Now that the 2012 presidential race has pretty much settled into a long, hard face-off between President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney, the political press is turning its boundless energies to the veepstakes. Romney probably won't pick a running mate until August, but so what? Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was asked on Wednesday — for the umpteenth time — if he would accept a Romney VP offer, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice emerged as the top pick among Republicans in a new CNN poll, and several pundits are just sure that Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) is Romney's No. 1 choice. The thing is: They all say they don't want to be Romney's VP, with varying degrees of vehemence. Also: Nobody believes them. So why does everybody deny wanting to be vice president? Here, five theories:
1. Playing hard-to-get makes you more attractive
As Rubio and fellow Romney VP A-lister Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) have discovered, each time you categorically deny wanting the job, the press ups your prospects by repeating the VP question "a hundred times more frequently," says Jim Newell at Wonkette. Note, for instance, that while Rubio repeatedly shoots down suggestions that he will be Romney's VP pick, "he continues to accept every fluffy interview that offers him a platform to talk about the vice presidency." That's because you can take "no" too far, says Dan Amira at New York. "Sound too disinterested, and why should Romney pick you at all, you jerk?"
2. Saying you want the job usually backfires
The other half of the "rhetorical balancing act" VP wannabes perform is that you can't publicly lobby for the job, says New York's Amira. "Sound too enthusiastic, and you alienate your constituents (assuming you have them), and set yourself up for embarrassment when you're not picked." Besides, there's nothing to gain by showing interest in being vice president, since it's not in your hands, says Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway. Unlike running for president, the No. 2 slot "is offered by the man at the top of the ticket."
3. Some VP prospects might be holding out for 2016
Most of the people placed on Romney's short list didn't choose to run for president this year, but that doesn't mean they don't have their eye on the White House. Rubio, for example, is "barely 40," so he has "plenty of time to make that leap," says Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor. But if he says yes to the VP slot now, and Romney loses, Rubio "looks like a loser who overreached after barely joining the Senate." And even if Romney wins, unless he then dies or quits, Rubio is stuck as VP: "Current (or former) vice presidents hardly ever reach the presidency."
4. They really, genuinely don't want the job
There are lots of denials that politicians use to keep their name in the running, but some really, truly don't want to be vice president, says Christian Heinze at The Hill. Take Gov. Susana Martinez (R-N.M.), who makes the list as a Hispanic female governor of a blue state. Earlier this month she slammed the door shut with a "powerful and immutable" denial: She cares for a developmentally disabled sister, and moving her to Washington, where there's no other family, "would be devastating." The "I wouldn't do it because of my family" excuse is "ironclad" by itself, says Heinze, but Martinez's disabled-sibling addendum is "10 times tougher to overcome."
5. The vice presidency is a thankless job
A new HBO sitcom, Veep, captures how most people — including ambitious politicians — think of the vice presidency: Upon taking the office, Julia Louis-Dreyfus' character discovers "it's a thankless and powerless job, made even more awful by the fact that everyone on the Hill treats her with appalling disrespect," says the Contra Costa Times' Chuck Barney. That view has been around since at least 1932, when FDR's first vice president, John Nance Garner, famously described it as being "not worth a bucket of warm piss." Well, so what? columnist Ellen Goodman asked in 1988, noting the resistance among VP contenders in that year's race. The vice presidency pays well for an easy job with lots of perks. Maybe this "snickering" dismissal is "the most public vestige of the lingering Puritan work ethic."