August vs. November vs. January

Updated
 
The "safest" choice for the 2012 Republican ticket?
The "safest" choice for the 2012 Republican ticket?
Associated Press

Is it too soon to speculate about Republican vice presidential running mates? One could probably make the argument that we should wait a little longer – there are minor details to be resolved, such as who the presidential nominee will be – but where’s the fun in that?

When thinking about VP short lists, keep this dynamic in mind: running mates tend to fall into one of three categories: August, November, and January.

If a nominee picks an August, he or she is trying to bring a fractured party together at his or her national convention, reaching out to a rival or someone from a competing intra-party constituency. George H.W. Bush, for example, was an August pick for Reagan in 1980.

If a nominee picks a November, he or she is picking a running mate intended to help win the general election.

And if a nominee picks a January, he or she is looking for someone who can help govern once inaugurated. Dick Cheney was arguably the perfect January.

Once in a while, we’ll see VP choices that fall into more than one category – Palin was arguably an August and a November, while Gore was probably a November and a January – but in general, running mates fall into one of these three categories.

With this in mind, Jonathan Bernstein makes the case today that Mitt Romney, assuming he gets the GOP nod, should turn to former Gov. Mike Huckabee because he’s “the safest choice out there.”

Perhaps, but that’s not saying much. Huckabee is a culture-war extremist with no meaningful understanding of economic or foreign policy, and by all appearances, he doesn’t much like Romney personally. But he’s relatively likeable as right-wing voices go, and would probably serve as a capable November – Huckabee almost certainly wouldn’t help Romney govern, but I get the sense Romney cares far more about winning than governing anyway.

The oddity of this little parlor game is that the most likely candidates on the Republican short list – Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida – have probably disqualified themselves with their outrageous social agenda, as Rachel explained in a segment last night.

August vs. November vs. January

Updated