a whispered “now that would be interesting,” from conservatives who are quite familiar with Mr. Cantor’s history and capabilities - and from all other parties - the sound of one giant cacophonous “Who?”
Yet while Mr. Cantor is not the household name among Republicans of other potential veep choices, such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney or Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, in many ways choosing the young Virginian would be in keeping with Mr. McCain‘s unique style of principled risk-taking, a throwback to his maverick origins. It might just cinch the election for the Repulicans.
Despite his young age of 45, Mr. Cantor has twice as many years of experience on Capitol Hill as Sen. Barack Obama, and currently serves as the deputy whip in the House. Telegenic, an excellent fundraiser and a capable speaker, Mr. Cantor’s southern accent and Jewish faith present a unique combination that appeals to a variety of political constituencies. Mr. Cantor has earned praise from fiscally conservative groups for his pro-free-market stances, from independents for his sustained campaign against pork-barrel politics, and his impassioned moral rhetoric and pro-Israel ties have endeared him to evangelicals and other groups who still harbor doubts about Mr. McCain’s views on social issues. And unlike some House Republicans with questionable ties, Mr. Cantor is known as a strong family man, an upstanding Boy Scout who lacks any political skeletons - in many ways, the anti-John Edwards.
Choosing Mr. Cantor could have an immediate and positive impact for Mr. McCain’s chances - not just in the swing state of Virginia, but in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida. Mr. Cantor’s experience confronting the leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has prepared him well to be on the attack for conservative principles, and his youth could lend some fire to a McCain campaign that could use a few more faces born post-1960.
In fact, as the Obama campaign reportedly considers choosing Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine as their running mate, it’s an open question whether Mr. Cantor, not the lame-duck Governor, has a greater political following in the swing state. Democratic Senate candidate Mark Warner, almost certain to be a shoo-in in the fall, has confessed that he feared Mr. Cantor as a statewide candidate more than either long-serving Rep. Tom Davis or the eventual nominee, Jim Gilmore.
It’s true that historically, vice presidential running mates have done more to hurt rather than help their presidential candidates - either as embarrassments on the national stage or failures of other varieties. As recently as 2004, it’s clear that then-Sen. Edwards hurt Sen. John Kerry’s candidacy as a running mate - he unquestionably lost his sole debate with Vice President Dick Cheney, and aside from failing totally on his promise to carry states in the South, Mr. Edwards failed to carry his home state, his home county, and even his home precinct. Weeks before the election, Mr. Kerry confided to his campaign staff that he never should have chosen the trial lawyer as a running mate.
Jack Kemp’s weak performance in 1996 almost certainly hurt nominee Bob Dole. Mr. Dole, in turn, was in many ways a disastrous choice for Gerald Ford in 1976, and had a horrible debate performance, exacerbating the divide in the party. And the unprepared Dan Quayle was a choice who, while unfairly criticized at points, seemed eternally outmatched.
Going back even further, it becomes clear that it’s an easy task to foul up the vice presidential choice, with heavy ramifications. The Taylor-Fillmore divide hastened the demise of the Whig party itself. Arguably, Teddy Roosevelt would not have run on a third-party ticket had it not been for his feud with James Sherman, President Taft’s vice presidential choice, and Woodrow Wilson would never have won the presidency. Perhaps the worst of them all was John Nance Garner, who publicly led the opposition to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on a long litany of issues while serving as vice president. He was politely uninvited from joining future FDR tickets.
Even if you believe that the choices of vice presidential running mates do very little to boost electoral votes for a presidential nominee, it remains clear that Mr. Cantor could help Mr. McCain in other ways - beyond that of any other reported veep possibility. Unlike Mr. Pawlenty, he would be an exciting choice; unlike former Gov. Romney, he would be an uncontroversial choice; and unlike someone like former Gov. Tom Ridge or Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Mr. Cantor would be a choice to satisfy conservatives and moderates alike, presenting a united center-right front against the celebrity might of Mr. Obama and his almost assuredly incidental choice of a sidekick.
As he makes his choice in the coming weeks, Mr. McCain would be wise to echo the words of John Adams: he needs a Virginian to join him in this endeavor.
Ben Domenech is a co-founder of RedState and the editor of The City.