Okay, folks, back to the Democrats now.
Hillary’s going to name her vice president maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe Sunday. It’s a big deal because the choice will tell us a lot about the work she thinks she needs to do in the next four months, which constituencies she needs to stroke. Does she need to please the Warren/Sanders wing the most, in her mind, or make an overture toward the vast middle that Trump is, ah, unlikely to engage?
And yes of course she’ll want to choose someone she likes and is comfortable with, but come on. It’s about political signal-sending. No one knew this better than her husband, who sent the biggest signal of them all when he totally broke the mold and chose someone who checked off exactly the same boxes as him.
So let’s run down the top choices and their pluses and minuses, concluding with the choice who I think, with reservations, is probably her best move.
6. Elizabeth Warren. I spent a long time thinking this was a great idea and first wrote about it way back in March 2015. I still see plenty of upside. Warren’s millions of followers would walk over hot coals for her, and even though we saw some Twitterverse “Elizabeth’s a sellout!” nonsense when she campaigned with Clinton, I think 90 percent of the Warren/Sanders fan base would go with it happily. It would add something that most veep choices don’t: electricity. And I think two women might be a plus on balance, but I might be soooo totally wrong about that, Jackie Kucinich!
However, I’ve reluctantly come to conclude, old square that I am, that Warren might be more of a liability. Clinton has a chance this fall to make huge inroads into the business and corporate worlds that are always almost totally locked down for the Republicans. This would be a big deal not just on Nov. 8, but after next Jan. 20—it could lead to some key players in corporate America coming out and saying “Fine, yes, raise the minimum wage,” which would put a lot more pressure on Republicans to act than 50 more liberals saying that would.
If Clinton chooses Warren, those people won’t support her. Those people can be very useful cover for getting a few liberal economic measures passed. They’re worth trying to get in her corner—once. And hey, Warren is a hugely effective senator and will always be. So, she’s out.
5. Tom Vilsack. I spent two days last week, or maybe early this one, thinking he was the guy. First and most obviously, he’s from Iowa, which I don’t think will ultimately be all that close but which is now. And he’s popular there, last I knew. That whole solid Midwestern thing. He’d be good out there on her behalf. If we’re looking at four months of “she belongs in prison,” which we are, she could do a lot worse than to have a soft-spoken but authoritative Midwestern white man vouching for her integrity.
On the downside, Vilsack is mostly pro free trade. He’s an agriculture guy, so what do you expect. But you and I both know that Bernie is way capable of bashing a Clinton-Vilsack ticket. I’d be surprised if she took him for that reason alone. But if she did, I think he could explain away the trade thing, and he brings other attributes.
4. Cory Booker. This is the only short-list person who I think would be kind of a disaster. Booker is, on most issues, a standard-issue Northeast liberal. But on two issues, he’s chosen a much more moderate course, and those happen to be the two issues with which he’s most identified. He’s anti-teachers union, which may have merit but doesn’t play in an election in which the Democrat will need those unions’ phone banks in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and elsewhere. And more than that he’s pro Wall Street in a big way. The left-populist wing of the party hates the guy.
And he doesn’t really bring any big positives. She doesn’t need any help with African American voters; she’s going to get 97 percent, or 92 at worst, and with Obama out there stumping for her, black turnout should be fine. Hard to see what Booker would add and easy to see what he’d subtract. Not worth the risk.
3. Sherrod Brown. If Ohio had a Democratic governor, he’d be my number one choice with three bullets. He fits the zeitgeist. To the extent that Trump is going to try to peddle the argument that he’s the true friend of the working man, Brown would neutralize that immediately, with his suits made in Ohio. No one, no one, questions his prole cred.
But choosing him would mean giving up a Senate seat. The Republican governor, that guy named Kasich, would appoint someone to fill his seat, and he’d obviously appoint a Republican, and that person would hold the seat until the next regularly scheduled election, meaning 2018, which is of course an off year, and off years favor Republicans, meaning that the appointee would be likely to hold the seat. And that’s that. The Democrats can’t afford to yield a Senate seat. There’s a mischievous 20 percent of me that says choose him anyway because the upsides are great. But it’s just 20 percent.
2. Tim Kaine. Why did the Virginia senator choose this week of all weeks to sign those letters seeking more lenient regulation of banks? That’s like spiking the punch with hemlock. Hard to see how that could be explained away.
On the other hand, lefties would be wrong to dismiss him as some kind of sellout. Yes, he’s personally pro-life because of his Catholicism, but really, his position is no different from Ted Kennedy’s. And there’s this: Though not a son of the South, when he moved to Richmond after Harvard Law, he joined a firm and the first thing he started doing—the first thing!—was housing discrimination suits against blacks. Given that he was a Democratic striving office-holder in Virginia in the early and mid-2000s, when the state was still decidedly red, he took some brave progressive positions on guns and taxes and more. He doesn’t deserve anyone’s contempt, by a long shot, but the first month would be built around explaining away his banking positions.
1. Tom Perez. On balance, I’ve concluded that Perez offends the fewest constituencies. As secretary of labor, he checks the progressive box. As a Latino, he surely juices that turnout, and maybe his presence on the ticket locks down Florida—and if Clinton locks down Florida, she’s the president, no ifs ands or buts. He supports TPP, but in his context, that’s almost an electoral plus. Progressives trust him because he’s the labor secretary and he’s Latino, and they’ll grudgingly grant him the pro-trade position, which might help around the margins with business.
One yuge potential downside: He’s never been campaign-vetted. The only office he’s run for is Montgomery County (Md.) councilor. That means two things: 1. He might not be a good campaigner, might make grave rookie mistakes at a level where rookies aren’t supposed to be playing; 2. More important, he hasn’t been through campaigns during which his various peccadilloes have been revealed. With everyone else on this list, we’ve seen some dirty laundry. With Perez, we’ll be seeing it all for the first time. I’m not saying he stole cookies from Girl Scouts, but there’s something there with everybody. And it’ll all be new.
But on balance, he embodies a quality that a good veep choice should: He wouldn’t piss anyone off.
The fact that Clinton will announce this in Florida suggests that maybe Perez is the guy. Or maybe Kaine, who speaks fluent Spanish. Who knows? We will soon enough.