While there’s still a lot of road ahead in the 2012 presidential race, one fact is already clear: The eventual GOP nominee is probably going to leave a certain number of conservative Republicans wary, or even skeptical. The selection of a running mate will be even more important than usual, as it will be the biggest decision of the campaign and the clearest signal the nominee can send to GOP doubters looking for reassurance.
For Mitt Romney, numerous conservatives just don’t trust him. Between the health-care plan and individual mandate that he signed into law in Massachusetts and the leftover flip-flop charges from the 2008 cycle, many tea party–affiliated Republicans see Romney as too establishment, too moderate, too flexible, and too unprincipled to effectively carry their banner in the coming year. If the former governor wins the nomination, he will need a running mate who can restore confidence in him among the GOP base while avoiding a firebrand whose style and philosophy completely contrasts with Romney’s.
The other poll leader, Newt Gingrich, has enjoyed a significantly different career path from Romney, but faces many similar challenges as a potential nominee. The former speaker of the House has been an outspoken conservative at many times — but also made millions advising Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, taped a global-warming-related commercial with Nancy Pelosi, endorsed liberal Republican Dede Scozzafava over tea-party favorite Doug Hoffman in a key special U.S. House election, and has had numerous other (often brief) departures from conservative orthodoxy. Gingrich is creative and eloquent but also erratic.
That pair — and almost any other potential nominee — will need to compete in the upper-midwest Rust Belt, and bringing into play any state in the Northeast beyond New Hampshire would be a considerable bonus.
The Republican nominee is likely to need a running mate who has impeccable free-market credentials, is admired by the tea partiers, and preferably comes from a swing state. A figure who would face little learning curve if thrust into the presidency and is experienced enough with how the federal government works to be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office, but hasn’t become a stale creature of official Washington. Someone who built his reputation as a staunch defender of conservative principles and by making the hard choices, but has also demonstrated a certain flexibility and willingness to compromise to achieve what he deems the nation’s highest priorities.
If the Republican nominee is willing to pick someone who only returned to elected office in January 2011, then this figure does exist, in the form of Pennsylvania senator Pat Toomey.
Toomey is quick to express skepticism that he’ll be receiving any consideration as the Republican nominee’s running mate. “I really don’t see that happening,” he says in an interview. “I have to catch up with the work I have to do on my ordinary committees because I’ve been so engrossed on the supercommittee.”
Toomey’s blue-collar upbringing in a Catholic family in Providence, R.I., would contrast nicely with Romney’s. Like the former Massachusetts governor, Toomey is also a Harvard man and spent his early career working in international finance for Chemical Bank and Morgan, Grenfell & Co. During these young adult years, Toomey lived in New York, London, and Hong Kong. Like Romney, he’s a businessman, although Toomey’s entrepreneurial efforts were on a smaller and quite human scale: In 1999, Toomey moved from New York City to that emblematic city of blue-collar Americana, Allentown, Pa., where he and his brothers founded and ran a trio of sports bars, two in Allentown and one in Lancaster, Pa.