(Eugene Robinson is taking a one-week vacation, so there will be no column next week.)
WASHINGTON -- Playing second fiddle to Mitt Romney won't be easy, but somebody has to be his running mate. Let's handicap the field:
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio: The choice who offers the biggest potential reward -- for the biggest risk.
The telegenic young Cuban-American could potentially shore up three of the Romney campaign's weaknesses: He is an unambiguous conservative, elected with tea party backing, who would temper Romney's "Massachusetts moderate" image among the disgruntled GOP base. Rubio's groundbreaking candidacy could lure back some of the Hispanic voters driven away by Republican policies. And he happens to come from a huge swing state that Romney has to win in order to have a chance at the White House.
But Rubio would be a roll of the dice. How would he perform under the microscopic scrutiny that any candidate for national office must endure? Pitted against Vice President Biden in a debate, would he seem callow and uninformed? Rubio could brighten Romney's prospects, but there's also a chance he could dim them considerably.
Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan: A safer choice, yet one that would restrict Romney's freedom to maneuver during the campaign.
Romney and Ryan have campaigned together this week, in what looked like Ryan's audition for the supporting-actor role, and there is an obvious rapport between them. Remarkably, it turns out that Ryan is even less charismatic on the stump than Romney -- meaning there's no danger that Romney would be overshadowed.
But Ryan is the author of the House Republican budget, a document that has become the main target of President Obama's re-election campaign. Romney might figure that, having said nice things about the Ryan budget, he effectively owns it anyway. But there's a difference between owning the thing and chaining yourself to its creator.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: A potential game-changer who could save the ticket or doom it -- either way, spectacularly.
I think of Christie as the "fasten your seat belts" choice. He has credibility as a conservative Republican, yet manages to survive in a state where appealing to independents is crucial. And no other potential vice presidential candidate would fill the traditional "attack dog" role with more gusto.
Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group