5 reasons Petraeus won't be Romney's veep

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 2:35 PM

Blake Hounshell

WASHINGTON — The 14-year-old boy in me is extremely excited about the tantalizing possibility that CIA director David Petraeus, the most talented general of his generation and one of the few broadly respected figures in American political life, is being mooted as a potential veep pick for Mitt Romney. Picking Petraeus would inject some real excitement into a race that has turned into the second coming of Clinton-Dole: a real snoozefest. It would instantly transform the 2012 election from a race over taxes, jobs and health care (boring!) into one about the good stuff: foreign policy and national security.

But the grownup in me realizes that this a pundit’s fantasy, not to mention a diversion of dubious provenance (I mean, come on — are we supposed to believe Obama bundlers go around whispering sweet nothings in Matt Drudge’s ear?). So here are five reasons why — sorry, Bill Kristol — it ain’t gonna happen. (See also Chris Cillizza’s convincing debunker in The Washington Post.)

1. Petraeus doesn’t want the job

How many times has David Petraeus disavowed holding any political ambitions? Here he is in March 2010: "I thought I’d said ’no’ about as many ways as I could. I really do mean no . . . I will not ever run for political office, I can assure you." Here he is in August 2012 in an exchange on Meet the Press:

PETRAEUS: Well, I am not a politician, and I will never be, and I say that with absolute conviction.

DAVID GREGORY: Well, that’s what he said. But does that mean that you’re totally clear? That you’d never run for President?

PETRAEUS: Yeah, I really am. You know, and I’ve said that I’ll adopt what Sherman said and go back and look at what has come to be known as a Shermanesque answer on that particular question.

GREGORY: No way, no how?

PETRAEUS: No way, no how.

Of course, political figures go back on their word all the time. But as Petraeus himself has pointed out, it wouldn’t be very auspicious for his first political act to be a flip-flop.

Not yet convinced? NBC’s Andrea Mitchell tweeted this week: "sources close to Gen David Petraeus laugh off Drudge report he is a Romney veep possible — notgonnahappen."

2. He’s head of the CIA, for Pete’s sake

Why would Petraeus want to leave his post as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, still one of the top jobs in Washington even after the post-9/11 "reforms," to be Mitt Romney’s pilot fish? The vice presidency is still, even in the wake of powerful veeps like Dick Cheney and Joe Biden, a dog’s breakfast. Or, as America’s first No. 2, John Adams, once put it, "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." (Or, if you prefer, "not worth a pitcher of warm piss," in the immortal words of FDR’s otherwise unmemorable veep John Nance Garner.) Even if you see Petraeus as an ambitious climber always looking for the next branch, the vice presidency would be a step down, not a step up. In any case, he’d probably rather run the Pentagon.

3. Petraeus doesn’t do domestic policy

Like Condi Rice, Petraeus doesn’t do domestic issues. And if anything, he’s got even less of a paper trail on things like education, where at least Rice showed some private interest. Can you imagine Petraeus weighing in on heated debates about abortion or tax policy? Me neither. Domestic issues are full of pitfalls for amateurs who aren’t fully schooled in constituent politics. In any case, if Romney is clear about anything, it’s that this election will be about jobs and the economy. And I don’t think Petraeus’ strong record of creating jobs for drone manufacturers is going to cut it.

4. Romney doesn’t think outside the box

Even if you ignore the fact that Petraeus wouldn’t take the job, would Romney even offer it to him? That’s highly doubtful. The Romney campaign is all about avoiding John McCain’s mistakes — and one of those mistakes was thinking outside the box to choose Sarah Palin, then the little-known governor of Alaska. And we know how that worked out. No wonder Team Romney is thought to be in the hunt for an "incredibly boring white guy." The former Massachusetts governor is not known for flights of fancy — one associate told New York magazine that Romney "never took big risks" as a business executive. As a politician, he’s been even more cautious.

5. The White House categorically denied it

In his item, Drudge attributed the speculation that Romney might tap Petraeus to none other than POTUS himself. "President Obama whispered to a top fundraiser this week that he believes GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney wants to name Gen. David Petraeus to the VP slot!" he wrote.

But in a press briefing this week, White House spokesman Jay Carney left no room for interpretation as to whether Obama had said such a thing. "I can say with absolute confidence that such an assertion (has) never been uttered by the president," Carney said, adding a swipe at Drudge for good measure. "And again, be mindful of your sources."

One usually has to parse White House statements for ye olde non-denial denial, but that’s pretty categorical.

Hounshell is Foreign Policy’s managing editor.

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