To a candidate, selecting a running mate is almost always about trying to win the election. Ordinarily, of course, the campaign that candidates are trying to win is the one for the presidency, not just their party's nomination to be a candidate for that office.
But that was last time. Now, we're in the age of New Rules. But one thing that hasn't changed is that the selection serves as a road map into the mind and character of the one who is making the pick.
After all, it's really the first presidential-caliber decision a would-be president makes.
So what does Ted Cruz's choice of Carly Fiorina say about Ted Cruz?
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For starters, its timing says plenty. Cruz is probably the only candidate in modern history to be this far behind in the race for a party nomination and yet still name a vice presidential pick. NPR notes that Ronald Reagan, when trailing President Gerald Ford in 1976, announced his running mate as a last-minute Hail Mary to try to gain momentum heading into the convention.
It didn't work, and Ford won. But even that gambit was tried only after all the voting had been done, and just ahead of the convention. Cruz is losing by hundreds of delegates and faces a mathematical impossibility of winning enough votes to be named the nominee ahead of the convention.
So it says that Cruz is willing to toss tradition and decorum out the window. That's not so bad. But it also says he's more than happy to spend his vice presidential pick on a goal as narrow as trying to keep Donald Trump from clobbering him next week in Indiana.
It could also mean that he's a 21st Century male who isn't afraid of powerful, successful women who themselves aren't afraid to speak their minds. I hope it does.
But doesn't picking this particular woman say a lot about, but not much for, Cruz's commitment to the fundamental themes of his campaign? He says jobs, freedom and security are the three ideas that anchor his appeal to voters.
But his new running mate has little real experience in national security, aside from a brief stint beginning in 2007 as chairwoman of the CIA External Advisory Board. No particular expertise in freedom, whatever that would look like. And her record at Hewlett-Packard Co. was mixed. She trimmed its workforce by 30,000 as CEO. She sold investors on a major merger, but then was fired as the firm's stock plunged 55 percent.
As for Cruz, he's spent three years telling everyone that the game is rigged against the middle class, from Wall Street to Washington to Main Street. So to save his campaign, to whom does he turn? A millionaire, an ex-CEO, a candidate who tried and failed to finance herself into the U.S. Senate, and the daughter of a law professor turned life-tenured judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
None of those things make Carly Fiorina a bad candidate for vice president. And she is a lot of things -- and many of them extraordinary. But she's not the candidate I'd bet on making common cause with the working men and women of America. And that says something about Cruz.
Write Michael A. Lindenberger, a member of the editorial board of the Dallas Morning News, at mlindenbergerdallasnews.com.