When the Drudge Report splashed a report that President Barack Obama believed Mitt Romney would choose four-star general and current CIA Director David Petraeus as his running mate, the political conversation instantly became about Petraeus.
The CIA and sources close to Petraeus immediately dismissed the reports.
"Director Petraeus feels very privileged to be able to continue to serve our country in his current position, and, as he has stated clearly numerous times before, he will not seek elected office," CIA spokesman Todd Ebitz told Reuters.
But in the oft-chance that he is selected as Romney’s running mate, Petraeus would single-handedly allow Romney to take Obama’s strongest cards in a slumping economy -- national security -- off the table.
In the fall, Obama will campaign on the killing of Osama Bin Laden. His administration leaked national security secrets to Hollywood film producers and a movie, “Zero Dark Thirty,” directed by Oscar Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow. The movie will premiere just before the election to hammer this point -- and campaign theme -- into the popular culture.
Petraeus, who lives in New Hampshire, could also help Romney even more in the Granite State, a crucial battleground state in November.
In addition, if war erupts in the Middle East involving Iran, Romney, lacking military experience, may be at a disadvantage. And having the steady Petraeus as his running mate would erase all doubts about whether the country can risk changing Commander-in-Chiefs in the middle of a potential foreign policy crisis.
Further, because Petraeus serves in the Obama administration, being Romney’s running mate would appeal to moderate voters who tell pollsters they crave “bipartisanship.” Petraeus -- should he so choose -- could also make the case, based on his observations as a former insider in Obama’s administration, about why the country needs a new Commander-in-Chief.
But doing so carries risks and could just as much prove to be a liability.
Like failed presidential candidate and Obama’s former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, Petraeus will have to answer question after question about whether it is kosher to run against a president who appointed him to top-level positions. Further, unlike Huntsman, who resigned his Ambassadorship to run for president, Petraeus will have been plucked from his post to run on a ticket against Obama, and it could make him look like a politically ambitious mercenary whose actions would contradict his near Sherman-esque denials that he would ever seek elected office.
Petraeus also does not have any political experience on the national stage and would have to subject himself to intense grilling. He would catch up on domestic issues in which he may not be fully immersed. Romney might not have the skilled advisers that could successfully guide Petraeus through the media freak show that will ensue.
Petraeus will also tie Romney to everything the country did not like about the Bush era’s foreign policy. He is also a symbol for many things Republicans do not like about Obama’s foreign defense policy -- such as his support of Obama’s repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, closing down Guantanamo, and softer stances on enhanced interrogation to get crucial intelligence information from the country’s sworn enemies.
When Petraeus’s name was being floated around as a potential 2012 Republican candidate for president, conservatives vetted him similarly , and many of those concerns still remain.
The liberal New Yorker once praised him as a Rockefeller Republican. His wife was appointed to work in Obama’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which Elizabeth Warren oversaw. And his comments on “Meet The Press” in 2010 about Israel may be inconsistent with Romney’s firm embrace of America’s relationship with Israel during his recent trip to Jerusalem.
Petraeus, in many regards, is the anti-Huntsman in this way. Whereas the effete manner in which Hunstman was marketed masked some of his more conservative fiscal stances, the masculine aura that surrounds Petraeus may hide some of his more liberal leanings, especially on a host of domestic and social issues.
Like another resident of the Granite State, David Souter, Petraeus is a blank slate on a variety of issues and may ultimately disappoint, to say the least, conservatives like Souter.
But there are few potential running mates who could neutralize any foreign policy or national security cards Obama could play in this election like Petraeus, who would allow Romney to focus solely on Obama’s economy, which is where Obama is most vulnerable.
Which is why -- if the rumors are true that Romney could be considering Petraeus, it would be tempting for Romney to look at him as his potential running mate, betting the many unknowns and liabilities Petraeus would also bring to the ticket would be offset by his foreign policy and national security bona fides.