Landmines in the Democratic Veepstakes

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts endorsed Hillary Clinton last night, just hours after President Obama did the same thing.  These were not the kinds of cold, grudging, “lesser-of-two-evils” endorsements that clearly reluctant Republicans have been giving to wealthy professional whiner Donald Trump.  These were, rather, enthusiastic (on the surface, at least) endorsements that focused on Clinton’s virtues as well as Trump’s vices.  Consequently, Senator Warren’s remarks have sparked further interest in the possibility of her being selected as Vice Presidential running mate for Clinton.

As appealing as that sounds to many on the Left (where I do not reside), I raise a note of caution.  First, and most obviously, Warren will continue to be hit with the charge that, while she may be ready for Hillary, she is not ready for the Presidency.  She clearly bristled at that notion last night, giving Rachel Maddow a terse response when Maddow asked about Ed Rendell’s remark that Warren’s lack of national security experience made her unprepared to be president.  Warren confidently said she was prepared, but if she thinks that Rendell is the only person who will be making that charge, then she is terribly naive.  Of course, that will be a hard charge for Trump to level, as he has zero experience in, or knowledge of, national security matters, and does not appear to care much about learning the subject.  So the Clinton camp could conclude that they have an easy response to that critique.  But Ed Rendell will not be the last person to question Warren’s readiness for the full panoply of issues a president must face.

Second, and perhaps less obviously, when there is a vacancy in the Senate, that vacancy is filled either by special election or by gubernatorial appointment for the remainder of the term. Warren is a Senator from a blue State that has a Republican Governor.  If she becomes VP, Governor Charlie Baker will name her replacement for a short, interim period, before a special election could be held and its results validated.  During the interim, he would almost surely select a Republican.  And while a Democrat would be favored to win the special election, any interim Republican appointee could obtain some advantages that come with that incumbency, even in a blue state like Massachusetts (which, after all, elected a Republican governor, and has elected a Republican Senator recently).

In an election year when the Democrats have a legitimate, though far from certain, chance of regaining control of the Senate, and when so many items on the Democratic agenda will depend upon gaining a Senate majority, every vote in the Senate will count.  The margin is likely to be razor thin.  Do Democrats really want to risk giving up a Senate seat to the Republicans when the next President takes office?

On the same subject, a Warren vacancy might pose less of a risk than a vacancy created by selecting Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who is also almost certainly on Clinton’s short list for VP.  Ohio, too, has a Republican Governor – John Kasich.  But in Ohio, there is no special election – the governor fills the seat for the remainder of the term.  And Kasich would undoubtedly select a Republican to replace Brown (might he appoint John Kasich?  Brown’s term is up in 2018, as is Kasich’s in the governor’s office).  Again, do Democrats want to risk losing Brown’s Senate seat?  That’s a question worth pondering, if Brown is a contender.

If Clinton desires a Democratic female Senator with sufficient experience, she could do worse than Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, which has a Democratic Governor and who would appoint a Democrat to replace her.  Kirsten Gillibrand of New York would be a popular choice, too, but Clinton is from New York.  And though the President and VP do not have to be from different states (contrary to popular opinion), the ticket would need two people from different states in order to assure that the electors in the Electoral College get to vote for both of them.  In a tight election, that would matter, so choosing a VP from the same state would not be wise.  On the male side, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia is getting a lot of attention, too, and Virginia has a Democratic Governor.

My own view is that Clinton should be wary of the consequences of picking Liberal stalwarts like Warren and Brown anyway.  Although they appeal to the Democratic Party’s base, and would likely seal Clinton’s support from many reluctant Sanders voters, it is not clear what she gains from them with a broader general election electorate.  Warren has proven an effective attacker of Trump, but she will likely maintain that posture even if she is not on the ticket.  And Clinton would be handing the Republicans yet more ammunition for their claim that she has simply moved too far to the Left (though Clinton herself, in my view, does not fall into the “Liberal extremist” camp generally). Moreover, the hardcore “Bernie or Bust” voters won’t be persuaded by anyone, and for those Sanders enthusiasts who are not in the “Bernie or Bust” camp, Clinton was already likely to get those votes.  But the consequences for Senate control make Warren and Brown even more risky.

It would not be popular in the Democratic Party or among the Liberal base, but if Clinton could find a moderate Republican with national security credentials and who sides with her on some domestic issues like civil rights and job creation, that could go a long way with a general election audience.  And it might entice some Never Trump Republicans to view Clinton through a different lens.  Still, picking a Republican would alienate Liberal voters.

So Clinton has a complicated task ahead of her, especially in a world where she could garner some meaningful Republican votes if they viewed her, rather than Trump, as the lesser of evils.  Picking an unabashedly Liberal firebrand will do nothing to bring those voters closer to her.



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