April 25, 2016
Now that Hillary Clinton is the presumptive nominee instead of the prohibitive favorite, the attention of many a pundit turns to her vice presidential leanings. Hey, you gotta talk about something. If we can spend months speculating on the NFL draft, a solid several weeks thinking about potential running mates is reasonable.
Not only does it kill time, but the decision is an early window into the thoughts of a prospective president. Except for the vetting process and whatever personal chemistry the pending nominee and possible running mates have, we can evaluate fairly well from the outside. Though few people set out in life to become a veep, most serve if chosen. Elizabeth Warren is the one possibility we can’t assume would play.
These choices are always strategic. Always. Sometimes it’s geography. Sometimes ideological balance. Now that white male protestants don’t have a monopoly on the presidency, gender and/or ethnic balance is a factor. Old nominees sometimes pick young running mates. Also the reverse.
Every so often, it’s a consolation prize for the second place finisher. Occasionally the nominee doubles down and picks someone similar. Normally, the veep nominee checks more than one of these boxes. It matters who is choosing second. If Hillary waits until just before or during her convention, the GOP ticket will (perhaps messily) be decided.
She can play offense, trying to exploit weaknesses in the Republican ticket, or defense, attempting to shore up weaknesses or concerns in her pitch to the public. It’s possible to accomplish both with the right choice.
Though the Democratic presidential field was woefully thin, the list of running mates is fairly long. As you’ll see as we work our way through the list, Hillary has fewer restrictions on who she chooses than most of her predecessors.
While she can choose a swing state target, Clinton doesn’t have to worry about geographical balance. Having represented New York in the Senate, Arkansas as First Lady and growing up outside of Chicago, she has roots all over the country. Beyond that she’s the definition of a national politician.
There are constitutional restrictions on having both sides of a ticket with the same state of residence, so don’t expect a New Yorker. Any other state is in play. Normally, an older candidate would lean towards a younger partner. But Hillary is most likely to run against Donald Trump who is older than she is. John Kasich isn’t much younger.
Ted Cruz is a mere 45. Doesn’t act like it. If you want to play a fun game, ask friends and acquaintances how old he is. The over/under is usually mid-late 50s. Either way, barring a mystery GOP nominee, Hillary doesn’t need to worry about protecting herself on the age flank. Besides, we’ve seen the oldest candidate (Bernie) is the most popular with the youngest voters.
She can choose an experienced candidate without fear of being marginalized, and a relatively inexperienced one without voters thinking she needs the help of and old hand. If Hillary wants to play offense, she can pick a Latino partner or another woman. This would let her double down on Trump issues with both groups.
Or perhaps she opts for an African American running mate to help with turnout, though you wonder if that would excite anyone in the wake of 8 years of President Obama. So far, Hillary’s most loyal voters are middle aged and older black women. She doesn’t need any assistance there, but a more diverse ticket could help rebuild the Obama coalition.
Clinton could choose someone from the progressive side of the party to attempt to bring any and all Berners back inside the tent. Or, especially against Cruz, she might decide to move to the center and attempt to marginalized the GOP candidate, figuring the specter of Ted should reignite the Bern.
I haven’t done the research yet, but I doubt any previous nominee had the range of options Hillary does. She could decide to follow in the footsteps of the last two presidents and choose someone who is not likely to run themselves. That can make for a much smoother relationship.
Or she might want to groom an eventual heir apparent. The choices are endless. Over the next several weeks, we’ll take a look at the field, from Warren to Julian Castro, from Al Franken to Deval Patrick. Nobody checks all the boxes. Each have their drawbacks. But you can make a case for somewhere between 15 and 20 people.
Meanwhile, on the Republican side, Cruz is already in the middle of his vetting process. You might wonder why someone who felt the need to enter a shotgun alliance with Kasich to prevent Trump from winning on a first ballot is thinking about a Veep. Back in 1976, Ronald Reagan tabbed Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania ahead of the convention in an attempt to make up a smaller delegate deficit against President Ford.
It didn’t work. Like today, most of the Pennsylvania delegation was officially uncommitted. Reagan hoped choosing a local would sway them. It didn’t. Worse, some in the Mississippi delegation (among others) objected to the liberal to moderate Schweiker. Good idea, poor excecution.
If Cruz or Kasich can find a dance partner before the music starts in Cleveland it will make it easier for delegates to picture their fall pitch. It makes it harder for someone to look at them and see a possible Trump running mate instead. The Cruz camp is making sure we know Carly Fiorina is under strong consideration.
The GOP picture is too cloudy to do the same review we have planned for the Democrats. If Trump wins Indiana, it may wind up moot anyway. The Hoosier state could make The Donald just this side of a presumptive nominee, and trying to predict who he might choose is asking for trouble (though I’m sure we’ll try later on if we run out of discussion topics.)
The only thing I’m sure of is he’ll save the announcement for a time of maximum impact. He also wants to leave the spot open in case he can get needed delegates from one of his opponents by creating a unity ticket. As much as it makes sense for Cruz or Kasich to choose sooner, Trump is better off waiting for later.
Either way, it’s officially Veep Season. Julia Louis-Dreyfus had her season premier on HBO last night, and the “real” candidates are falling in line too. Prepare to enjoy the closest thing politics has to a football team trying to figure out who to use their first round pick on (complete with the team of investigators.)