Fortuño for VP a very real possibility

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It’s a crisp autumn morning in the Bronx, and you can cut the anticipation with a knife. When Newt Gingrich scheduled this event in a poor, Hispanic neighborhood, everybody assumed it was just a nice photo-op leading into the convention. Then word came last night that Gingrich would be announcing his choice for vice president here, a few days earlier than expected. Given the odd location in a deep-blue Latino area, every media outlet got the hint — it was going to be Marco Rubio.

After a rousing introduction from Queens congressman Bob Turner, Gingrich takes the stage to thunderous applause, his white hair billowing in the light breeze. “It’s great to be here in the Bronx today,” he begins. “Callista and I have always loved the vibrancy and diversity of New York, and it’s really an honor to be sharing this great moment with this great city. As you know, I’ve spent the last several months looking for the best person to stand by my side in the battle for America, and I have found him.” The crowd goes wild. “The person I’m about to introduce to you knows better than anyone that big-government socialism is not the answer. As a governor, he unleashed the forces of the market by slashing 17,000 bureaucrats, cutting individual income taxes by 50%, cutting corporate taxes by 30% and cutting his own salary by 10%. He accomplished all of this in one of the most liberal places in the nation, and in addition to being a great governor, he’s also a devoted husband and a father of three. There is no better person to help me in this fight, and I cannot wait to get to work with him. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming the next vice president of these United States, Governor Luis Fortuño of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico!”

At first blush, this sounds a bit crazy, but it’s become a serious object of speculation within the conservative intelligentsia — not unlike the buzz around a certain Alaskan in late 2007. William McGurn had a column on the subject in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, and similar sentiments have been uttered by George Will as far back as last July. You can find plenty of glowing interviews with Fortuño by everybody from John Stossel to Newt Gingrich himself. His achievements in cutting government make Scott Walker look Marxist by comparison, and then after you’ve finished raving about his record, you realize that he just happens to be Hispanic.

I love Marco Rubio and the other potential candidates, but most of the names floating around are fresh faces without a lot of experience. Fortuño, on the other hand, brings almost a full term of executive experience as governor — and four years as Puerto Rico’s non-voting congressman before that. The fact that he’s being mentioned as a possible vice presidential pick even though he’s from Puerto Rico is a testament to how successful he’s been in those offices and shows that he would be up to a national-level job.

Would the experience of being Puerto Rico’s governor translate well to the mainland? I don’t see why not. If it were a state, Puerto Rico would rank a respectable 29th in terms of population, just ahead of Oklahoma, and would carry seven votes in the Electoral College. Puerto Rico also has a big crime problem and a higher unemployment rate than the rest of the U.S., so the Puerto Rican governorship is not exactly a low-stress position. In fact, given the massive protests Fortuño weathered in response to his deep cuts to the territory’s government workforce, he may be the most battle-tested governor in the country, and he did it all with unflappable grace.

That’s not to say there are no downsides to a Fortuño nomination. For one, he faces an uphill battle for re-election next year, and while he is steadily clawing his way back into the race, at one point he trailed by more than 20% in the polls. There are also questions to be answered on everything from the life issue to illegal immigration, and there’s the calculation of whether the country would accept a territorial politician who has traditionally waged his campaigns in Spanish rather than English. Someone like Mitt Romney would be hesitant to take those kinds of risks, but it’s exactly the type of flashy move one would expect from Newt Gingrich.

There’s good reason to believe that Gingrich will actually consider it. It’s not hard to find video of Gingrich lavishing praise on Fortuño in an interview for his Hispanic news website “The Americano,” and he’s mentioned both Rubio and Allen West as potential VPs, so he’s clearly interested in having a minority voice on the ticket. A Fortuño candidacy may be a wild idea, but with Gingrich, it’s probably far closer to becoming a reality than many people are willing to admit.

Adam Brickley was the founder of the website “Draft Sarah Palin for Vice President.” He has contributed to Race42012.com, The Weekly Standard’s blog and Conservatives4Palin.com. His personal blog is AdamBrickley.net.