When her campaign chairman John Podesta was asked if Hillary Clinton will consider any women as potential running mates, he could answer only one way. That doesn’t mean that I think Podesta answered dishonestly or that he wasn’t serious, but it wasn’t an option to say, “No, there are no women that Hillary would consider as her running mate.”
So, this seems like an artificial conversation that’s driven less by the ostensible point of the story than by a sense that Clinton now has the nomination wrapped up. It’s basically a “so, what’s next?” type of news cycle story.
But it’s in the news now, so let’s discuss it.
The name Elizabeth Warren immediately leaps to everyone’s mind, and I’m sure that’s good for clicks. And, yes, you can make a good argument for Warren. It would very much please Sanders’ base of supporters and help unify the party. It probably shouldn’t, though. It’s been said that the vice-presidency isn’t worth a warm bucket of spit, and while that depends on what the president asks their junior partner to do, that’s kind of the problem. Sen. Warren is poised to be a real leader in the next session of Congress, and paired with a now super-famous Sen. Bernie Sanders and other up-and-coming progressives like Sherrod Brown, Jeff Merkley, and Brian Schatz, she could exert a tremendous amount of influence.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Warren wouldn’t agree to be on the ticket unless she gained some assurances about her role, and that her role would include doing things that are high on the Sanders agenda. Those assurances could be rescinded, or rendered inoperative by events. She’d never have a role as big as Dick Cheney’s because Hillary Clinton isn’t an unprepared boy wonder who has no idea how to carry out the job on her own. And, it’s true that Joe Biden has done some important things, like overseeing the stimulus infrastructure spending and the new push for cancer treatments, I don’t think those are the kinds of things that would maximize Warren’s influence or be the best use of her talents.
There’s also the issue of succession. We’ve just had two vice-presidents in a row who were essentially too old to run for the presidency after serving for two terms as second fiddle. Warren is about to turn 67 years old, and would be 75 on election night in 2024. If you really want her to be president and aren’t satisfied with Clinton, then the time for Warren to run for president is in four years, as a challenger to President Clinton. I’m not saying that’s something Democrats should encourage or welcome, but I’m basically talking about whether hardcore in-need-of-reconciliation Sanders supporters should actually be excited by Warren getting on the ticket.
You might argue that the selection of Warren would at least signal that Clinton had heard the criticisms and understood what almost half of the party is trying to tell her, and that could be true. But I don’t think that JFK signaled anything like that when he chose LBJ as his running mate. Or, maybe he did signal that, but he certainly didn’t mean it.
To my way of thinking, Warren on the ticket would mean that she’d no longer have influence in the Senate, that she’d lose her ability to be an independent and critical voice, and that she’d be less likely to be president some day.
But would she at least help Clinton get elected?
On that, yeah, I think she probably would. Hopefully, Clinton doesn’t need the help, but a unified and happy party is a good thing, particularly when going up against a party as badly splintered as the Republicans. Warren speaks to the mood of the country in a very effective way. I don’t know if she’d flip any states, but I imagine that she’d help put New Hampshire out of reach. On the other hand, she’d be much more popular nationally and within the party than the candidate at the top of the ticket, and that’s not ideal.
There are two other considerations. Does she get along with the Clintons? You know, would they trust each other and be a good team? This would matter both during the campaign and, if they won, in the White House.
Finally, can the Democrats afford to lose her Senate seat? Massachusetts has a Republican governor, and while it might be possible to win the seat back in the first special election, the Scott Brown phenomenon showed that nothing is assured. Control of the Senate could hang in the balance, and there’s always the filibuster to overcome.
There are other women who would be excellent running mates. Some would be replaced by Democratic governors, like Amy Klobuchar or Patty Murray. Some would be young enough to run in 2024. Some might have more appeal in a key swing state, or have a better personal relationship with the Clintons.
I will say that I like the idea of a two-woman ticket. It reminds me of what Bill Clinton did by choosing another southerner of roughly the same age to run with him. Rather than seek regional balance as JFK, LBJ, Carter and Dukakis had done, Clinton doubled down and amplified the brand.
In a way, a Clinton-Warren ticket would do that. I definitely think it would be a winning ticket, but I don’t think it’s necessarily something that progressives should hope for.
Personally, I’d like Warren to stay right where she is.