The Winners and Losers of the Veepstakes
It won’t be Bernie and it shouldn’t be Elizabeth Warren, which only makes her choice more important.
By Andrew Mikula, Bates College
I vividly remember a conversation I had with one of my friends a few years ago.
“The Vice President has the easiest job ever,” he said. “You don’t really have to do anything, but everyone thinks you’re important. And if you want to be President, all you have to do is kill the current one.” Vice President certainly didn’t sound like an easy job to me, but at the time I couldn’t remember exactly what the VP’s role was in upholding the law.
While the Vice President of the United States hasn’t always been the most fulfilling role in government, it is nonetheless significant. Current Vice President Joe Biden has been responsible for formulating policy, advising the president on foreign affairs, representing the country at national and international events Obama couldn’t attend and supervising the proceedings of the Senate.
However, perhaps the most publicly visible role of the Vice President occurs before his—and yes, his—corresponding president even takes office. Namely, the imminent VP often has a crucial role in campaigning with his running mate, consolidating his party and expanding the voter appeal of the ticket. When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, he was a young first-term senator with little foreign policy experience. So what did he do? He chose an older, veteran Congressman with plentiful foreign policy experience to be his VP.
That said, 2016 is a little bit different. The POTUS next year will likely be either a flip-flopping, arrogant, largely unpopular bully or an untrustworthy, aloof, equally unpopular political robot. However, the great unfavorability of these candidates only reasserts the importance of the so-called “veepstakes” that occur every 4 years. Trump and Clinton’s VP picks very well could make up the minds of many voters who otherwise are disillusioned with both candidates. Having come of political age during the chaos of the 2016 election season, people my age deserve to be well-informed of the VP vetting process.
In fact, this year especially highlights a transition that occurs around the time of each major party’s convention. After a largely divisive primary season, both candidates will seek to unify their parties with their VP choices. If the goal is unification, the choice is fairly obvious for Hillary. It has to be Bernie Sanders, right?
Things have been a little sour between Clinton and Sanders for a while, and Bernie clearly has only come to support Hillary in recent weeks in order to defeat Trump. Besides, the fact that Bernie Sanders is from Vermont pretty much disqualifies him anyway. The logic in being choosy about where a VP candidate is from assumes that people will be more likely to vote for a candidate when their previous Senator/Governor/whatever is also on the ticket. However, Vermont, arguably the most liberal state in the country, is easily Clinton territory in the general election regardless. Essentially, most internationally renowned ice-cream-making old hipsters and other Vermonters—if there are any—already would’ve voted for Hillary without Bernie as VP. Clinton has an astute, if distant style to her politics that suggests she would aim for a little more “demographic enhancement” in her VP choice.
Perhaps the other big-name progressive politician out there is Elizabeth Warren, although Warren and Clinton haven’t always gotten along. Besides, Warren has implied that she would rather continue her ambitious work in the Senate rather than becoming pigeonholed into fulfilling Hillary Clinton’s own agenda.
She’s also from Massachusetts, a state already so staunchly liberal that “Massachusetts liberal” is a derogatory phrase in right-wing circles.
And then there’s the glaring fact that she’s a woman. I know that sounds narrow-minded, but the unfortunate reality is that having one woman as a leader will already turn enough people off. Adding a second one will only allow for more latent sexism to weaken Hillary’s odds, and in a country where Donald Trump is a major party’s presidential nominee, sexism is most certainly a relevant concern here.
For all of the above reasons and more, the most likely VP under a Clinton administration is Tim Kaine. He represents the state of Virginia, a crucial swing state where Hillary needs to repeat Obama’s 2012 success. As a Spanish speaker, Tim Kaine may help garner Latino support for Clinton, and his background as a working-class white guy could help steal some thunder from Trump. Perhaps his main weakness is a lack of diplomatic expertise, but Hillary Clinton more than makes up for that lack of experience herself.
Still, one thing Kaine doesn’t bring to the ticket is ideological diversity. In fact, he’s even more moderate than Clinton is. After a primary season defined by the surprising popularity of Bernie Sanders, perhaps younger voters have little to look forward to in November and beyond. Kaine’s largely mixed record on education seems like a disappointing compromise after the sweeping promises Bernie made to make public college free for everyone. Since the last presidential election, Kaine’s most significant contribution to job stability discussions (and trust me—millennials need job security) was probably when he bragged about Virginia’s relatively low unemployment rate. If Hillary chooses Tim Kaine as her VP, it will not be in an effort to appeal to millennials.
Unfortunately, this information on Hillary’s choice is speculative. The Democratic VP pick could very well be Elizabeth Warren. I can’t read Hillary’s mind, okay? But Donald Trump has already chosen Mike Pence as his Vice Presidential nominee, despite characteristically unnecessary drama. In my humble opinion, the Nice attacks would only be a valid excuse to delay the VP announcement if Trump wanted to respect the gravity of the attacks by avoiding clogging up media coverage, but everyone knows that Donald Trump has trouble respecting anything and anybody. And then, on Friday morning, Donald Trump realized this lapse in logic himself, and therefore announced his VP nominee when he had originally said he would. Confused yet? Me too.
In all seriousness though, Mike Pence was a smart choice for the Donald. His other “VP finalists,” Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich, both have a reputation for being almost as harshly frank and temperamental as Trump himself, which would do little to assuage worries about Trump’s own divisive rhetoric and impulsive decision-making.
Instead, Pence is markedly different from Trump. He is a tried-and-true conservative, while fellow Republicans have questioned Trump’s ideological standing. Pence holds contrasting views from Trump on the Iraq War, trade policy and countless other parameters. He even called Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigrants “offensive and unconstitutional.” Because of these disparities, it may seem hard to understand why Trump would want to choose Pence as his VP. However, while the GOP establishment is reluctant to support Trump, Pence offers an air of familiarity rooted in his deep-seated ties to Washington. His 12 years of Congressional experience alleviates concern over Trump’s never having held elected office.
However, for those of you who were looking to decide who to vote for here, I have some bad news. Mike Pence isn’t exactly a collegian’s idea of an ideal choice for VP. Instead, he mirrors an older generation of the GOP that refuses to budge on social issues, opposing gay marriage, legalized recreational marijuana, a woman’s right to choose and affirmative action alike. These socially conservative viewpoints are quickly fading in popularity among young people, even Republicans. Not to mention that Pence has a bad habit of striking down school funding proposals.
Of course, I’m generalizing a bit here. There certainly isn’t any one issue that young people all agree on. However, based on current trends and relevant issues (education, the economy, social policy) to millennials, 2016 is not a promising election year, even when you consider the likely VPs.
So who can college students rely on to represent them well in the U.S. government if not any of the candidates? Maybe it’s not a “who,” but instead a “what.” 2020. The future.
Millennials are still young. The vast majority of them aren’t even old enough to be president yet, but young people can still exert a political influence by voting. At a time of dismal voter turnout among younger people, perhaps the voices of millennials simply have yet to be heard in the same numbers as older generations who are more likely to cast ballots.
In the meantime, there are other options. Gary Johnson. Jill Stein. A write-in. At the end of the day, it’s most important to vote for whoever you think will do more for you, without letting politics get in the way. And I believe it’s this same sense of individuality and autonomy that has united millennials at a time when overdramatized speculation on VP choices absorbs everyone else.