Do Romney's top veep choices know anything about the world?
- By Joshua E. KeatingJoshua E. Keating is an associate editor at Foreign Policy.
Speculation is brewing that Mitt Romney may announce his vice presidential pick as early as this week, and while there’s still room for a Palin-esque surprise, the conversation has mostly settled on the following six names. While former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was briefly floated as a possibility, her support for abortion rights and association with some of the more controversial legacies of the George W. Bush administration make her a pretty unlikely pick. The names that are left don’t have an awful lot of foreign-policy experience, but in recent months some have been taking steps to burnish their international credentials.
VP Buzz: Portman has reportedly been on the Romney campaign’s shortlist since at least April. The former Bush administration budget chief and congressman is reportedly popular among influential Republican insiders and could help the Romney campaign in Ohio, a key battleground state.
Foreign Policy credentials: According to former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin, Portman “has an immense understanding of the budget, the tax code and trade and foreign policy” and indeed may have more international experience than anyone else on the Romney shortlist — save long-shot candidates like Condoleezza Rice — having served as U.S. Trade Representative from 2005 to 2006. Portman sits on the Senate Armed Services committee and is the ranking republican on its Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee. He recently made a high-profile trip to Afghanistan, Israel, and Jordan — which included meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — in what was widely seen as an attempt to burnish his vice presidential credentials. In Afghanistan, he met with U.S. troops and local officials and expressed concerns about the Obama administration’s withdrawal timeline. In a recent CNN interview, Portman stopped short of endorsing military intervention in Syria but called for the United States to take a greater leadership role in assisting the country’s rebels. He has co-sponsored a Senate Resolution opposing a “containment” strategy in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program.
One potential Achilles heel for Portman may be his time as a lobbyist for Washington firm Patton Boggs in the mid-1980s. The firm’s clients at the time included the government of Haiti, which was ruled at the time by dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, though the firm denies that Portman ever worked on behalf of the Haitian government.
Governor of Minnesota
VP Buzz: The New York Times reported on July 15 that Pawlenty, along with Portman, is a top contender for the ticket. The governor was also reportedly high on John McCain’s list in 2008 and this year launched a short-lived presidential candidacy of his own. Pawlenty was early to endorse Romney and has been an enthusiastic surrogate throughout the campaign.
Foreign Policy credentials: Aside from trade missions and trips to visit Minnesotan troops overseas, Pawlenty’s international resume is pretty light. As a candidate in June 2011, Pawlenty gave a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) which was billed as a rebuttal to Obama’s speech a month before on the Arab Spring. In the speech, Pawlenty attacked not only the president but elements of his own party, saying, “Parts of the Republican Party now seem to be trying to outbid the Democrats in appealing to isolationist sentiments.”
Though he doesn’t describe himself as a neoconservative, Pawlenty seemed, in the speech, to take his queues from George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda,” criticizing Obama for being too hesitant to call for the overthrow of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak and being to slow to use force against Libya’s Muammar al-Qaddafi. Like Romney, he also called for a more forceful response to the Iranian nuclear program. “From what we can tell, Gov. Pawlenty has decided that the George W. Bush foreign policy is where he’s decided to stake his flag,” CFR senior vice president James Lindsey told FP after the speech.
Governor of Louisiana
VP Buzz: Jindal is still best known nationally for his awkward response to Obama’s first State of the Union address, but there’s been recent buzz that his sterling credentials with social conservatives could help Romney reassure voters unsure about his earlier positions on issues like abortion and gay marriage.
Foreign Policy credentials: During his brief congressional career, Jindal served on the Homeland Security Committee, but his resume is pretty light on international issues. In his book, Leadership and Crisis, Jindal wrote that he opposes cuts to missile defense and doesn’t believe foreign terrorists should be read Miranda rights.
Jindal is the son of Indian immigrants and the first Indian-American governor in U.S. history. As governor he has supported legislation cracking down on businesses that hire illegal immigrants. With the Obama administration’s energy policies in the crosshairs following the controversial Keystone XL pipeline decision, Jindal might make an effective attack dog. After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the coast of Louisiana, he opposed the Obama administration’s temporary moratorium on offshore drilling.
VP Buzz: A number of reports rank Ryan as the fourth name on the Romney campaign’s shortlist. As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan has been one of the GOP’s best-known public figures and the party’s leading voice on economic policy.
Foreign Policy credentials: “Path to Prosperity,” the alternative budget proposal Ryan put forward in March, contained huge cuts to U.S. development and diplomacy funding, while taking “several steps to ensure that national security remains government’s top priority.” His budget would have cut the federal government’s international affairs account, including State Department and USAID funding, by nearly $10 billion by 2016.
Though best known for his conservative economic policies, Ryan put forward his vision for international affairs in a June 2011 speech at the non-partisan Alexander Hamilton Society. The speech contained a strong defense of American exceptionalism, attacked China’s “coercive population controls” and “unsound economic policies,” called for closer ties between the United States and emerging economies like Brazil and India, and opposed hasty withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan. Ryan was an early and enthusiastic supporter of the “surge” strategy in Iraq.
South Dakota senator
VP Buzz: Thune, who had been considered a potential presidential candidate this year, has acknowledged meeting with the Romney campaign’s senior advisors in Boston but says “it wasn’t a meeting about what you think it’s about.” The socially conservative senator and GOP rising star was an effective campaigner for Romney during the Iowa caucuses.
Foreign Policy credentials: Thune spearheaded the GOP response to the Obama administration’s New START arms control agreement with Russia, arguing that it “misses one opportunity after another to maintain a stable nuclear relationship between our two countries.” Thune pushed for improvements to the U.S. nuclear deterrent to be made as part of the compromise on the treaty, which also brought with it benefits for South Dakota’s Ellsworth Air Force Base.
Thune supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a congressman but raised some eyebrows by suggesting the war in Iraq could help the spread of Christianity there. He recently signed on to a letter by GOP senators opposing U.S. ratification of the Law of the Sea treaty.
VP Buzz: Rubio was once considered a top contender for the job, but has been conspicuously absent on recent shortlists, perhaps due to his somewhat lackluster endorsement of Romney and questions about Rubio’s campaign finances during his 2010 race?. All the same, Rubio’s youth, popularity, and the fact that he would be the first Hispanic (a key demographic in the upcoming election) on a major party ticket, could make him a potential surprise pick.
Foreign Policy credentials: Rubio may have come to power with the 2010 Tea Party wave, but he doesn’t share the isolationist tendencies of classmates like Rand Paul. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rubio has often found himself more in agreement with Democrats like John Kerry and Bob Casey than some members of his own party — particularly on issues related to humanitarian intervention.
In a speech at the Brookings Institution in April, which seemed calculated to position the freshman as a new congressional leader on foreign policy, Rubio repeatedly invoked the neoconservative scholar — and Romney advisor — Robert Kagan, in calling for a more aggressive push to force Syria’s Bashar al-Assad from power, and a greater emphasis on human rights in Russia and China.
Though Rubio has been a frequent and prominent critic of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, he also has some notable differences with Romney, particularly on cuts to foreign aid and Arab democracy-building programs. The child of Cuban immigrants, Rubio has proposed a GOP alternative to the DREAM Act that would allow some children of illegal immigrants to study and work in the United States — a measure that would likely be opposed by Romney.
Recent Vice Presidential picks like Joe Biden, Dick Cheney, and George H.W. Bush were experienced foreign-policy hands, perhaps making up for the perceived shortcomings of the names at the top of their tickets. But the names of Romney’s list seem to indicate that foreign policy won’t be a major focus of his campaign.