On Sunday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tried to persuade the media to stop speculating on Mitt Romney's next task — choosing a running mate. Rubio, who is often mentioned as a likely candidate for the role, told CNN that Republicans need to "respect the process," and that Romney didn't need "the peanut gallery to be saying what we would or would not do." Of course, just the day before that, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told Newsmax that Romney should pick Rubio, which led to another round of speculation about the freshman senator.
One can understand why Rubio would get tired of answering the question. That doesn't mean the media — including myself — will get tired of asking it, or analyzing the potential candidates. After all, thanks to the withdrawal of Rick Santorum two weeks ago, the drama has dissipated from the Republican nomination fight, which Romney has unofficially won already. The general election won't get started in earnest for another four months, when the conventions take place. So between now and then, there will only be so many dog-eating and cookie-insulting molehills to blow up into mountains, and even Newt Gingrich's quixotic resistance to the reality of defeat won't fill the void.
Jan Brewer might be just the running mate Mitt needs to get the Tea Party back on board the Romney Express.
Besides, at least this VP storyline has some real meaning, especially compared to the outrageous outrage du jour. No other decision or speech defines a presidential nominee like the choice of a running mate. And while the running mate rarely boosts votes for the ticket, he (or she) can generate more enthusiasm and stronger organization for the nominee. There is usually more downside than upside, though, as a poor choice can definitely cost a candidate votes and derail a campaign. George McGovern discovered that the hard way when he had to remove Thomas Eagleton from the ticket after discovering his history of mental illness — a surprise resulting from a lackadaisical approach to vetting. Republicans used the incident to assail McGovern's readiness to lead, and Richard Nixon carried 49 states in 1972 to cruise to re-election.
Romney, with his extensive executive experience in both the private and public sectors, won't likely make that same mistake. He has already signaled that he will take great care in the vetting process, putting his trusted and long-time aide Beth Myers in charge of the search committee. As his former chief of staff and one of the original inner-circle figures of his years-long presidential quest, Myers has Romney's confidence in ensuring that his personnel choices don't come back to haunt him.
That doesn't mean Romney will necessarily play it safe. To a certain extent, he can't. Much more than regional balance, Romney needs to find a candidate who can fire up the base with enthusiasm, like Sarah Palin did in 2008 for John McCain, but who has already been tested by fire. The best candidates deliver votes that the nominee might not otherwise receive without convincing others to flee. Not too many safe choices fit the bill, and anyone who does would probably be considered a dark horse.
One name that hasn't received much attention — yet — is that of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. Brewer replaced Janet Napolitano in January 2009 when Barack Obama appointed then-Gov. Napolitano to run the Department of Homeland Security. Brewer then won her first election in 2010 with a 13-point margin of victory over Democratic Attorney General Terry Goddard.
Brewer has a record of fighting the federal government and the media. After Brewer signed a bill from the state legislature requiring law-enforcement officers to check residency status when arresting or detaining criminal suspects, Obama's Department of Justice filed suit against the state. To the cheers of conservatives, Brewer fought back, later writing a book to bolster her case, and squared off against open-borders advocates in the media.
Nor is that the only fight Brewer has picked with the Obama administration and the media. She called a special session of the legislature to get authorization to hire outside counsel to join the lawsuit against ObamaCare, after Goddard refused to do so. Brewer also pushed for gun-rights legislation that eventually removed the permit requirement to carry guns, making Arizona one of only three states in the nation to do so. Brewer also oversaw deep cuts in social programs to resolve a $4 billion budget deficit, although that also included increases in some taxes.
Given Romney's vulnerabilities with the base on immigration, health-insurance mandates, and gun rights, Brewer might be just the kind of candidate that could get the Tea Party back on board. A Brewer nomination might also force the Obama campaign to retire the "war on women" attack line. It would also firm up Romney's standing in Arizona, as one poll this week suggested that the Republican nominee wasn't garnering much enthusiasm in this transitioning interior-West state.
Brewer wouldn't be a risk-free choice. She has made a couple of misstatements in her border-security fight that she had to retract, and her combative style might generate the kind of headlines Romney wants to avoid. Still, if Romney wants to roll the dice to unify the GOP for the general election, Brewer has the battle-hardened experience in national politics that could make her a good attack dog for the fall campaign. And at least we'd be talking about dogs in the figurative sense by then.