headlined “Romney may name running mate early.” The dispatch reported that Mr. Romney “acknowledged” that “he is considering naming his choice … earlier than usual.”
Actually, he didn’t do any such thing. A man at a rally in Colorado asked Mr. Romney whether he would announce his choice before the convention and got a briskly evasive reply in the corporate-speak beloved by modern politicians: “I can’t give you a timeline for that. That’s a decision we’ll make down the road. Nor can I give you the individual.”
That doesn’t sound like a man about to make a semimomentous announcement, but the press doesn’t allow anyone to rain on a storyline. Then Drudge Report, said to have a source close to the candidate, reported that the Romney veep candidates had been reduced to “a handful.” Condoleezza Rice, who was George W. Bush’s second secretary of state, was “now near the top of the list.” The announcement, Drudge reported, “is set for ‘coming weeks.’”
Nothing but more speculation, or maybe a trial balloon. Nevertheless, soon the National Journal reported that Mr. Romney was “hunkering down” at his lakeside summer home in New Hampshire to “mull his shortlist.” The Wall Street Journal reported that the speculation had “intensified” and the unlikely name of Miss Rice was “a welcome distraction from Bain Capital.” Several prominent Republican women, including Sarah Palin, swooned as if on cue at the sheer wonderfulness of the prospect, which seemed otherwise preposterous.
The speculation continued on the Sunday network political talkfests, but there was still no sign of Mr. Romney either hunkering or mulling, on a lake in New Hampshire or anywhere else. On Monday morning, the New York Times, playing catch-up, suggested that Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota who expected to be John McCain’s running mate four years ago, was the man of the hour, or at least the man of the minute.
The Condi boomlet began to fade, taking its place in boomlet history with similar boomlets for Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rob Portman of Ohio and Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. This put everyone back where they were, with Mr. Romney in full hunker mulling the spectacle almost as much as the Great Mentioner, the mysterious oracle who decides who gets “mentioned” in countless news accounts.
There’s a ritual about the selection of the second banana. No one runs for vice president; never in the history of the world has a new mother looked down at the cradle and told herself, “I want him to grow up to be the vice president of the United States.” But denials of interest in the job shouldn’t be taken seriously, either.
There’s a similar step in the Kabuki dance for the man at the top of the ticket. He has to say he’s choosing a running mate who is ready to be president, that partisan politics has nothing to do with his calculations. Why else would Barack Obama have chosen Joe Biden?
John Adams called the office “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived,” and John Nance Garner, FDR’s first veep, said the office “is not worth a pitcher of warm spit.” Not much has changed since then, and it’s still a cure for midsummer boredom in the newsrooms.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.