U.S. Election 2016: Veepstakes!

Article by Flinders University PhD Candidate and former Washington Internship student, Jesse Barker Gale:  

Veepstakes! (Or why Julian Castro won’t be Clinton’s running mate)

Perhaps due to the fact that in the Democratic Primary, Secretary Clinton’s lead is seen as unassailable, the chattering classes are beginning to turn to a discussion on who her running mate might be. A name often floated is Julian Castro, one of the ‘Castro brothers’ hailing from Texas (his brother Joaquín is the current Representative of Texas’ 20th District). Currently, Julian serves as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama Administration. His presence on the potential VP shortlist is warranted, given his political pedigree and his obvious ambition, but misguided, in that he does not have the political acumen to be an effective Vice President.

Julian Castro’s rise has been impressive, from a member of the San Antonio Council in 2001, to Mayor of San Antonio (2009-14) to the incumbent Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. But is it enough? The most important role of the Vice President is to assume the Presidency upon the death, resignation, or removal of the incumbent President. To that end, the choice of the Vice President is of equal importance to the President. Two years in a Cabinet position is not a substitute for proper executive or legislative experience. The best position for Castro, in a hypothetical Clinton Administration, would be as the Attorney-General. His previous cabinet experience, his background in legal practice, and his ethnic identity (because this matters in classless America) all combine to make him a formidable choice for this role.

The role of the Vice President varies from President to President. Presidents without Washington connections find themselves in need of someone who has a long (and scandal free) history in the nation’s capital. Similarly, a Presidential nominee who has spent several terms as a legislator on Capitol Hill may be inspired to choose a Vice President from outside the ‘beltway’. Furthermore, Presidential nominees hailing from solid ‘blue’ or ‘red’ states may be inclined to choose a VP from a ‘purple’ state to assist with winning the swing states crucial in the race to the White House.

When we examine the facts it becomes clear(er) that the most logical choice for her running mate will be a male, Washington insider, from a swing state. A key (and obvious) weakness of Obama’s presidency is his poorly concealed contempt for working with Congress. As a co-equal branch of the American Government, it is doubtful that a Republican controlled House of Representatives will give a Clinton Administration an easier time than they have given the Obama Administration. They will hail from a swing state, to give Clinton an edge in the general election. And finally, they will be male, because an all female ticket is a still a step too far.

Throwing all this into the mix, we come up with two names: Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. Both are reliably progressive Democrats with strong records. Brown was elected to the House in 1993 and to the Senate in 2007. Kaine came to the Senate in 2012 after serving as Governor of Virginia 2006-2010 and Chairman of the Democratic National Committee 2009-2011. The states they represent are also ‘must-wins’ for any party seeking a strong mandate to govern. They are also, importantly, to the ‘left’ of Hillary Clinton, enough so that the progressive movement that firebrand Senator Bernie Sanders has tapped into can be persuaded to coalesce around the eventual ticket.

Of the two, Senator Brown has the longer record in Washington and actually served with Secretary Clinton when she was the Senator for New York. As Governor of Virginia, Kaine was the first elected statewide official outside Illinois to endorse Barack Obama’s candidacy in February 2007. He was also one of the first legislators to endorse Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, notably he did this almost a year before she declared her intentions for the cycle. Kaine is also fluent in Spanish, famously (or infamously, depending on your political persuasion) delivering a speech in Spanish arguing for comprehensive immigration reform on the floor of the Senate.

One of favourite jokes of Vice President Thomas R. Marshall (1913-1921) was about a woman with two sons, one of whom went to sea, the other was elected Vice President; and neither was ever heard from again. As dismissive as this seems about the Vice Presidency, the fact remains that its position as ‘one heartbeat away from the President’. The qualifying question for any Vice President is, ‘is this person ready to assume the Presidency?’ Using this as a basis, it would seem that Senator Tim Kaine is the most qualified candidate to be Vice President. He is the former Governor and current Senator of a key swing state, he is a reliably progressive Democrat with strong language skills in a coveted minority group, and, in the post-Citizens’ United world, as a former chair of the Democratic National Committee, he is well placed to tap into established fundraising networks.

Dick Cheney was the first of the modern Vice Presidents. As Vice President, he was instrumental in the development and institutionalization of the Bush (II) Administration’s influential national security policies now in place. This process has been further entrenched during the Obama Administration, with Joe Biden’s prominent role in some of President Obama’s major national security decisions. In a hypothetical Clinton Administration, it is difficult – though not impossible, given her experience and confidence in foreign affairs – to see a ‘scaling back’ of the Vice President’s responsibilities in this area. Something that is clear, is that the position that inaugural Vice President John Adams once called “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived”, has accumulated a remarkable amount of power and influence that, once bestowed, will be difficult to remove. With his Executive and Legislative experience, Senator Kaine would be a strong Vice President.

Disclaimer:  this is the view of the author and Flinders University does not take responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of the material and does not accept responsibility for, or endorse the contact or condition of, any linked website. 

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