After Palin, Expect a More Intense Vetting Process The combination of post-Palin pressures, the high stakes of the general election and the pervasiveness of the political media are likely to set a new standard for running mate vetting this time around. By RICHARD W. STEVENSON
Let’s say you’re moving steadily toward wrapping up the Republican presidential nomination and you allow yourself to begin thinking ahead to the question of a running mate.
In any other year, your musings might lead you to, say, Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, a former prosecutor who checks all of those boxes, has bipartisan support in her home state and enjoys shooting handguns to boot.
But in the world after Sarah Palin and “Game Change,” the chances of Mitt Romney or anyone else choosing a first-term governor lacking a national brand name and experience are greatly diminished. However good a fit she might be on paper, Ms. Martinez probably bears too many surface similarities to Ms. Palin to get a serious look, as The New Republic and others have pointed out.
And the fallout from the McCain campaign’s selection of Ms. Palin for the No. 2 place on the ticket will extend well beyond the chances of any individual. For any Republican who makes it onto the short list of possible vice presidential nominees, the vetting process this year promises to be as thorough and intrusive as the vetting of Ms. Palin was rushed and incomplete.
The McCain campaign’s unvetted process of the Palin selection was hardly the first botched vetting. George S. McGovern only belatedly learned in 1972 that his first choice of running mate, Thomas Eagleton, was taking antipsychotic drugs and had undergone electroshock therapy. The background check into Ms. Ferraro did not extend deeply enough into her husband, John Zaccaro, whose finances and business practices quickly became political problems for Mr. Mondale. In 2004, John Edwards turned out to be an uncooperative running mate for Senator John Kerry (though Mr. Edwards did not descend into scandal until after the campaign).
Even where vetting has not been the issue, the selection process has often been irregular: Dick Cheney ending up as George W. Bush’s choice in 2000 after running the search himself, or Ronald Reagan flirting with putting former President Gerald R. Ford on the ticket with him in 1980.
But in Republican circles, there is a clear focus on avoiding the problems that marked the Palin selection: a rushed process failed to ask basic questions about the prospective running mate, and put short-term electoral concerns ahead of readiness to assume the presidency.
“One of the mistakes we made in the Palin process was one of assumptions,” said Steve Schmidt, one of the McCain aides who guided the process. “We immediately made the assumption that anyone with ‘Governor’ next to her name has a base level of knowledge of history and policy that in a post-Palin world it isn’t necessarily safe to assume.”
Mr. Schmidt said this time around the nominee and his team will need to start the search and vetting much earlier and ask more probing questions intended to gauge the ability of the possible choices to think on their feet, master complex information and provide assurance they could handle the presidency if it came to that. And, he said, the nominee will face pressure to manage a much more rigorous process to prove to the media that the vetting has been thorough.
“What level of rigor is going to be applied to this?” Mr. Schmidt said. “Is the media going to demand, for example, to know who is running the vetting process? What is the criteria for the vetting process? How is the decision going to be made? How transparent will the process be?”