PPFA note: I hate to gloss over the tragic massacre in Orlando, but I’m too steamed to talk about it. The event itself is devastating enough, but the social media war between liberal and conservative friends adds insult to injury. Democrats blame guns and homophobia. Republicans blame Islam and political correctness. With almost religious conviction, each side thinks the other is either stupid, hateful, or willfully ignorant of the facts. It’s as if Congress has spilled out of the Capitol and permeated our Facebook feeds. Not our proudest moment.
Anyway, I’m supremely underqualified to place blame or offer solutions, but to understand PPFA’s take on how the attack affects the race, re-read The Mommy Problem. For now, let’s get back to presidential politics…
About a month ago, the media entered its first “Veepstakes” news cycle. Donald Trump had forced out Ted Cruz and John Kasich, and Hillary Clinton’s inevitability was secure. It was time, the media thought, to enter into the next phase, and it did so with alacrity.
But it was far too soon, and the media soon backed off to instead focus on Bernie Sanders’s contumacy and Donald Trump’s cacophony. Now, with Clinton’s presumption also determined, it is a bit more appropriate to stick our toe into the vice-presidential pool.
That being said, we should not expect decisions from either candidate any time soon. Running mates not named Carly Fiorina are chosen pretty close to the national conventions. Here’s a nifty little chart that shows us when vice-presidential nominees were chosen compared to when the nomination was secured, when the last primary was held, and when the balloons rained on the convention floor:
Dating back to 1996, the average “days before convention” for a running mate to be chosen is just eight. In five of those seven selections, the decision was made less than a week before the convention.
This year’s Republican National Convention is scheduled for July 18 to 21, with the Democratic National Convention one week after that. Therefore, we’re almost certainly not getting nominees until mid-July. In fact, Trump, ever the showman, has told us the announcement won’t happen until the convention itself. (Don’t rule out another negative news cycle forcing him to name someone in order to give the media something else to talk about.)
Still, picking a running mate is a process which both campaigns started well before now. We can make it a process, too.
We know the general thought process behind determining a running mate. Traditional considerations include:
- Geographical balance: If a candidate is a northerner, they might consider a southerner on the ticket (or vice versa) to broaden their appeal. Notable examples include Kerry with Edwards, Jefferson with Burr, and probably something in between.
- Ideological balance: If a candidate is an ideologue, they might consider a moderate who can appeal to the center. Likewise, if a candidate is a moderate, they might consider an ideologue to shore up the party’s base. Notable examples include maverick McCain picking conservative darling Palin and liberal Republican Lincoln picking conservative Democrat Johnson.
- Experience balance: If a candidate is a legislator, they might pick someone with executive experience (or vice versa). If a candidate has minimal foreign policy experience, they might ally with someone who has a lot of it. The green Senator Obama chose foreign policy guru Joe Biden eight years ago, just like George W. Bush chose former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney eight years before that.
- Swing state consideration: The candidate might pick someone in an effort to target that important state’s voters. Wisconsin was considered a swing state four years ago when Romney picked Ryan; in 2004, Kerry and the Democrats targeted Edwards’s North Carolina.
- Someone who can do the job: Ideally, we want our presidential candidates to pick a running mate who is equipped to take over were something to happen to the new president. The candidate will always tell us that this is the most important factor when picking their running mate. Don’t believe them.
- A combination: Ideally, a running mate can hit on multiple fronts. The greatest bonanza of them all was when John F. Kennedy, a young, liberal, northeast Senator picked Lyndon B. Johnson, an experienced, moderate, southern Governor of a massive swing state that ultimately was the difference in the election. Moreover, Johnson was not only the governor of a large state, he also had two terms in the U.S. Senate, including being its majority leader. That’s good experience, and considering Kennedy was our last president to die in office, it was certainly called upon.
Of course, as with so many other things in the 2016 election, the selection process this time around feels . . . different. In the culmination of a recent trend, we have one more “balance” factor not mentioned above — demographic balance. Through 2004, of the roughly 50 presidential tickets in American history, all but one had two white men on it. (The lone exception was Walter Mondale’s swing for the fences in 1984 when he chose Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate. They won one state.) However, with a diversifying country, most vice-presidential speculation considers aesthetics — females, African-Americans, and Latinos.
Complicating matters is that both major party nominees have huge negative ratings, and many voters from their own party feel troubled by their nominations. Trump is barely holding onto his party’s support, so a member of the Republican establishment would be helpful. Additionally, he has atrocious numbers with women and minorities, so picking a woman or a minority would show he’s not a misogynist or racist and provide him a shield against such attacks. Additionally #2, he has no experience passing legislation, so someone with experience in Congress would be helpful. Additionally #3, he has no foreign policy experience, so someone who can provide cover in that area seems important, too.
On the flipside, he spent an entire primary blasting the establishment, a crusade which made him popular. Cozying up to party leaders, including the legislators that can help him with the Congressional process, might alienate his base. Similarly, he became the proud poster child for political incorrectness, so picking a woman or minority might look like he caved to politically correct pressure. Trump abhors caving and the perception thereof.
Clinton, meanwhile, also faces a dilemma. On the one hand, she has to worry about the dedication of Sanders supporters to the Democratic Party. If she wants to ensure their support, she’ll need to pick a far-left progressive along the lines of Elizabeth Warren or Sanders himself. Another calculation could be to overwhelmingly win Latinos by picking a Latino running mate, which might keep Trump under 20 percent in that constituency (Romney won just 27 percent, so it’s in play), making it tough for him to win the swing states of Florida, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico.
On the other hand, if she feels confident that the possibility of a Trump Administration scares progressives and Latinos right into her arms, she can instead pick a center-left white male in an effort to deflect Trump’s assault on the demographic. It rolls the dice that Sanders supporters won’t run to the Green Party, and it gambles that Trump can actually lose his high popularity with white men. It’s a fascinating choice.
Parts 2 and 3 will look at the top contenders for each candidate. Stay tuned!