The VP Choices

Have you ever heard the term “presumptive nominee” used more often than in this presidential campaign? Are reporters and commentators afraid Hillary or Donald won’t win after all? Will Bernie pull a rabbit out of the hat? Will something from Hillary’s past force her to quit? Will The Donald decide that he’s losing too much money on this venture and walk away? Will the rules at the Republican convention be altered to allow for the delegates to vote for any candidate not named Trump? No, Clinton and Trump will accept their party’s nominations for president and will become engaged in one of the most directly combative, personal political battles in modern times.

Their next task is to choose running mates. Pollsters know that people vote for the president, not for the VP. Nonetheless, the choice of VP is at least symbolically important. A poor choice represents poor judgment on the part of the presumptive nominee. In the past, some candidates’ selections of VPs have seriously damaged their campaigns. You probably don’t remember the short-lived VP pick named Eagleton, but who forget Sarah Palin? John McCain probably wishes he had never heard of her. On the other hand, a few VPs helped win elections. JFK, the Eastern, Catholic liberal chose LBJ to shore up his standing with the conservative Southern Democratic voters. LBJ, the politician’s politician, did help him win. Soon, thereafter, Kennedy promptly forgot him. LBJ returned the favor, ignoring RFK, once he became president. (By the way, is it cooler or more impressive to be known by one’s initials or by a single name? Oprah or JFK? Hillary or LBJ? The Donald or RFK?)

In modern-day elections, presidential candidates try to choose VP candidates who help them win. They pick candidates who are believed to be able to make a difference in an important swing state or two or with a particular demographic. The running mate is generally expected to be an attack dog. (The nominee wants to avoid being accused of running a dirty campaign, so he or she won’t personally say something bad about their opponents, according to the old, pre-Trump rules. The VP on the ticket has more latitude to be vicious, since the voters don’t have to like the VP to vote for the ticket.) Sometimes, the VP is chosen because she or he can plug a hole the opponent could open to attack. If the presidential nominee, for example, lacks experience in foreign policy, then someone who is well qualified in that arena may be chosen to dampen the presumed forthcoming attacks. Lastly, the potential VP selected must seem capable of handling the presidency, if the need arises. I know, you may be thinking, what about Dan Quayle? Good point. But, the “heartbeat away from the presidency” criteria holds true most of the time. I did mention Sarah Palin, didn’t I? So, the big question is: Who will Clinton and Trump choose?

I once entertained the idea that Bernie Sanders would be a good choice, but too much water has risen under the dam for that boat to float down the river. Today, it’s clear that Clinton does not need Sanders. She will get almost every Democrat who would have voted for him except the few who will stay home and some others (the polls say 10%) who will switch parties to vote for Trump. Making Sanders the VP on the ticket won’t keep those voters on her side, and he probably would not attract many undecided voters. Sanders is not from a big state, nor is he from a region she can’t win without him. If he were to be named her choice for VP, his credibility would be shot anyway. To try to retain his voters, she should announce a role for him in her administration where he can carry out parts of his agenda. If Clinton is smart, Sanders will be asked to head up a commission on campaign finance reform or on growing the middle class, so his supporters can continue to feel the Bern.

How about Elizabeth Warren? She has made a few impressive appearances with Hillary on the campaign trail. She shores up Hillary’s potential weakness with the far left, and she may help capture the younger Democratic voter now that Bernie is gone. Warren is a good speaker who brings credibility to the ticket that Hillary seems to lack. Elizabeth generates enthusiasm in the crowds she attracts. She is also good at attacking Donald Trump. But, what about having not one, but two women on the same ticket? Shocking. If the Democrats won, we’d have Madame President, the First Man (or whatever they decide to call Bill), and Madame Vice-President. With this trio, Hillary probably wouldn’t be getting a large percentage of the conservative white male vote, but she has little chance of getting those votes anyway.

Sharrod Brown is a senator from Ohio, a swing state. He has recently been attacking Trump effectively, but he doesn’t have the charisma that Clinton needs to help get out her voters. Corey Booker has the charisma Clinton lacks, but it’s difficult to tell if he is too much of a lightweight to handle the pressure of a presidential campaign. I don’t think so. He’s a young African America superstar in the making. Booker comes off as a straight shooter, which is another area where Clinton has some problems. In addition, he may also be able to help ensure that Clinton’s African American voters get to the polls. Hillary can not take this group for granted.

All in all, I think Warren would be her best choice. Her selection would help unify the party. She is a newsmaker–Hillary needs someone who can compete for the free air time that the Donald attracts. She is already acting like the VP pick in her recent joint appearances with Hillary. Some pundits say Hillary won’t pick Elizabeth Warren because she would upstage her. Nonsense. Hillary Clinton’s ego is just fine. The only thing missing on her resume is “President of the United States.” She’s a pragmatist who wants first and foremost to win. Warren seems to understand her role; she won’t be stepping on Hillary’s toes. The other option for Hillary is some long-time Clinton loyalist. I could see Bill advocating for this. But, this kind of thinking would damage her chances.

The Donald may find it challenging to find anyone who wants to serve with him. However, Chris Christie would jump at the chance. Christie could help Trump win votes in New Jersey and maybe in New York. But, have the people forgotten Bridgegate? He became less likeable, in my mind, during the most recent debates where his image as the straight-talking, get things done politician dissolved due to his petty remarks. On the plus side, he brings political experience to the ticket and he has no problem being The Donald’s attack dog.

Newt Gingrich is apparently also on the short list. Newt would appeal to some elements of the Republican base. Less conservative Republicans, however, see him as the father of partisanship and remember he began the standoff trend resulting in Congress not getting anything done. He carries some personal baggage as well. I don’t think Newt would attract many independent voters, nor would he appeal to the groups Trump has alienated: women and every other minority group on the planet. But, Newt would enhance Trump’s tough guy, take no prisoners, anti-Washington brand while bringing some needed political experience to the table.

Ben Carson? Ben would soften Donald’s image and weaken the ongoing attack on Trump that he is a racist. He could bring some evangelical voters to the voting booths, but he has no political experience either. Trump’s reactions to world events should make everyone concerned about his nonexistent political resume. However, this lack of political experience and Trump’s unfiltered rhetoric continues to be seen positively by his most fervent backers. But, in the end, Ben’s not the kind of person that Donald can relate to. Donald will choose someone much more like himself regardless of how much someone different might help his campaign.

My guess is that Mr. Trump wants to pick someone who will surprise everyone. He needs to prove how brilliant he is by doing the unexpected and winning against the odds. His children and advisors will probably counsel him to take one of the obvious picks, like Newt or Chris.

Chris Christie is the person who supported him early on and who has already been on the stage with him (his wife will no longer be invited). He has been sucking up big time. Trump likes people who like him. So, Christie is my odds on favorite. But, I would not be surprised if Trump made a surprising pick. I would not venture to guess who that would be, but probably someone like him, along the lines of Hulk Hogan.

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