The Elizabeth Warren veep talk heated up last week. Warren went on an anti-Trump Twitter tear that could reasonably be viewed as a kind of audition for the role of veep-candidate attack dog. HuffPo’s Sam Stein wrote last Thursday that some Hillary Clinton campaign folks “took note of the senator’s ability to rile the real estate tycoon.” Pivoting off that piece, Slate’s Michelle Goldberg endorsed a Clinton-Warren ticket last Friday.
I have some thoughts of my own on this, having first speculated about a Clinton-Warren ticket way back in March 2015. I see obvious upsides—and equally obvious potential downsides. So let’s just separate this column out into five parts and fly briskly through them.
Part Number One: Forget the old saw about the vice presidency being useless. The standard old saying is from an FDR vice president who said the office wasn’t worth “a bucket of warm spit,” although he probably actually said “shit,” which I’m allowed to say in The Daily Beast in such a context, so I’ll say it.
It was true then, but it ain’t true now and hasn’t been for 20 years. Today the presidency is a huge, sprawling corporation. The POTUS is the CEO. But the vice president is like the COO—not the boss, but with plenty of power. Al Gore and Joe Biden have both had broad issue portfolios of their own and were involved in every single truly important decision in their administrations that I know of. And as for Dick Cheney, well, I don’t think anyone doubts his influence.
So, to all these liberals who howl, “No, Elizabeth, stay in the Senate, you have much more power there!”—maybe. But if she and Clinton were able to work out clearly understood lines of authority and Warren operated deftly within them, she’d have far more power as vice president. Not even close.
Part Number Two: Why Clinton-Warren could be a dream ticket. Easy: Because it would unify the party and galvanize liberals. My guess? The day Clinton names Warren, she gets a five-point bounce that never goes away.
Also: It’s gutsy. Gutsy is a quality for which Clinton is not known. It’s outside-the-box-y, like Bill Clinton choosing Gore. Two women—what an eff-you to the over-testosteroned little man-boy on the other side. It would draw such stark contrasts.
But here’s more. Sam Stein, in the piece linked to above, spoke with Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted some focus groups of independents and Republicans in Colorado last year. They didn’t know a lot about Warren, but what they said was enthusiastic. I could totally see this, maybe not with Republicans, but with independents—if you’re a middle- or working-class person with bills to pay and worries about how to meet them, she’s talking to you. So Warren may have appeal beyond liberals that the Beltway will never recognize.
Part Number Three: Why a Clinton-Warren ticket could be trouble. First of all, this two-women business. It would energize a thunderous women’s vote. But how many men who might otherwise vote for a Clinton-Generic Democratic Male ticket would be lost? It’s hard to say. I tend to think not as many as the number of women who’d be gained, but my female pundit friends tell me that latent sexism even among men who consider themselves to be relatively enlightened should not be sold short, and I reckon they know more about this topic than I do.
Another problem: While Warren may have surprising appeal among moderate voters, one place I’m quite confident she does not possess surprising appeal is in the business-corporate world. Lots of these people are horrified by Trump; as I wrote recently, Clinton could pick a number of them off. But that’s not likely to happen if she selects Warren. In fact, it could move those types very firmly into Trump’s corner. Of course, they were firmly in Mitt Romney’s corner, and it didn’t do him much good.
Part Number Four: Why a Clinton-Warren governing team could work great. Warren would open the bidding on such a ticket by saying, “I’m not going to be window dressing here. I have a national constituency that expects certain things of me, and I will join you only if you commit to doing several of those things.”
Like? No, not break up the big banks. Clinton won’t go beyond what she’s said there (which is actually reasonably aggressive, though not by Warren-Sanders standards). However: a say over key appointments, from Treasury secretary to positions like head of the Consumer Products Safety Commission to members of the Federal Election Commission on down to positions that never make the news but whose occupants make decisions every day that affect thousands of people. And a big project of her own to oversee, like the home-mortgage refinancing plan.
I’m sure Warren would want more—a say in all major economic decisions. Which of course she should have. But—only a say. If the president concludes against the veep’s advice, the veep still has to be a team player about it. They will inevitably come to loggerheads at this point or that, and the media will eat it up because, you know, cat-fight, etc.; so the two of them will need to be particularly mature people about this.
Part Number Five: Why a Clinton-Warren governing team could be a disaster. Because, like, the two of them won’t be able to be particularly mature adults about this.
I’d say on balance more plusses than minuses. But I think I know how Clinton thinks. The first thing she’s going to think is the responsible thing, i.e., would I be comfortable making this person the president should something happen to me? And because of Warren’s near-complete lack of interest in foreign policy, Clinton may well answer that question no.
So my current guess? This won’t happen. Which is too bad. It’d be reaalllly interesting to see how our country would handle this reality. And to see how unhinged it could make Trump. Picture that, will you…