The Veepstakes Postmortem

August 13, 2012  |  Politics

Here is a guest post from a friend of PunditTracker.

Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan Saturday as his vice presidential running mate. In opting for the seven‐term Wisconsin Congressman, the Republican standard‐bearer has in the words of Politico’s Mike Allen offered, “A RACE RESET.”

As the former Massachusetts Governor unveiled his selection aboard the USS Wisconsin, Romney closed by saying, “Join me in welcoming the next president of the United States.” He then laughingly corrected the slip of tongue, saying he had been known to make a mistake or two, “but I didn’t make one with this guy.”

One can’t help but wonder if we will be hearing a similar mea culpa from the media elite? In what is becoming a quadrennial trend, none of the dozen pundits we track that weighed in with a definitive, singular call selected Paul Ryan as Romney’s eventual running mate.

1. Paul Begala: Rob Portman (link)
2. Mark Halperin: Rob Portman (link)
3. Charles Krauthammer: Marco Rubio (link)
4. Chris Matthews: Marco Rubio (link) or Rick Perry (link)
5. Robert Reich: Marco Rubio (link)
6. Dick Morris: Marco Rubio (link)
7. Eleanor Clift: Rob Portman (link)
8. John McLaughlin: Rob Portman (link)
9. Mark Shields: Rob Portman (link)
10. Michael Tomasky: Susana Martinez (link)
11. Rich Lowry: Rob Portman or Bob McDonnell (link)
12. Mort Zuckerman: Rob Portman (link)

Of course, history offers ample evidence of predictive under‐performance in the vice presidential selection. On the GOP side, Quayle, Kemp, Cheney and Palin were largely no‐shows on the insider lists of what Time’s Mark Halperin calls the “Gang of 500.” The Ryan selection simply continues the trend.

The prediction markets, however, fared little better. While much was made last Friday of what the Associated Press called “an incredibly irregular spike in volume” for Ryan, Intrade had Rob Portman as the most likely candidate at midday on August 8 with a 36% chance of selection. It placed the Ohio Senator well ahead of Pawlenty (17.1%) and Rubio (12.3%). Ryan was in single digits at just 9.5%.

Thus, neither the Wisdom of Crowds nor the musings of the media elite have shown much predictive value. And those twin failings beg the question: what makes speculation around vice presidential selection so hard? Three potential drivers merit postmortem consideration:

  • Information Asymmetry: Campaigns go to extraordinary lengths to conceal their intentions, sending Paul Ryan into secondary airports wearing ball caps and sunglasses. It creates the political equivalent of what investment gurus regularly cite as information asymmetry. As Politico’s Allen wrote in the days leading up to the selection, “We know less than ever about the real state of play. We should not be surprised to be surprised.” But amid the knowledge gap, the demands of the 24×7 news cycle continue and the abhorred vacuum must be filled. It leads to predictive commentary that is largely absent tangible input from the campaign.
  • Recency Bias: A second potential dynamic may be what academicians call recency bias. In lay terms, it is the exercise of using our recent experiences as the baseline for what will happen in the future. In the wake of the 2008 election, the consensus among Halperin’s Gang of 500 was that the Palin selection adversely impacted McCain. This recent view, in turn, may have informed a bias that the pendulum had swung four years on toward a “safe choice” like Rob Portman.
  • Herd Mentality: Finally, the herd mentality is the highly documented phenomenon of groups acting in the same fashion. In Kindleberger’s Manias, Panics and Crashes, we periodically review the lessons of history amid frantic buying or in the wake of furious selling.  As the speculative frenzy grew to something akin to U.S. housing in 2006, it may be that a framing emerged. The safe choice of Portman or Pawlenty was framed with the bold pick of Rubio or Christie. This construct held through the summer, with Ryan only emerging within the latter “bold” camp as players like Christie came to be seen as less plausible.

Finally, amid thousands of column inches, it is interesting to contemplate what was largely unexplored. We heard little about Romney’s executive decision‐making and how it might inform approach. We heard little about how the former Harvard MBA and Chief Executive approached talent development at Bain portfolio companies. We heard little about how he handled succession planning as he began to contemplate future endeavors beyond Bain. Exploration here may have elevated predictive success, offering a tell that he was looking to give a “stretch assignment” to someone who very much looked the CEO‐in‐waiting Saturday in Norfolk.

In the end, whether the Ryan selection truly brings “A RACE RESET” remains to be seen. But it certainly was a decision that few predicted with important potential implications for the next 85 days.


Donald Trigg is a “friend of PunditTracker.” He spent a decade in public policy at the national level, including his work on the 2000 Bush for President campaign in Austin, Texas.




1 Comment

  1. I love these topics that track topics you wouldn’t think to track, nicely done and an interesting read, thank you.

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