What if I told there is a young, photogenic Hispanic Republican leader who would make a compelling vice-president? What if I told you that, unlike Marco Rubio, he is a governor who has closed a budget gap, significantly cut government, and revitalized an economy? Is that something you might be interested in?
He is Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño. And yes, Puerto Ricans are American citizens. The Governor is constitutionally eligible for the office.
Fortuño is uniquely positioned as an outsider not only to Washington, but many of the traditional battle lines in our cultural and political life as well. He is a Latino who is not ethnically rooted in either the Mexican or Cuban traditions. Sidestepping traditional divisions, he would be positioned to forge a new consensus within demographics, essential to the GOP’s longer term health. He is a conservative who has achieved libertarian ends. He is a pragmatist who is credible when making principled arguments.
The Puerto Rican economic story is a perfect counter-narrative to the Obama message. It is a real world object lesson in why we should be doing the opposite of the failed policies of the last three years. Fortuño came to power in 2008 facing massive structural budget deficits, a stagnant economy, and stubborn unemployment. Over the protests of unions and government workers, he took to the Island’s public system with garden shears. Fortuño cut the budget by 90%, froze salaries and fired 39,000 public employees. Today private investment is flooding in. According to Barclay’s, Puerto Rican bonds are outperforming every state in the country. Unemployment is falling and those laid-off government workers have been absorbed into the private economy.
It’s a story about how individuals, freed from Obama-like policies, improve themselves and, by extension, their communities. Moreover, it reinforces Romney’s practical economic message by validating its central claims.
Such a selection would be about more than just political positioning and campaign narratives, it is an aspirational choice. It will be seen by millions of Hispanics and broader minority communities as a positive indication of the evolution transpiring within the GOP.
The election of a black president was historic. It has moved people and fundamentally changed our society for the better however one may feel about his presidency. Mitt Romney is competent, but he is not inspirational. There is a need for inspiration in this race and in our politics more broadly. The stunning betrayal of ObamaHope™ has left a hole that needs to be filled. The Rob Portmans of the world look great on paper, but such a choice would be calculating and cynical at a time when we need our politics to be about more than cold efficacy.
Elections are ultimately about distinctions. Unlike almost any other candidate under consideration, Fortuño brings something positive and affirmative to the ticket. The best most presidential nominees can hope for is a running mate that won’t hurt them; Mitt Romney is in the unique position to choose one that may well help his candidacy and the next generation of Republicans.