Elizabeth Warren's Veep Audition

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) takes part in the Washington Ideas Forum in Washington, October 1, 2015.  REUTERS/Jonath
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) takes part in the Washington Ideas Forum in Washington, October 1, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Is Senator Elizabeth Warren actively auditioning for the role of Hillary Clinton's vice presidential pick? At this point, it's rather hard to come to any other conclusion, since Warren has been so outspoken of late on the subject of how horrible Donald Trump would be as president.

The traditional role for the vice presidential candidate is, of course, to be just such an attack dog. The presidential candidate is supposed to have self-imposed limits on what they can say about their opponent, but the veep candidate isn't as constrained by appearing "presidential" and is thus able to unleash stinging attacks against the other party's candidate. This year, however, the Republican candidate is not exactly traditional in this regard (or any other, for that matter), since it would be so hard to imagine any other Republican outdoing Donald Trump in the "attack dog" category.

But the Democrats are on the brink of nominating a much more conventional presidential candidate, so they'll also likely be looking for a more conventional role for the vice presidential candidate as well. And Elizabeth Warren seems to be putting herself front and center for this consideration. Other Democrats have taken political shots at Donald Trump over the past few weeks, but Warren is definitely the most prominent and the most fervent of all the Trump critics. Who else has gotten into an open Twitter war with Trump, after all?

Would Warren be a good selection for Hillary Clinton's running mate? Well, there are pros and cons to making such a pick. Let's run through these, briefly.

 

Pros

Warren's biggest asset is that she comes with her own built-in fan base. That is no small thing in the world of presidential politics. Few Democrats are going to have to learn who Elizabeth Warren is, because for the most part they already know her. In fact, before Bernie Sanders arrived on the scene, there was a huge popular movement dedicated to convincing Warren to make her own run for president. If she had, it is likely that Sanders wouldn't have gotten anywhere near the support he has, since he'd be dividing it with Warren. Both appeal to the same ideological group within the Democratic base.

This is Warren's second biggest asset, in fact. She would be the best possible person to bridge the divide between the Sanders populists and the supporters of Hillary Clinton within the Democratic Party. She would be seen as a person who could influence Clinton during the general election campaign, by making sure Clinton didn't tack too far away from populism. That would help Clinton enormously with Democrats who don't fully trust her now.

Clinton/Warren would be the first all-female ticket in American history. That a major party is even considering running two women on their ticket is a big measure of success for feminism, and would rightly be seen so by many voters.

Warren would add some much-needed excitement to the ticket. Warren is already a masterful orator, for many reasons. She knows how to explain very complicated subjects in language everyone can understand and relate to. She does not sound lawyerly when speaking. And she fires up audiences better than even Bernie Sanders, at times. All of this would go a long way towards shoring up Clinton's obvious weaknesses.

Warren has so far not endorsed either Clinton or Sanders. By holding out, she now can avoid being seen as a turncoat if she joins up with Clinton. She would bring anti-Wall Street credibility onto the ticket, she could reach out in a big way to disgruntled Sanders supporters, and she has already proven she'll be a great attack dog towards Donald Trump. What's not to love about a Clinton/Warren ticket?

 

Cons

Well, there would be a few drawbacks. The biggest of these is out of Warren's control, because if she were to run and if the Democrats went on to win the White House, then she wouldn't be a senator from Massachusetts anymore. This means the governor would get to appoint her replacement -- and the current governor of Massachusetts is a Republican. The Democrats are fighting hard to retake control of the Senate, and they'll already have to flip at least four seats to do so. If Warren is replaced by a Republican, that means they'll need at least five pickups to control the Senate. And no matter who is in control, we might see the return of Senator Scott Brown (whom Warren defeated to win her seat). That is a very big drawback indeed.

As already mentioned, a Clinton/Warren ticket would be the first all-female ticket in American history. But this is a drawback as well as an asset. Sure, it will be inspiring for women voters. But it also might repel some male voters as well. Clinton is already beating Donald Trump among women voters by a large margin. Adding Warren likely wouldn't improve that margin all that much. But Clinton is also losing to Trump among male voters already, and adding Warren might make that margin even larger. It is a definite risk.

Warren lacks experience, although in this particular election that might not be all that big a deal. Warren has little foreign policy experience, and even her Senate experience doesn't reach back all that far (she's in the middle of her first term). Clinton is so extremely qualified and experienced, though, that this may not be that big of a drawback. After Republicans nominated Sarah Palin to their own ticket -- and since they're nominating Donald Trump at the top of their ticket this time around -- it'll be very hard for them to play the "inexperience" card against Warren. Still, people do weigh whether the veep pick would be qualified to take over when making up their minds.

In traditional terms, Warren wouldn't make a lot of political sense when it comes to balancing the ticket geographically. Massachusetts isn't exactly in doubt for the Democrats this November. And Hillary Clinton is now seen as a New Yorker, so naming Warren would mean two Northeasterners on the same ticket. Not a lot of balance there, when using the traditional "pick someone to help you in a swing state" metric.

Warren has already been vetted to some extent by running for the Senate, but her mini-"scandal" will reappear with a vengeance if she becomes Clinton's running mate. Trump is already calling her "Pocahontas" (although he has yet to use the more-popular online right-wing taunt "Faux-cahontas"). But the whole "she claimed Native American ancestry to get ahead" slam will only get worse. Warren already debunked the claim while running for the Senate, but that won't stop Trump from repeating it endlessly. This is not likely to change a whole lot of voters' minds, it bears mentioning, but at the same time the ridicule will be relentless from Trump.

 

Weighing the pros and cons shows that Warren would bring a lot to a Clinton ticket, although not without drawbacks (Senator Scott Brown, especially). But then no vice presidential candidate is going to be perfect. It's already been suggested that Warren might want a different role in a Clinton administration -- perhaps heading Clinton's transition team, or accepting a cabinet position ("Treasury Secretary Warren" has a nice ring to it, don't you think?).

But it certainly is unusual for any politician to actively campaign to be a vice presidential pick. Historically, before Andrew Jackson's time, presidential candidates were never supposed to campaign, never supposed to even hint that they wanted the job, and the only speeches that were deemed acceptable (and not denounced as "electioneering") were literally given from the candidate's own front porch, to whomever happened to wander into their front yard that day. Jackson changed all of that forever, but the coy "Oh, I couldn't possibly ever think of running" expectation still lives on for the vice presidential role (at least, until they're actually named at the convention). Warren seems to be bucking this tradition in a big way. She is now all but holding a sign up at a Clinton rally which reads: "Hey, Hillary, I'd make a dandy veep pick!"

But then this is certainly the election where many traditions are being tossed aside with abandon. If Warren truly does want the job, why shouldn't she actively audition for it? There's really no reason for all the traditional coyness, at this point. On the Republican side, Newt Gingrich is already actively drooling over the prospect he'll be tapped by Trump for the GOP ticket. So there's nothing inherently wrong about a Democrat taking the fight to the Republicans in a big way, early on.

Warren would be a great attack dog. She's already shown the biggest skill necessary for the job this particular year: the ability to get under Trump's skin. Naming Warren would also be the best possible olive branch Clinton could offer to the millions of fervent Bernie Sanders supporters who harbor major doubts about backing Hillary. If Warren ran and won, she'd position herself perfectly for her own presidential run in the future, too.

There are plenty of other possible choices to balance a Hillary Clinton ticket, of course. There are choices which make better sense geographically (Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio springs to mind). But when the Clinton team sits down to make their pick, it's a pretty sure bet that Elizabeth Warren will be somewhere near the top of the short list, through her own efforts. If Warren is auditioning for the vice presidential role, she's certainly doing a bang-up job of showing she is ready, willing, and able to attack Donald Trump on a daily basis. And this year, that's exactly what is going to be needed.

 

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