If Not Romney, Who?

Last week, I pretty much wrote off the idea that John McCain will offer his running-mate slot to Mitt Romney.

Last week, I pretty much wrote off the idea that John McCain will offer his running-mate slot to Mitt Romney. I probably shouldn’t have. (Talk about a flip-flop …)

My reason for dismissing Romney was simple: The political style he exhibited in his own presidential campaign — abandoning just about all previously held principles in an effort to hew to every conservative interest group’s issues checklist — fundamentally violated McCain’s sense of propriety and honor. This went far beyond, in my estimation, the usual hurt feelings and sour grapes that campaigns produce. So why, I asked, with all the options that he has, would McCain actually give Romney his No. 2 slot — and the giant leg-up for the 2012 or 2016 presidential election that comes with it?

But the Romney-for-VP buzz is beginning to feel as inevitable as the John Edwards buzz was four years ago.

I think there are two main reasons for this. One is simple politics: McCain just doesn’t have that many high-quality options here. Tim Pawlenty brings little. Mark Sanford is starting to look like a better candidate for Miss South Carolina. Bobby Jindal and Sarah Palin are too junior. And Carly Fiorina, once an intriguing dark-horse prospect, talked herself out of contention last week. Next to them — and other supposed contenders, like Tom Ridge and Rob Portman — Romney brings a lot more to the table: Outstanding communication skills, the appearance of youth and vigor, extensive business experience, access to big money, and a chance to boost the G.O.P. ticket in Michigan.

The second factor is Romney’s personal touch. Despite all of his helpful political attributes, I reasoned that McCain would pass on Romney because his old foe still made his skin crawl — and that their public reconciliation was an act of political convenience (Romney just wants to be V.P. and McCain just wants peace in the party). There is clearly something to that — Romney obviously wants the No. 2 slot to position himself for a future White House campaign) — but there’s also something else: Romney, for all of his public phoniness, has a winning personal touch behind the scenes. In this sense, he’s a lot like George H. W. Bush, who managed to wage one of the ugliest presidential campaigns in history while retaining his reputation as one of the most decent people in politics. I can see how Romney, since making it his goal to ingratiate himself with McCain, might have won his former opponent over on a personal level, to the point where McCain would be comfortable offering him the VP slot. Especially considering how few options he has.

Maybe it won’t happen. I still believe that his best (if riskiest) choice would be Joe Lieberman, from a political standpoint. But that’s a real long shot. Romney is looking better by the day, if only because the other options look so much worse. If Not Romney, Who?