Monday, May 16, 2016

Should Hillary Clinton Pick Elizabeth Warren?

I have been relatively reluctant to address what has become an increasingly frequent line-of-thinking in this year's elections, but I think it's time for me to address the elephant (or more appropriately, the donkey) in the room: is Elizabeth Warren slowly but surely becoming a frontrunner for the vice presidential nomination?  I have long thought that, should Bernie Sanders win the nomination, Warren would be his obvious first choice in selecting a Number Two.  After all, Sanders in that situation would want to shore up the demographics he has done poorly with in the primaries that would be critical in the general election, namely women and persons of color.  Warren's populist argument about student loans and equality (plus, in a bit of a case of identity politics, her gender), made her pretty much unrivaled in terms of trying to shore up his support in that regard.  It was hard to imagine Sanders doing better, and she's someone that stands for many of the same stances that he himself stands for-Warren made sense.

But as the election wore on and Sanders found himself without a path to the nomination, I figured that the "Warren for VP" talk would die with his campaign.  After all, Hillary Clinton was never going to pick Elizabeth Warren.  Warren was the antithesis of everything you'd expect from a Clinton running-mate.  She's not a longtime Clinton ally (it's notable that she still hasn't endorsed in the presidential race yet), she's a senator that didn't even serve with Clinton in the Senate, she's a liberal to her moderate, and she's frequently going off-script, something that is much to the chagrin of perhaps the most cautious major party presidential candidate we've seen since the 1970's.  Plus, she's a woman, and no all-female ticket has ever won a gubernatorial election, much less the White House (in fact, in the history of the country only four all-female gubernatorial tickets have even run for the White House-the South Dakota team of Wismer/Blake in 2014 is the fourth for those who read that link).  It has long been assumed that Clinton would nominally vet a woman or two to keep up pretenses, but she would instead roll with a more traditional nominee, likely either a senator/governor from a swing state (Tim Kaine, Mark Warner, Sherrod Brown), or a male person of color who could help drive up support in the Latino/African-American community (Julian Castro, Cory Booker, Thomas Perez).  Even if she did somehow go with a female running-mate, the risk averse Clinton surely would go with someone who is more similar to her in terms of politics, like Amy Klobuchar or Claire McCaskill, but not someone who will be in many ways her opposite on the campaign trail.

The Al Gore angle is something that I expect to hear a lot more as this presidential race continues and if Warren doesn't get Shermanesque about running with Clinton, because it's the best argument as to why Clinton should pick Elizabeth Warren: it's a way to double-down while still gaining some support.  Clinton's campaign, especially in the face of a relatively decent run of polls against Donald Trump and the continued Ralph Nader-like campaign of Bernie Sanders, has struggled in the past few weeks and she knows that she needs to nip her primary in the bud while pivoting to a general election that, while she still remains the favorite, is looking more and more like the last few elections in terms of national polarization.  For Clinton, the next few months are meant to capitalize on her inroads with moderate voters who find Donald Trump detestable even if they aren't wild about Hillary, and then to get all of Sanders' considerable pockets of supporters (namely young voters and Democratic men) onto her side.  Warren is someone that could theoretically help on both of those fronts.  Warren's position against Wall Street and big banks is about as indisputable as one can get in this situation, and would surely stop anyone who claims that Clinton isn't a progressive on these issues, and she's unafraid to go for the jugular against Donald Trump.  She'd be the best candidate (short of Bernie himself, who comes with his own set of baggage and quite frankly at this point I don't think Clinton likes him enough to put him on the ticket) to shore up Hillary's left flank.

The question is whether she'd help with moderates, and while I doubt that's the case, it might be a way of doubling-down Clinton's message that women should get behind her campaign.  One of the tougher lines that Clinton has been playing this cycle is around gender, and how she is a candidate that will finally get women to support her candidacy, but this has an inverse effect.  Men, who have basically been at the center of every other major presidential campaign, aren't used to not being spoken to as much as they are right now (female voters are), and Donald Trump knows this-there's a reason those recent polls are so close, and it's because Trump, who has centered his campaign around male voters, is doing just as well with the XY crowd as Clinton is with the XX.  Conventional wisdom is that Clinton will want to maintain her lead with women, and then try and deplete Trump's lead with men enough so that she can carry herself to 270.  But there's the opposite theory-if Clinton can drive up her margins with women even more so (by, say, creating the first all-female ticket in United States history), she won't need to do as well with male voters.

It's the strategy her husband employed in 1992.  That year, Clinton (the third youngest-man ever to win the presidency) seemed likely to be a longtime Capitol Hill or Democratic Party operative with a geographic base outside of Clinton's purview, likely one with more traditional experience than Clinton. Names like Lee Hamilton, Bob Kerrey, and Bob Graham, all Capitol Hill fixtures from across the country who had been in the party for decades, were assumed to be his running-mates, but instead Clinton chose another young, Southern moderate who likely was going to appeal to the same voters that liked Clinton in the first place in then-Sen. Al Gore.  This ended up being a stroke of genius, as the image of two young, bright men going across the country coupled Bill Clinton's message of change against George HW Bush, who had been a Washington power player for decades.  Amidst a recession, Clinton was a face of change, and Gore coupled that rather than having someone like Hamilton who would have been more of the same.

The analogy isn't quite a mirror image, and it discounts one of the other reasons that Clinton went with Gore rather than someone else, the 1988 election (there Michael Dukakis picked Lloyd Bentsen, whom by the end of the election most people thought was far more qualified for the Oval Office than Dukakis and undercut the Massachusetts governor's argument-picking someone like Lee Hamilton could have probably done the same to Clinton).  But if Hillary Clinton's argument is going to be that she's an historic candidate for women, it's not the worst idea to think she'd go with a woman as her second-in-command.  I still question whether the famously risk-averse Clinton would be willing to take such a chance with more conventional choices like Tim Kaine and Julian Castro readily available, but it's no longer something I think is outside the realm of possibility, or necessarily a bad idea.  Quite frankly, having Warren-bright, capable, but full of deep energy and passion-on her ticket may be the shot-in-the-arm that Clinton needs to get across the finish line.

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