The many commentators (e.g., Mark Kleiman, James Carville) who have speculated that Hillary Clinton will be on the Democratic ticket in 2016 are wrong I think in one respect but correct in another. She will not get top billing, but if she wants it, the VP slot is hers.

Recognizing this possibility requires acknowledging that the Baby Boom is an old generation of declining size (I realize I just lost 90% of Baby Boomer readers with that sentence, but the truth will out). Age divided Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton Democratic primary voters more than did any other demographic variable, including race, income and education. Hillary scooped up most of the elderly and late middle aged population while her younger opponent cleaned up with the under 45 set.

There is a disadvantage to having such a pronounced age-gradient in one’s popular support. My back of the envelope calculation is that about 2 million of the people who voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary will have joined the choir invisible by 2016. If elected President, she herself would turn 70 the year of her inauguration.

Just as we didn’t know that Barack Obama would rise to prominence four years before he captured his party’s nomination, we don’t know now about the charismatic young or middle-aged politician who will capture the public’s imagination in 2016. But there will be someone, and whoever it is will have an even larger age-related demographic advantage over Hillary Clinton than did Obama in 2008.

However, Americans are comfortable with the idea that the VP slot need not only be a place to groom the next POTUS. Many tickets have been what David Broder called the “adult supervision” package: a younger presidential candidate with a old Washington hand as VP (JFK ran with Johnson, Dukakis with Bentsen, G.W. Bush with Cheney, Obama with Biden).

That political tradition combined with the fierce devotion of Hillary Clinton’s grey-haired fan base could easily persuade a younger 2016 Democratic nominee to offer her the VP slot. Such a role might have great appeal for Clinton. She would not have to endure another grueling primary election campaign, could go down in history as the first woman veep, and could gain a White House perch to use her enormous political skills and powerful network to advance causes about which she deeply cares.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

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Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and served as Senior Policy Advisor in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy in the Obama Administration. @KeithNHumphreys