In rebutting Paul Waldman here, I don’t mean any disrespect. And I’m not sure that he’s not right on his overall point, which is that Clinton will never ask Elizabeth Warren to be her running mate. My quarrel isn’t with his prediction or even necessarily with his reasoning for making the prediction. My quarrel is with his rather unqualified endorsement of that reasoning.
To be clear, I have already written a piece on why progressives shouldn’t be clamoring for a Clinton/Warren ticket, and some of my argument overlaps with Waldman’s. But let’s take this one step at a time, and I’ll be playing a bit of Devil’s Advocate.
My dear liberal friends, I can feel your excitement already. But while Warren will be a great anti-Trump surrogate for Clinton — maybe the best Clinton will have — she’s not going to be on the ticket. Sorry to deliver the bad news.
There are a few reasons for this. The first is that Clinton and Warren aren’t close or even particularly friendly, and personal rapport is a key part of an effective working relationship between the president and vice president, as Clinton surely understands.
This is Waldman’s strongest point, and one I made myself. But, while it’s important for a president and vice-president to get along and work as a team, both as candidates and once in office, it’s not absolutely necessary. Sometimes, a vice-presidential pick can serve a different purpose, like helping to unite a party that has developed some significant factions. In the old days, the Democrats liked to go with a North-South balance (JFK-Johnson, LBJ-Humphrey, Carter-Mondale, Dukakis-Bentsen). This helped smooth over the divide between the segregationists and the intellectual left. The new divide isn’t so much regional as ideological. But Warren would serve a similar purpose in uniting a party with someone who is respected and trusted by both sides. In this case, it would be putting one short-term goal (getting elected) over another longer term goal (governing as effectively as possible), but that doesn’t make it necessarily the wrong choice. In a way, it’s a safe and cautious choice that acknowledges that Clinton has some weaknesses with her base that need shoring up.
My biggest disagreement is with Waldman’s next point.
Second, picking Warren would make for a historic all-female ticket, and that could be a risk. To be clear, it’s ludicrous that there should be something troubling to anyone about having two women running together. After all, we’ve had over a hundred all-male tickets in our history, and only two with one man and one woman. But there could well be some number of voters — how many is difficult to tell — who would vote for Clinton with a male running mate, but would find Clinton with a female running mate just too much to handle. It’s sexist, but Clinton is going to need the votes of people who have some sexism somewhere in their hearts, just like Barack Obama needed the votes of people with some racism somewhere in their hearts.
Maybe because the Democrats had used the aforementioned North-South strategy for quite some time (excepting the Mondale-Ferraro gender play in 1984), when Bill Clinton picked another young, male Southerner to be his running mate it was a surprise. And a lot of people thought it was a risk because “there could well be some number of voters — how many was difficult to tell — who would vote for a Southerner, but would find two Southerners just too much to handle.”
It turned out that Clinton and Gore complemented each other and wound up amplifying their strengths, which were youth, good looks, and a lot of energy that contrasted nicely with Poppy Bush and Ross Perot. If Clinton wants to excite people as an agent of change, she couldn’t do much better than picking a woman as her running mate. In fact, I don’t think she can be a convincing change agent any other way. As far as offering a nice contrast, what better way to go up against an infamous womanizer and misogynist than to run two strong, accomplished women against him?
The last argument is one that has merit but that I find annoying.
Third, and probably most important, right now the governor of Massachusetts is a Republican, Charlie Baker. That means that if Warren stepped down to become vice president, Baker would appoint a temporary successor for her Senate seat. In other years this might have been a relatively minor consideration, but in 2016 it’s absolutely central to the fate of Clinton’s presidency.
There is a chance that simply by picking a running mate from the Senate who will be temporarily replaced with a Republican that it could change which party controls the Senate in the first years of a Clinton administration. It’s something worth considering. But, ultimately, Clinton stands a better chance of creating the coattails that will bring a Democratic Senate by choosing the best possible running mate and winning the election by the largest possible margin. She should not reject every possible running mate that might give the Republicans one additional Senate seat until a special election can be held to fill the seat for what remains of their full six-year term. If Sherrod Brown will help her crush Trump and win Sen. Portman’s seat in Ohio, then it’s worth picking him even if Gov. Kasich puts a Republican in Brown’s seat for a while. The same is true for Warren.
Also, let’s not forget that the first requirement here should be that the running mate would make a good president. There’s a bigger picture here even than solely who controls the Senate in the first year or two of the next presidency.
To sum up, I am not clamoring for a Clinton-Warren ticket, but I think it would be a very strong ticket. It might be the strongest possible ticket if all we’re considering is the election and not the governing that comes afterwards or the best use of Warren’s talents and influence.
The biggest downside, in addition to the fact that Clinton and Warren “aren’t close or even particularly friendly,” is this:
Warren would come to the office with her own agenda on economic affairs — an agenda more aggressively liberal than Clinton’s, particularly when it comes to how the government should deal with Wall Street. Warren would also bring her own constituency, which could make her an unwanted headache for Clinton, who like all presidents would want a vice president who has no goal other than advancing the president’s goals.
But I don’t know how much of a headache that would really represent. I don’t know that they couldn’t get along and be good team. I don’t know that Clinton wouldn’t want Warren to take on the role of bad cop.
And, in any case, I actually want the Warren constituency to get a seat at the table, so perhaps selfishly I don’t see this as an unwelcome potential problem.
Maybe Team Clinton agrees with Waldman. I don’t really know. But I hope they aren’t persuaded by his arguments.