Let’s talk Veeps. We’re a few weeks out from the conventions, and the two major party nominees have essentially been decided, (with all due respect to my Bernie-phile friends). So, who should Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump choose as their running mates? Who are they likely to choose? And what difference will it make?

Apparently, Sarah Palin is on The Donald’s short list. She’s apparently up for another go. As Salon’s Bob Cesca recently reminded us, last time, she never really did seem to get her head around what being vice-President actually meant. In her debate with Joe Biden, Palin clarified her understanding of the role of the Vice-President with this splendid word salad:

“Well, our founding fathers were very wise there in allowing through the Constitution much flexibility there in the office of the vice president. And we will do what is best for the American people in tapping into that position and ushering in an agenda that is supportive and cooperative with the president’s agenda in that position. Yeah, so I do agree with him that we have a lot of flexibility in there, and we’ll do what we have to do to administer very appropriately the plans that are needed for this nation.”

Yes, indeed. Thank you for reminding us of the ‘Flexibility Clause’ right there in the Constitution. Article II, Section 5, if I recall correctly.

In fact, the Vice-President has just one constitutional duty: to break a tie in the Senate. In addition, thanks to the 25th Amendment, the Vice-President officially becomes President in the case of the death or disability of the President. And, as Al Gore reminded us on Futurama, the VP’s job is “to prevent disruptions of the space-time continuum.” In fact the Vice-President’s job is, constitutionally, pretty useless. Some Veeps have made more of the job (or been allowed to by their POTUS)–Dick Cheney, specifically. Others would likely echo “Cactus Jack” Garner, elected Roosevelt’s VP in 1932 and ’36, who opined that the office wasn’t “worth a bucket of warm piss.” That vivid characterization of a constitutional office is today about the only thing for which anyone remembers Cactus Jack.

Of course, when it comes to choosing a running mate, pundits set out the usual criteria, none of which ever seem to matter much. You want someone who ‘balances the ticket.’ You want someone who appears ‘Presidential,’ (though not too Presidential). You want someone who will support your legislative agenda, and who will campaign effectively. Ultimately, though, Presidential contests aren’t won by having brilliant VP picks. But they can be harmed, even lost, by particularly bad VP choices. (See Palin, Sarah, above. Or Quayle, Dan).

It seems to me that the choice of a vice-President is a particularly tough call for both of these candidates. Secretary Clinton still has to wrestle with the false impression that she’s not really a progressive, not really a liberal. That she doesn’t represent the ‘Democratic’ branch of the Democratic party. And the challenge from Bernie Sanders has largely been driven by the passion and energy of the Sanders insurgency, which is in turn driven by the excitement of Sanders ‘democratic socialist’ policy proposals. Ordinarily, a liberal candidate, like Clinton, would want to choose a more moderate running mate, for ticket balancing purposes. In her case, a competing rationale may suggest itself; shoring up the base.

Her obvious running mate would be Bernie Sanders himself. There are several objections to this. First of all, he may not accept the job. Second, wouldn’t there be a danger that he would overshadow her? Although she’s winning fair and square, Sanders’ supporters have an energy that has transformed this race. She wants to make positive use of that energy, but risks offending those voters? And there are age considerations. As I write this, she’s 68, and Sanders is 74. Should she choose a younger running mate?

I think her ideal candidate would be someone like Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown. He’s known as a solid, unimpeachable liberal. At 64, he’s younger than Secretary Clinton. He would fit all the ticket-balancing criteria. And he’s an aggressive, effective campaigner. There are other excellent possibilities–New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, former San Antonio Mayor (and current HUD Secretary), Julian Castro, plus of course, every liberals’ fave-rave, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. I expect Clinton to choose from someone on that list.

For Donald Trump, the choices get even trickier. He’s run as a maverick, as an anti-Establishment candidate. He’s not well liked by the Republican leadership. He’s despised by wide sections of the electorate, with exceedingly high negatives from women, blacks, and Hispanics. There are concerns about his temperment, and about his basic fitness for the Presidency. If he picks a Washington insider, he risks losing his entire constituency. On the other hand, if he picks someone equally maverick-y–looking at you, Governor Palin!–he could appear even more out-of-his-depth than he does right now.

In the past, when asked who his ideal vice-President was, he has responded ‘Oprah Winfrey.’ Oprah has supported President Obama pretty strongly in the past, but she has also voted for, and supported, Republicans. She would help Trump with women voters, and she’s a charismatic and powerful presence on the stump. And she’s not a political figure.

On the other hand, the chances of her accepting that particular nomination aren’t good.

If Oprah turns him down, I actually have the perfect replacement. Donald Trump should ask Shonda Rhimes. She’s the most successful TV producer in Hollywood. And the shows she produces are smart, compelling, and at times, highly political. Rhimes has talked about politics on occasion, and insists that she’s non-partisan–that she sees herself as a moderate, political patriot. A successful African-American woman would help Trump enormously.

But–see Oprah comment above–the odds or her accepting a VP nomination from Donald Trump are very poor. She’s added a nasty nasty new character to the show Scandal, who she says is based on Trump.

And that’s Trump’s problem. The people who really would help his cause–highly respected non-politicians–have no interest in joining that cause. Colin Powell would be a great choice for him, for example. He’d add foreign policy expertise to Trump’s campaign. He also won’t do it, he’s said.

So what about the politicians who have already joined his candidacy. Chris Christie? Another big blustery white guy? Newt Gingrich? Adding his three marriages to Trump’s three?

Honestly, I think the best choice for Trump may well be Sarah Palin. Why not? It’s not like this race can’t get funnier.


5 thoughts on “Veeps

  1. alexvoltaire

    Thanks for such a quick reply to my request! For Trump, I’m hearing things about Newt Gingrich and in terms of adding something to the ticket, appeasing conservatives, and adding youth and military experience: Tom Cotton? I deplore the guy and think his actions re: the Iran deal were unpatriotic at best and “light treason” at worst, but he’d balance Trump remarkably well.

    For Clinton, you’ve nailed some strong contenders. I’d consider Al Franken- isn’t the best way to beat Trump a heaping helping of comedy? And considering how focus-group-tested the Clintons’ decision-making process is, Tim Kaine probably hits the most boxes of what they are looking for: a senator with foreign policy chops, a governor from a swing state, speaks Spanish, would have his successor picked by a Democratic governor, etc.

    1. admin Post author

      My son also suggested Franken. Excellent choice, I agree. I’m also with you on Tom Cotton. In every sense.

  2. Alma T. Wilson

    Hello Eric,

    Is Clinton really winning fair and square?

    It doesn’t look at all that way to me.

    Even early on, there is that thing with the Hillary Victory Fund. The article that ended up persuading me on this looked at first like a well-made hoax. It was written on April 1st, claiming to be written by someone with the last name Kidder, who actually exists but happens to be best known for playing a fictional reporter. Reading soon dispelled that impression : On April 5, I wrote a polite request to Utah’s Clinton superdelegates to clarify whether this article was factually incorrect or otherwise misleading. No reply has been forthcoming.

    Pretty well all the way along, the DNC seems to me to have had its hand on the scales in favor of Ms. Clinton.

    To that, add referenced claims of astroturf campaigning :

    Even more recently, the reporting on the Nevada Democratic convention seems tendentious. Here are a couple of reports: and especially Hatlem’s detailed

    Actually, Hatlem has an increasingly angst-ridden set of articles at His arguments, in particular, about how, when exit polls differ substantially from announced results, the announced results almost always are more favorable to Clinton, and that these differences correlate very highly with the hackability of the voting machines being used—those things should be front page news. Hatlem seems not to be the only one noticing attempts to hack these campaigns. Even the spy agencies are announcing that now:

    It doesn’t necessarily follow, of course, that electoral irregularities consistently favoring Ms. Clinton are caused by Clinton staff. There are others with an institutional interest in a Clinton presidency:

    * The defense industry, for one. Ms. Clinton is far fonder of using military force than either Mr. Trump or Mr. Sanders. In foreign policy, she’s a neocon.

    * The finance sector, for another. Ms. Clinton is much more supportive of Wall Street than Sanders, and apparently, it is said that about half of the really big donors to Clinton PACs come from there. In economic policy, she’s a neoliberal.

    * The Israel lobby and the government of Israel, for a third example. Ms. Clinton approaches the whole Israel-Palestine question strictly from the side of the Israelis. She will give the Israeli government the continued asymmetry of power that it wants, but that can never really bring Israel the peace it needs. (Actually, on the Democratic side, if one is reliant on large contributions as Ms. Clinton is, an open show of support for the state of Israel is more or less a prerequisite for funding. The degree of this dependency is remarkably deep and, I think, unhealthy:

    So no, I don’t agree that Ms. Clinton is winning fair and square. Only on identity politics is Ms. Clinton anything close to progressive, and some would fault her there, too.

    Best wishes,

    Alma T. Wilson

    1. admin Post author

      While I very much appreciate you taking the time to respond to my post in such detail, I’m afraid I cannot agree with your conclusions. I’m generally unsympathetic to conspiracy theories, and what you’ve described, I’m afraid, is essentially a conspiracy theory. Secretary Clinton has won. Senator Sanders ran a long and impressive campaign, but it fell a little short. This happens sometimes in politics, and it’s what happened here. And there’s essentially no evidence to suggest otherwise.
      I’m also concerned with your occasional mischaracterization of Secretary Clinton’s views. Her thinking on all issues is complex and nuanced–she’s the ‘detailed-white-paper-candidate if ever there was one–but also informed by her fundamental commitment to progressive values. She’s hardly a neo-conservative, and the term ‘neoliberal’ is so vague and imprecise, it functions primarily as a pejorative.
      From the beginning, my thought was that the Democratic race had two outstanding candidates, and that I would cheerfully support whichever of them won the nomination. I preferred Ms. Clinton, because I’m a detailed-white-paper issue guy myself. And since the Republicans seem intent on nominating a scary ignoramus, this is a time for all progressives make common cause. I continue to hold to that hope.

  3. Alma T. Wilson

    Hello Eric,

    Making effective common cause is, as you say, important. It is a shared hope in difficult times. It is also unlikely unless people like us can find some way to talk through differences. That, in turn, will be difficult unless those differences are stated respectfully but forthrightly.

    In short, structural changes are necessary. The winner-take-all nature of US political competition debases politics at every level. It is remarkable, if not surprising, that proportional voting, multi-member electorates, and single transferable vote are used so little here.

    I’m not much of a sports person, and baseball is not really a thing on either side of the Tasman Sea. Down under, as across much of the British Commonwealth, the bat sport is cricket.

    A quarter century ago, a cricket match played between New Zealand, where I grew up, and Australia, where I later moved for a time, ended in the notorious Here is a video clip: The New Zealand team, in brown, are at bat, while the Australians, in yellow, are bowling.

    Greg Chappell was the Australian team captain. His brother Trevor Chappell was the bowler at the time. New Zealand was behind, and bowling underarm on the last over made it impossible for New Zealand to tie. Chappell’s decision was simple gamesmanship, and perfectly legal under the rules as written.

    In the US context, it seems to me, the New Zealanders would have just been expected to ‘suck it up,’ accept the loss, practice harder, and try to put themselves in position to return the favor some day.

    That was not how it was seen in New Zealand however, or in Australia.

    New Zealanders were livid. Even the unlovely prime minister of the day expressed disgust and found it appropriate that the Australian team was dressed in yellow. There were soon T-shirts: “Australians have an underarm problem.”

    In the US, I think, this would have been treated as loser whining, and reported with condescending smirks or not at all. The cricket world, however, saw itself as having a tradition, a kind of moral order larger than its own formal rules.

    Crucially, New Zealanders were not alone in feeling that the spirit of the game had been violated. They were not even foremost to object clearly and publicly.

    At the end of the video clip above, Richie Benaud, a former captain of the Australian cricket team giving commentary for Australia’s Channel Nine, called the decision to bowl in that manner “one of the worst things [he has] ever seen done on a cricket field.” Ian Chappell, the older brother of Greg and Trevor, who was also a commentator at the time, was overheard to say “No Greg, no, you can’t do that.” Even Malcolm Fraser, the Australian PM, famous for bringing down Australia’s Whitlam government by the gamesmanship of blocking supply (the Australian federal budget) in the Australian Senate, expressed the view that what had been done was contrary to the traditions of the game.

    The Australian cricket world criticized the action of the Australian team captain Greg Chappell for a perfectly legal move that guaranteed that the Australian national cricket team would win. Indeed, I do not remember any Australian going on record publicly to defend the decision to bowl underarm, not even Greg Chappell himself.

    The rules were promptly changed to disallow underarm bowling in subsequent events.

    What Clinton supporters need to understand about Sanders supporters is that, for us, Clinton has been bowling underarm for the entire primary campaign.

    As Margot Kidder’s article says, the Clinton campaign sewed up most of the superdelegates many months before the first primary. This was tied to money that was de facto jointly administered by the DNC and the Clinton. A paranoid imputation of conspiracy? No: pure gamesmanship, friends helping friends, and all in the public record. In effect, any other Democratic candidate started hundreds of superdelegates behind Ms. Clinton, with the support and blessing of the DNC. This had the antidemocratic effect of freezing out almost all potential Democratic contenders. One such violation of neutrality usually needs to another, and it did.

    No contemporaneous Clinton supporter publicly criticized the palpable bias of the DNC in entering early into a preferential entente with Ms. Clinton. None of them criticized the DNC for limiting the number of debates, and scheduling them at low-exposure times, and this is particularly odious given that the DNC implemented a new rule this year that participants in non-approved debates would not be allowed to participate in any subsequent DNC-organized debates.

    In a system where it is highly rational to vote strategically, superdelegates should never have been allowed to publicly declare who had their vote in advance of the convention, for the same reason that ethically conducted exit polls are not released before the close of voting.

    To most Sanders supporters, however, the primary stank all the way through, and stinks still. The DNC, the Democratic leadership, and Ms. Clinton’s campaign have been behaving like stinkers. Even Noam Chomsky advises that if Clinton is the nominee and you live a swing state “you hold your nose and you vote Democrat.” But to us, the party and its undue favorite have an underarm problem.

    Do you really see our concerns as so largely illusory and misguided? While your customary courtesy is always appreciated, please feel free to be direct if and when you find occasion to respond.

    Best wishes,



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