Now that we have a clear sense of the players in the forthcoming general election, and one of those two players is Donald Trump, I suppose it’s germane to have a serious conversation about vice presidential running-mates.
The so-called “veepstakes” is among the most obsessively observed events in all of American politics. Americans love the concept of mashups, and the pairing of two political heavyweights in a presidential ticket is not unlike the forming of a cinematic universe featuring unlikely heroes joining forces to stop the super villain of the day. Prior to the official announcement and the first appearance of the ticket on stage together, we like to imagine the formation of an unstoppable political Voltron — the snapping together of a team which, when its forces are combined, are virtually invincible. Of course, it doesn’t always turn out that way, but it’s fun to speculate.
Along those lines, who knows who the hell Trump will choose. Rumors this week pointed to John Kasich as an obvious choice to assuage the GOP establishment. There are other, shall we say, less conventional names being tossed around, too, which make sense in the age of Trump, but which also seem unlikely. (Whomever suggested former “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant Meat Loaf deserves an award.) There’s also Mary Fallin, the governor of Oklahoma, and perhaps the worst sitting governor since Sarah Palin.
We’ll circle back to more of Trump’s options another time, but for now, let’s talk about the Democratic side. So far, we’ve been hearing about two obvious choices: Julian Castro and Elizabeth Warren. Castro, the current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, is young, Latino and a Texan — a killer combination to back Hillary, especially knowing how the Democrats are champing at the bit to turn Texas blue. In that regard, he’s the obvious choice.
Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand, might be problematic, simply due to the fact that it doesn’t seem like she wants the gig. I’ve had the sense for several years now that Warren wants nothing more than to be a liberal lioness in the U.S. Senate — the next Teddy Kennedy — a colossus who’s tapped into the most powerful legislative body in the world. And she seems perfectly comfortable there. For what it’s worth, and in the interest of full disclosure, if Warren had run for president, I would’ve likely ended up a Warren-bot. Shy of Hillary and Bernie, she’s the Democratic rock star, and I can help but to fantasize what it would’ve been like if she had run for the top of the ticket. In fact, if she ends up relenting and accepts a running-mate offer from Hillary, I suspect many voters, myself included, would wish the names on the ticket were reversed. And that’s bad. Other, less flashy choices being bandied about include Tim Kaine, Deval Patrick and Mark Warner.
But the best option at this point is hiding in plain sight: Hillary should offer the job to Bernie Sanders.
The reasons ought to be abundantly clear to anyone who’s paid attention to the Democratic fracas so far. Let’s face it, Bernie Sanders could have been the presumptive nominee himself had the primary schedule played out slightly differently. Put another way: He ran out of primaries. Much of his late-breaking momentum was fueled by independent voters who crossed over to support him in open primaries, and that’s the most lucrative advantage Bernie would bring to a Clinton/Sanders unity ticket. It’s not difficult to envision an electoral map landslide in this case, driven by disaffected, formerly unaffiliated voters.
Then there’s the manifest benefit of healing the party following a primary race in which millions of social media users engaged in the most brutal and destructive online shovel-fights since 2008. Bernie on the ticket dissipates much, if not all, of the venom, and the only holdouts would likely be the hardline Bernie contrarians. Sanders also delivers the elusive youth vote and, more importantly, gives disillusioned, anti-establishment voters a reason to not switch over to Trump.
Too bad this will never in a million years happen, even though it probably should.
Set aside the aforementioned downside of some voters wishing the names on the ticket were reversed. It’s never been the Clinton style to reward political enemies. While, sure, the Clintons have formed unlikely alliances in the past, it’s never really occurred at this level and it’s difficult to think of another time when either Bill or Hillary reached out to another leader who was mercilessly undermining them. Meanwhile, just like her husband before her, Hillary has been building a posse of friends and trusted allies for decades now, all in preparation for the big move to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She’ll welcome political confidantes into that circle, but she’s not Obama, who has a romantic penchant for teams of rivals.
It’s also likely that both Bernie people and Hillary people would vocally reject a Clinton/Sanders mashup, canceling out the upsides of joining forces. Knowing that Bernie doesn’t intend to concede until the convention, his most zealous supporters might see his accepting a spot on the ticket as a sell-out move. Likewise, Hillary’s most zealous people could potentially see it as a slap in the face, given all of the so-called BernieBots they were forced to swat down throughout the past year.
However, the two biggest reasons why it’ll never happen: (1) Hillary would never offer Bernie a policy role in her administration, and (2) Bernie would never accept the job without being offered such a role — one which would bestow upon him more power to pursue his agenda than he’d enjoy as a senator. It’s the Warren factor, once again. Shy of the Oval Office, the Senate is often viewed as a mightier springboard for implementing change than a nondescript (though well-appointed) room in the Old Executive Office Building. At the end of the day, Bernie would have an extraordinarily difficult time serving in the role that’s worth, as John Nance Garner famously described it, “a pitcher of warm piss.”
This is all to say that Hillary will never offer him the job and I don’t think Bernie would accept it, even though such a pairing would be massively successful. In the face of Trump, the electoral strength of Clinton/Sanders would be unstoppable and is therefore irresistible. While I’m not entirely convinced it won’t happen, I’m entirely convinced that it should. Unfortunately, American political reality doesn’t always give us what we want, or even what we need the most. But there’s nothing wrong with dreaming about what could be, and therein lies the fun.
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