First of all, this piece is not a discussion about who either Major Party presumptive nominee will choose as their respective potential Vice-President. Other pundits may wish to engage in such speculation and that's all fine and good (as well as great fun to boot!)- but I will reserve any comments, on my part, about McCain and Obama running mates once I know who they actually are: 'The Green Papers' being, in the main, a "results-oriented" website!
Secondly, the reader will notice at least at least a couple references to former Vice President J. Danforth Quayle in this Commentary. I want to here make it most clear that I am not at all trying to resurrect those now-two decade-old 'Quayle jokes' that, fairly or unfairly, made fun of him or otherwise denigrate Mr. Quayle... as far as I am concerned, Dan Quayle can smile with that of the proverbial "cat who ate the canary" because, after all, when you look at the list of Vice Presidents of the United States, his name is actually on that list!
No, my purpose here is to simply tick off the various "what should- and, perhaps more importantly, shouldn't- be done"s in the course of John McCain and Barack Obama each eventually selecting a vice-presidential candidate. In so doing, however, I am certainly more than well aware that neither Major Party nominee-presumptive needs, nor would they in the first place even heed, the advice of one who is, after all, merely the moral equivalent of some Internet political blogger (even though, yes, I was blogging before it was cool! [;-)]).
However: I have a healthy ego, too... so here goes!:
Both Senator McCain and Senator Obama should
1. strongly consider a Governor or former Governor as a running mate: I have often opined on this very website that, while History shows that we Americans love to have United States Senators as presidential candidates, we very much prefer Governors of States of this Union as our actual Presidents (George W. Bush, Bill Clinton; Reagan, Carter, FDR, Coolidge, Wilson, TR, McKinley, Cleveland... the list goes on as we work our way backwards).
Nonetheless, both Major Parties- it appears- will be nominating incumbent U.S. Senators for President of the United States in 2008; never before, in American History, have two Senators squared off to become the most likely next President. Thus, it is imperative that, if at all practicable, both nominees-presumptive should each choose a Governor- or at least a former Governor- for their respective Party's national ticket.
2. not try too hard to make a "splash": in this case, I am referring to the effort to do something "historic" or "sea changing". The best way I can possibly put this is: 'History Happens'-- that is: the true makers of History, for the most part, do not consciously try and change History. And nothing can be less "sea changing" than who one might have on the ticket for Vice President!
Here comes my first reference to Dan Quayle, by the way:
by all accounts, George H.W. Bush- "Bush 41"- chose Senator Dan Quayle to be his running mate back in 1988, at least in part, in an attempt to attract the votes of the "Boomer" (or at least the votes of those who were more conservative among the "late wave Boomers" and who had been the quintessential 'Yuppies' of the Reagan Years then coming to an end)-- it should be noted here that Quayle will, forever, be the answer to the trivia question 'who was the first person born after World War II to be on a Major Party national ticket?'
It isn't that Quayle hurt the first President Bush in the latter's attempt to reach the White House (though one could argue Vice President Quayle didn't at all help Bush 41's trying to get re-elected four years later) but that here was an example where one gets the distinct impression that the choice of a running mate so relatively young (Quayle was 41 at the time of the '88 Election) didn't have the effect during the campaign itself that seemed to have been intended.
Along these same lines, one has to also here look at former Vice President Walter Mondale's choice of Representative Geraldine Ferraro (who, by the way, happened to have been my own Member of Congress at the time, as I was living in the New York City Borough of Queens back in 1984) as his running mate. Here Mondale was putting the first (and, so far, only- given Senator Hillary Clinton having failed in her quest to win the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination) woman onto a Major Party national ticket. Perhaps, given the fact that- in the end- Mondale, facing what turned out to be a Ronald Reagan juggernaut, had to try and make such a "splash", this was something that "had to be done"; nevertheless, it did little to help the former Vice President in his own quest for the Presidency.
at the same time, however, the current presidential nominees-presumptive should
3. not make the obvious choice, either: Back during the late Spring into the early Summer of 2004, I would get quite a few e-mails from supporters of then-Democratic presumptive (and eventual) presidential nominee Senator John Kerry telling me how I should "just watch!-- Senator Kerry is thinking 'outside the box'-- expect a 'curve ball' when he picks his running mate". Some of these e-mailers had sources within the Kerry campaign and I began thinking 'Wow!- I guess Kerry is not going to be picking Senator John Edwards, then'...
This is the reason, by the way, that I yet fail to be convinced that Senator Obama might choose Senator Hillary Clinton to be his running mate (though, as was the case four years ago, I could still be wrong!)
4. not "respond" to the other guy's pick: In a sense, John McCain has a built-in advantage when it comes to choosing his Party's vice-presidential candidate: if he might wish to, he can always choose last- for, theoretically, McCain doesn't have to announce his running mate until the Republican Convention in St. Paul itself and, by the time that Convention even meets, the Democrats will have already formally ratified their national ticket- presidential and vice-presidential nominees, both- in Denver the week before.
But Politics (despite the very Mission Statement of this website likening it to Sport) is not Baseball (despite those Kerry e-mailers four years ago warning me about a 'curve ball' that, in the end, never caught the plate): you don't send up a pinch-hitter, forcing the opposing manager to change pitchers only to be allowed, under that sport's rules, to change your pinch-hitter whom the new opposing pitcher must now face! (in Presidential Politics, this only happens if something has gone terribly awry: see 'Thomas Eagleton replaced on the ticket by Sargent Shriver: 1972').
Regardless of who announces first- McCain or Obama- the other presumptive nominee must avoid the temptation to choose someone more or less "in answer" to the other candidate's running mate.
Back now to Dan Quayle: Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts had already chosen World War II vet Senator Lloyd Bentsen of Texas to be his running mate when World War II vet George H.W. Bush chose Boomer Dan Quayle... might Bush 41 have been responding to Dukakis' choice, as his running mate, of a man of Bush's own "Greatest Generation"?...
Again, Bush 41 might well have won the "battle" (1988) only to later lose the "war" (1992)!
5. not try to "repeat" History: 'Tis said that "those who don't know History are condemned to repeat it"... to which my corollary would be: those who know History- or at least think they know it- are far more likely to attempt to repeat it!
Back to the Dukakis/Bentsen Democratic ticket of 1988: much was made, at the time (especially among those to whom the choice of Dan Quayle as the GOP vice-presidential nominee was found most wanting), of the fact that a national ticket based on a similar Massachusetts-Texas axis had been elected back in 1960 (John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, of course)... well-- how'd that work out? ;-)
Both Senators seeking the White House should well take the above lesson to heart and not too closely look at what previous presidential nominees of both Major Parties have done while mulling over their own running mate possibilities!
Finally-- and this trumps all of what I have suggested throughout this very piece (that is: if either presidential contender is going to ignore any of the above 'caveats' of mine, it had better be because of the following suggestion herein!):
6. choose the person you most honestly feel would be the best Running Mate for you, regardless: whether this might be because of something that running mate brings to the Fall campaign or because of the potential for a good working relationship with your Vice President should the Presidential Election actually be won or because the person so chosen would make a good President, if that should (sadly) become necessary-- hopefully, all three of these issues have been considered!
In the end, a presidential nominee's choice as running mate must ever be, above all else, his choice!
If it becomes more the choice of the presidential nominee's campaign staff, or a given faction of his Party, then that presidential nominee is only looking for trouble come the Fall campaign. Perhaps more than in relation to any other decision a presidential nominee can make before (maybe) being elected President, the old Mark Twain adage here applies:
"Know you're right, then go ahead"