VP: GOP base still hostile to Mitt Romney, Charlie Crist

Much of the GOP primary was spent arguing who was the least unacceptable candidate. To put it mildly, the base was dissatisfied with all the major candidates, preventing any of them, no matter how hard they tried, from uniting the base. In fact, the Republican contenders switched places as front-runners and traded momentum, as the base brought down whoever was at the top once their atypical positions on one issue or another became widely known and widely YouTubed.

Mitt Romney's candidacy was undoubtedly the hardest to assess. Whatever his position in national poll, he became the front-runner for the nomination in the summer and I firmly believed that he would not have been stopped had he won Iowa and New Hampshire. That, of course, was before Mike Huckabee's sudden and dramatic rise. But this rise was not random: It betrayed how uncomfortable the social conservative base remained with Romney, despite how hard he tried to seduce them. His 1990s positions on social issues were just too recent, too "radical."

It's in this context that John McCain emerged as the nominee without having ever really reassured those in the party who harbor the highest doubts about him. Persistent reports that he almost bolted from the party in 2001 and 2004 aren't helping him on this front, and all of this is making this year's vice-presidential pick that much more important: The GOP base wants to "balance" the ticket with someone they trust and they view as a "movement conservative." This is also very important because whoever McCain taps will have a huge advantage either in 2012 or 2016, whenever the GOP selects its next nominee... The problem for the GOP base is that the pool of people McCain can pick resembles the pool of people who could have ran for president in that there are strikingly few people who could get the base that excited.

Mitt Romney's sudden appearance in the veepstakes was sure to resolve little considering how dividided Republicans were throughout the campaign about his sincerity and conservative credentials. A few weeks ago, few people would have expected him to be on McCain's VP list; the Arizona Senator famously detested his rival and his disdain and scorn were evident in debates. But Romney, who dropped out shortly after Super Tuesday, has been active in showcasing his desire to help McCain in the name of party unity, with the two men even appearing together at events.

The former Governor has as many enemies and skeptics as he did a few months ago, and those have taken the quite dedicated step of uniting in a PAC (called Government is not God) to pressure McCain into accepting someone more acceptable to the base. Via Politico's Jonathan Martin, the group is now buying print ads in papers. Reads the ad, "If Gov. Romney is on your ticket, many social conservative voters will consider their values repudiated by the Republican Party and either stay away from the polls this November or only vote down the ticket."

The group has also started a website, asking visitors to sign a petition and post comments. This is slightly backfiring, as many of the comments are from (former?) Romney supporters; at the time I visited the website, the 7 last people to have signed in and commented had all posted pro-Romney comments: "I Wish you were VP to Mitt He is Awesome!" or "Romney for VP! He has the skills to balance the budget, to get us off of foreign oil, and will appoint conservative, prolife judges!" and "Senator McCain, I'm sure if you've read this far, you're just shaking your head at the ridiculousness of this petition and the self-serving nature of the Huckabee supporters who created it."

But Mitt Romney is far from being the Republican who worries Republicans the most. After all, the onetime front-runner had perhaps more conservative supporters than any other candidate. The National Review, a prime measure of conservative opinion, had endorsed him. In fact, The National Review is also voicing its bistate of a VP candidate: Florida Governor Charlie Crist.

Crist played a key role in insuring McCain's narrow Florida victory (which pretty much clinched the nomination for him), he has very high approval rating in his home-state, which just happens to be one of the general election's most important battlegrounds. That's more than enough to put anyone near the top of the VP list... and to worry a large portion of conservatives who do not care about Crist at all (to say the list). The National Review profiled the Governor last week and ended on this ominous threat:

Conservatives are likely to want a little more balance on the GOP presidential ticket. If McCain decides to spurn them, he would be smart to buy some disaster insurance beforehand.

The article explores Crist's positives as well, but a large of the piece is devoted to what makes him unacceptable and what has led a Democratic state Senator to call him a good "Democratic governor." He believes too much in global warming; he "hobbles market forces" and is trying to "socialize our state insurance market." He does not think Roe was wrongly decided, only recently started calling himself pro-life (without even providing any Romney-type explanation), and is fine with civil unions for gays. And then there is that persistent rumor which-must-not-be-named but which could be enough to cost Crist the VP spot (despite Crist's quite marvelous denials: "No, man. No. I love women. I mean, they're wonderful.").



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