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Why Romney Makes Sense

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Politico's Mike Allen reports that fundraising is a chief reason Mitt Romney sits atop the list of possible running mates for John McCain: Thanks to Romney's connections with both the business and Mormon communities, McCain's advisers believe Romney could raise as much as $60 million in just 60 days.

Over at the Stump, my colleague Noam offers some very good reasons to be skeptical about this argument. Among other things, if McCain tapped Romney in early August, he'd only have a month before public financing kicked in--at which point Romney's fundraising ability would become a lot less relevant.

Noam's arguments seem pretty persuasive to me. But I can imagine some other good reasons why McCain might pick Romney.

As Allen's story notes, the Romney brand does seem to have some strong appeal in Michigan. It's just one state, yes, but it's a big one that McCain is already targetting--and in a tight race, Romney's presence might be enough to move it from blue to red.

Romney is also, as Allen says, squeaky clean: He's been fully vetted, not just by the national press during the Republican primaries but, before that, by the always-aggresive Boston press during his years as governor. Aside from that story about strapping the dog to the roof--yes, the image sticks, but people will get over it--Romney seems to have nothing in his past that would come back to haunt McCain's general election campaign.

But there are also other factors that recommend Romney, starting with his expertise on economic policy.

As I've written before, I'm skeptical that presidential candidates can fill holes in their resumes, as the saying goes, by picking running mates with the right credentials. As McCain himself has admitted, he's not particularly interested in economics. And his policies--a patently irresponsible set of tax cuts combined with a health care plan that might very well leave many people worse off--aren't winning him many points among people wondering how they'll pay for next month's rent. No running mate choice is going to convince these voters that McCain is the candidate who takes their concerns seriously.

Still, adding Romney to the ticket would at least allow McCain to engage the Democrats on bread-and-butter issues. When McCain starts ranting about high taxes and too much regulation, he sounds as if he's just reading tired old GOP talking points--which, I assume, he is. Romney, by contrast, is quite adept at leveraging his experience in the business community into expertise on the economy. He can talk about how he saved the Salt Lake City Olympics or how he helped build Staples into a retail empire, and suddenly those same old cliches sound like essential insights from a man who actually knows something about business.  Having obsevered Romney extensively on the campaign trail, I would say that he was at his very best in his role talking about economics. And that's despite the fact that I probably disagree with him on about 80 to 90 percent of what he believes. 

That brings me to the last, potentially most important political asset Romney brings to the ticket. McCain is lousy on the attack. Quite unlike Barack Obama, who has mastered the art of criticizing an opponent while smiling, McCain seems to have two modes: Either he's being a principled statesman disdainful of attack politics, in which he (again, to me) comes off as genuinely admirable, or he's being an aggressive partisan, in which he comes off as shrill. I've always assumed that McCain's inability here was a combination of discomfort with the role and sheer lack of skill.

Romney has neither problem: He's a superb debater--a quick thinker who's always thoroughly prepared. And he has no compunction whatsoever about tearing an opponent apart. More than almost any politician I've ever seen, he seems willing to say whatever he has to say in order to win. 

I should add that Romney does meet one other criteria for the vice presidency: He seems prepared to take over the job of president if necessary. It's possible this will weigh heavily with McCain, as well it should.

None of this means McCain will pick Romney. My gut tells me he won't, just because I can't imagine McCain choosing somebody he doesn't like personally. And, by all accounts, McCain is not particularly fond of him. Plus Romney also has some clear political drawbacks, starting with the fact that many social conservatives remain uncomfortable with his Mormon faith.

Still, I can see why Romney is getting a serious look. And I'm not so sure that's good for the Democrats.

Update: I see Kevin Drum also thinks Romney might be a shrewd choice. 

--Jonathan Cohn 

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