We stuck our toe into the Veepstakes in Part 1. Now it’s time to dive in. Here are my VP rankings for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Honorable mention: Bernie Sanders, Senator from Vermont, runner up in 2016 Democratic Primary
He had an honorable campaign and won over 42 percent of the vote in the Democratic Primary. For that reason alone, he deserves to be on the list. His presence on the ticket would also shore up Clinton’s weak left flank.
Still, I can’t help but get the impression that every time she looks at him she wonders how many knuckles deep she can get into his eye sockets.
Dishonorable mention: Bill Clinton, 42nd President of the United States
No. Just no. But for what it’s worth, people have talked about it (sorry to go all Trump on you), and there might be a Constitutional window. That being said, it’s a terrible idea. Hillary Clinton has challenged the limits of the law enough for one lifetime.
Now for the top ten…
10. Joe Biden, Vice-President of the United States
It’s not totally without precedent to serve as VP to two presidents — he’d actually be the third to do so. It certainly is without recent precedent, though; the two were John C. Calhoun (under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson) and George Clinton (under Jefferson, Madison, and Funkadelic).
It’s a solid ticket that prioritizes experience, in direct contrast to the top, and maybe bottom, of the opposing side. No non-president is more prepared than Biden to take over the office at a moment’s notice. He has also grown increasingly popular since it seemed he would not run for president himself, allowing conservative media to leave him alone and totally focus on Clinton. He’d help with her “white, working class male” problem, too.
But it’d be just a bit too weird, and since Biden decided to not run for president so he could go home, I doubt he wants to stay in the limelight while also not having any true authority.
Senators in Republican States
Thanks to Trump’s nomination, a lot of Democrats are bullish on taking back the Senate this November. It’ll probably come down to just a few races, and that means every seat counts. Senators Warren and Brown hail from states with Republican governors who could choose their successors if they vacated their seats for the vice-presidency. These two are much bandied-about names, but I’m ranking them low for that reason.
As for the candidates themselves, Warren’s appeal is obvious — she’s the most popular Democrat among the “Occupy Wall Street super duper liberal progressives” (a technical term for us insiders). If they’re sore about Sanders’s loss, Warren as a running mate would quickly smooth things over. However, in addition to the aforementioned Senate problem, I don’t think the Clinton Campaign is in the mood for an all-female gambit. There’s no need to risk losing 70 percent of white men in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
For that reason, Brown gets the edge over her. He’s also a liberal favorite, and he even helps target the big swing state of Ohio. But alas — the Senate.
Risks Identity Politics
Each of these men have legitimate merits to weigh, but they’re grouped together here because I think identity politics, and accusations of it, worry the Clinton Campaign and will ultimately be deemed not worth it. A woman on top of the ticket is new enough; keeping white men off it altogether might play into Trump’s hands.
Booker and Patrick can help keep the Obama Coalition together by driving the black vote north of 90 percent again, which will be hugely helpful in the swing states of Virginia, North Carolina, and sizable urban areas of Pennsylvania and Ohio (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati). However, I don’t see this being the election that Democrats need to worry about losing their control over the African-American vote — not with a Clinton on the top of the ticket. Patrick gets the edge over Booker due to experience. Booker is only halfway through his first term in the Senate, whereas Patrick had two terms as Massachusetts’s chief executive. Neither hail from a swing state.
Latino voters were considered swing voters, and the RNC “autopsy” of the 2012 election acknowledged that winning back Latinos was on their path back toward competitiveness. (Naturally, Republicans therefore chose to nominate someone who’s campaign announcement asserted that Mexico was sending its rapists to America.) The Democrats know this, hence the presence of Secretaries Castro and Perez on the VP shortlist. The idea here is to drive up Latino turnout in the swing states of Florida, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico. Remember that the Blue Wall need only be topped by Florida to give the Democrats the election. The other states would just be icing on the cake.
But again I worry about the perception of identity politics. Castro and Perez have questionable experience — their highest elected office is Mayor of San Antonio and the Montgomery County City Council in Maryland, respectively — so the pick would naturally be questioned. If Clinton needed to swing for the fences, I’d put Castro and Perez into the top tier, but as of now it feels like an election where she will play it safer.
Why Perez over Castro? Well, there’s identity politics, and then there’s name politics. A Castro on the ticket? Hard to believe.
3. Robert Gates, former CIA director, former Secretary of Defense
I should first clarify that Bob Gates is just my favorite for the position, whereas the next two are actually the likeliest picks. There is so much to like about a Gates selection:
- He served as Defense Secretary under two presidents from different parties, nominated by Republican President Bush and asked to stay on my Democratic President Obama.
- He was confirmed by the Senate with enormous bipartisan support and has since earned praise from both sides of the aisle.
- A 2014 characterization of him in a book review of his memoir said that he’s “widely considered the best defense secretary of the post-World War II era.”
- He has been critical of Donald Trump national security policy and general ignorance. So have lots of other people, of course, but Gates’s résumé makes him the most credible foreign policy attack dog possible.
- Perhaps most relevant, though it didn’t happen on his watch, he defended the Obama Administration on the Benghazi reaction, which offers cover for the Obama-Clinton partnership. While that doesn’t help at all with the controversial decisions leading up to Benghazi, Robert Gates absolving you on a military decision puts you in good shape.
A Clinton-Gates ticket would look incredibly serious next to the Trump Show, and I’m sure swing voters would take notice. Importantly, Trump’s clearest path toward victory is a national security election, and Gates’s presence on the Democratic ticket would be the best way to block that path.
2. Mark Warner, former Governor and current Senator from Virginia
Warner has had his eye on the presidency for a while. After President George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004, the Republican Party, dating back to 1968, had won seven of the last ten elections. The only times it lost were to southern governors (Carter in ’76 and Clinton in ’92 and ’96). Warner, at the time a governor from Virginia in his 50s with an approval rating approaching 80 percent in a state that had voted Republican in each of the last two presidential elections, seemed perfect to regain the Oval Office for the Democrats. He was the ideal nominee.
But he recognized uphill climbs when he saw them. Hillary Clinton was the big favorite in 2008, and there was also this charismatic senator from Illinois that had Democrats buzzing. In 2012, a Democrat was the incumbent, and four years after that — this election — Hillary Clinton was the biggest non-incumbent favorite ever. Warner peaked at the wrong time. Now he’s 62, it’s time to make the leap.
It’s now or never for him; this is the election to become a national name to set himself up four years from now with a Clinton loss or eight years from now with a win. He’s in if Clinton will have him, and she should consider his crossover appeal.
1. Tim Kaine, also a former Governor and current Senator from Virginia
Kaine hits so many boxes. Swing state? Virginia. Regional balance? Southern state. Executive experience? Former governor. Foreign policy experience? He’s on the Senate’s Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees. White guy? So white. Bonus: he speaks fluent Spanish, so he simultaneously doesn’t risk accusations of identity politics while also being able to go into Latino communities and Hispanic TV and speak directly to them. Also a factor: he was on the VP shortlist for Obama eight years ago — it’s been speculated he was runner-up to Biden — and has therefore been mostly vetted.
Ultimately, Kaine is the safest pick on the list, hitting on all traditional factors. The only risk is the alienation of the liberal base that is already skeptical of Clinton, but between Warren quickly endorsing Clinton after she reached the delegate threshold, Sanders already starting to say the right things, and the Republican nominee himself, I doubt the base will stay away this November. If Clinton is in good shape a week before the convention, Kaine is the most likely pick. If Trump, however, wrests back momentum, look for Castro or Perez.
Still to come: Trump Veepstakes!