With Hillary Clinton having become the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party, intense speculation has been raging over her vice-presidential pick.
Much of the focus has been on Elizabeth Warren, and for obvious reasons. Warren maintained her progressive credentials with Sanders voters by opposing superdelegates and refusing to endorse Clinton until she had locked up the nomination among pledged delegates. Warren is one of the few major politicians in Washington DC who maintains credibility with the sort of populist progressive voters who chose Dean over Kerry, Obama over Clinton, and Ned Lamont over Joe Lieberman in Connecticut. Since much of the animus against Clinton from both Sanders backers and undecided independents concerns her relationship with Wall Street and special interests, putting Wall Street’s greatest legislative enemy on the ticket would go a long way to signal to voters that those concerns about her are overwrought.
There are some, however, who suggest that nominating Warren as vice president would be a bad idea. Opponents of Warren as vice president have three chief objections.
First is that nominating her would make the path to Senate control harder for Democrats by forcing a special election for her seat that Democrats might lose or at least that might divert much-needed resources. However, a number of commentators including Washington Monthly alum Ed Kilgore have noted that nominating Warren would likely have little effect on Democratic Senate fortunes because Warren would have a range of options about when to optimally resign her seat, and Massachusetts Democrats would have significant time to prepare for that eventuality.
The second comes from concern that Warren would add little of demographic or regional electoral value to a ticket that already has a northeastern white woman on it. That’s a possibility, but it likely overestimates the degree to which regional, gender and racial identity appeals now matter in national elections while underestimating the need to reassure Clinton’s progressive detractors. It also overemphasizes electoral politics over policy concerns in a year where the Republican nominee is singularly likely to lose in any event.
The third and final objection is that Elizabeth Warren is more useful to progressive causes where she is in the Senate. This was certainly the biggest objection made by Clinton supporters to Warren’s jumping into the presidential race against her back in the fall (though those objections conveniently seem to be sliding away by Clinton’s boosters today as Warren’s effectiveness as an attack surrogate against Trump manifests itself.) There is something to be said for the idea that Warren would be sidelined as a vice-president whereas she might be able to have more impact on legislation in the Senate.
But that misjudges the potential power of the vice presidency to affect executive policy. Liberals already underestimated the power of the vice president at the beginning of the Bush-Cheney era to their detriment.
In a Congress that is likely to remain in Republican hands, the reality is that neither Clinton nor Sanders nor a reanimated Abraham Lincoln would get much of anything passed legislatively. As we have seen in President Obama’s final year, the greatest opportunities for progressive policy will lie in executive action. And it is in executive action in the Treasury and Justice departments in making monetary policy and prosecuting Wall Street crooks that an economic progressive can make the greatest difference.
Moreover, the urgent reality is that the vice president’s most important job is to be prepared to take the mantle of the presidency should it become necessary — and it’s worth noting that if Hillary Clinton were to win 8 years in office, she would be 77 years old by the time the next President took the oath in 2024. Few people would be better suited to take over for Clinton than Warren should the need arise.
The upshot? Despite the objections, Warren would make a fantastic choice for vice president. Here’s hoping the Clinton team recognizes that as well.