To take my mind off the car crash that is British politics, and the Labour Party in particular, I am having a look at the key decision that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will be taking over the next eight days on the eve of the two parties’ conventions: who will stand to be their vice-presidential running mate in this November’s election?
Next week sees the Republican convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Donald Trump appears likely to announce his running mate today (Friday) and it is widely speculated that he will pick Mike Pence, the highly conservative governor of Indiana.
The timing is more critical for Pence than Trump (who could in theory leave his pick another day or two): tomorrow is also the state deadline for pulling out of this year’s governor race.
Pence, a Tea Partier, does not help make a state more winnable (in the way that Romney’s pick of marginal Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan in 2012 might have done) as most people expect Trump to win Indiana anyway. Indiana has only voted Democrat once in my lifetime (Obama in 2008).
However, whilst both Trump and Pence have Tea Party appeal, Pence is a true social conservative in a way Trump is not: vehemently anti-abortion and a governor that has got himself into bother locally with homophobic politics. Pence’s appeal is to shore up the conservative base to make sure that right-wing Republicans turn out to vote.
There are two other candidates on Trump’s shortlist, although the Donald’s abrasiveness has kept the potential field small. Given the concerns about Trump’s experience on the international sphere, it is telling that none of the choices have that experience either. It is also telling that his choices do not seek to bridge the massive gap in support from ethnic minority voters.
One is New Jersey governor Chris Christie who was one of the first mainstream Republicans to endorse Trump after his own campaign floundered. Christie probably could not bring his state into play but might have helped next door in marginal Pennsylvania. He also has a good personal relationship with Trump in a way that Pence does not (Trump has only met Pence a handful of times).
There was speculation this week that Trump might opt for Christie as the man he could trust, but it is probably just a distraction story to keep the media guessing. But the downside for Christie is that he is not trusted by the right and might open up the potential for a true conservative to run against Trump, or at least leave much of the Republican base under-enthused.
The other is less likely still: another past presidential hopeful, Newt Gingrich, the congressional speaker of the 1990s. Gingrich has the conservative credentials, and comes from a state that is probably more helpful than either Indiana or New Jersey – Georgia. Most people expect the Peach State to stay Republican this year, but it is not a done deal and the south Atlantic states look like one of the key battleground regions this year. But he is probably too old-hat to be a useful VP pick for Trump.
Pence is probably the safest choice of a fairly mediocre bunch.
In contrast, Hillary Clinton has a broader range of candidates to pick from when she makes her choice next week prior to the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia.
Clinton is probably the most unpopular presidential front-runner in US history – she is only currently ahead in most polls because Trump is more unpopular still. But, given that her problems around honesty are probably not easily addressed by who she chooses, it will be other considerations that will steer her choice.
Despite his energetic campaign and this week’s endorsement of Clinton, it won’t be Bernie Sanders. But his unexpectedly strong campaign has prompted some to speculate that someone else with strong appeal to the left, Senator Elizabeth Warren, might lead to the first all-woman ticket in a presidential election.
In my opinion, Warren would be a mistake – not particularly because of her position on the left nor that she is a woman of a similar age to Clinton. Warren’s biggest drawback is that she comes from what is the worst state of all for a Democrat pick: Massachusetts – the byword for out-of-touch liberal elites for much of the nation. That is made even worse by the fact that it is a state neighbouring Clinton’s own.
A better left-wing pick would be another senator on the shortlist: Sherrod Brown. Until Warren’s election to the senate, he was probably the most left senator in the Democrats (given that Bernie was not a Democrat until last year). But Brown comes from a far more critical state: Ohio, arguably the most important swing state in recent elections. Ohio is in the Rustbelt too: one of three key regions this year.
But it is another senator from another swing state that appears to be getting greater traction: Virginia’s Tim Kaine. Kaine became senator after a successful governorship of the Old Dominion and is very popular in this electorally important state. Furthermore, he has connections to two other electorally interesting states: he was born in Minnesota (likely, but not certainly, Democrat) and grew up in Missouri (which leans Republican, but is a potential Democrat pick-up in a strong performance). But more importantly, the South Atlantic states look to be one of the three key regions (along with the Rustbelt and the South West).
Kaine’s politics are fairly central within the Democrats, although his Catholicism makes him personally anti-abortion (although he has no intentions to reverse legislation in that area). But he has a strong record in civil rights and was the first governor to back Obama in 2008 whilst most of the others were still backing Clinton. He is also a Spanish speaker, which could help with the Hispanic vote.
Beyond the senate, there are other choices being considered. This week, much of the speculation has been around retired Admiral and one time NATO Supreme Commander, James Stavridis who has made the shortlist. A strong military pick could perhaps help deflect from the Clinton email controversy regarding Benghazi and would play well in Virginia. But Stavridis does not have much of a political record and so could be a risky pick.
The two other possibles would pitch to the Hispanic community whilst stressing continuity with the Obama administration. The first is Julian Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio who is now Obama’s secretary for housing and planning. Given Trump’s massive unpopularity with the Hispanic voters, a pick of Mexican heritage could be a smart pick, particularly for swing states such as Florida and the South West states. It might even force Trump to play an expensive defence of Texas. A youthful 42, he could help Clinton reach across to younger voters too.
The second potential Hispanic pick is Marylander Tom Perez, Obama’s secretary of Labor. I think his credentials are not quite as good as Castro’s though: he comes from a rock-solid Democratic state and would seem a very Washington insider pick (he comes from the city’s suburbs). He is in his mid-fifties, and so does not bring the youth appeal of Castro. Finally, his heritage is Dominican rather than from one of the larger Hispanic groups.
My guess? I think she is still making up her mind but I think Tim Kaine will win, unless she is confident enough to go for the generational jump to Julian Castro.