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.