What's a girl gotta do to get noticed -- possibly even chosen -- for the 2012 Republican presidential ticket? Besides having a polished resume, thick skin, a photogenic smile and a distinguished career with few if any missteps, she'll have to prove to the GOP she's a bona fide AABSP: Absolutely Anything But Sarah Palin.
The quixotic campaign of Palin-McCain damaged the playing field for current conservative women who'd otherwise be politically complementary to Mitt Romney. Heading down the stretch toward the Republican National Convention, might Romney consider a female vice president?
Political experts aren't betting on it. Only a few women even make the short list of potential Mitt Romney running mates.
Might any of them offer an antidote to the Republican Party's image, grossly distorted by the media, as a tone-deaf country club of old white men hell-bent on waging war against women, repealing state and federal abortion rights statutes, and rescinding progress toward gender parity? Perhaps. But paradoxically, it's those transcendental qualities that could doom the prospects for any of these women in a campaign as risk-averse as the one Romney has so far chosen to run.
All that said, Romney wants women to believe he could choose a female vice president.
Here are a few that have been mentioned as possibilities:
• Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: Rice brings international prestige and unmatched expertise in U.S.-Russian relations to a campaign that's disturbingly bereft of foreign policy. She's among the most popular leaders of the Republican Party, known for her loyalty and intellect. Dr. Rice -- a camera-shy moderately conservative black woman of humble origins raised in the Jim Crow South -- could fairly be considered the polar opposite of then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, circa 2008. But would Rice consider the job? She's indicated no desire to return to Washington and brings even less campaigning experience to the table than Palin. Her pragmatism would be suspect for tea party-aligned conservatives and independents already leery of Romney.
• South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley: An Indian-American conservative who governs one of the reddest states in the country, Haley by all measures would be a great candidate. Her story is almost as inspirational as Rice's. But Haley also has a few very Palin-esque qualities -- she's beautiful, married, has children and appeals to tea party patriots. Like Palin, Haley is considered a reformer. That may be too close to the Sarah Palin image for candidate Romney.
Prediction: Safe play
Despite these role model choices -- a stateswoman of the Madeline Albright or Hillary Rodham Clinton mold whose humility represents the best in what a public servant should be, and a few up-and-comers of the John Edwards vice presidential profile, ambitious perhaps to a fault and thus worthy of scrutiny -- it would be a shocker to learn Romney was seriously considering any of them. His campaign has been woefully short on shockers, thus far, leading to the same sort of conservative head-scratching that prompted Palin's rise in 2008. Romney is among the most carefully-scripted candidates in recent memory. If the former Massachusetts governor stays on message as expected, and can resist the political temptation of reacting to the ebb and flow of poll numbers, he'll continue to try and tie President Obama to the slow recovery from a hundred-year economic crisis and frame the debate around what few actual differences in policy exist between a moderate conservative and a progressive who governs from the middle.
Romney is expected to choose a less charismatic vice presidential candidate. At the top of the list is Sen. Rob Portman, an unassuming former Cabinet secretary and budget cruncher during the George W. Bush administrations. Portman, who represents the perennial swing state of Ohio, is considered a safe and reliable pick for the Romney ticket. He's also well-liked by the candidate. Portman is joined on the safe list by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, considered one of the conservative movement's leading intellectuals, and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a "common-sense conservative" and one-time 2012 candidate who had the misfortune of skirmishing with the flawed tea party primary candidate Michelle Bachmann; he was unable to bounce back and smartly withdrew before making any career-ending mistakes. The only safe-list wild card might be Sen. Marco Rubio, the grandson of an illegal immigrant from Cuba, whose powerful personal narrative could outweigh his lack of experience in an election cycle that's seen immigration policy resurrected in the national debate. It's an issue that carries a lot of water with Latinos, an issues-based voting demographic coveted by both parties but beholden to neither.
Palin's ghost may scare Romney away from Rubio, though. She still haunts the campaign trail and may ultimately conjure a conservative choice that does little to expand the Republican base or broaden its appeal.
Contact Eric Christopher Adams at eric(at)alaskadispatch.com