So, the 2016 general election matchup is all but set, and it will pit Donald Trump (seriously??) against Hillary Clinton. While Clinton leads in most national polls of the race, Republicans have begun to somewhat reluctantly coalesce around their nominee, and polls have tightened. Ordinarily, the vice presidential selection doesn’t make a gigantic difference in the general election matchup, but if the election is closer than expected this year, it could. With that said, I’d like to take a look at each candidate’s most viable options for a running mate. It’s entirely possible that the eventual selection won’t be on either list, but it’s still fun to speculate.
There’s a few different strategies that Clinton could take to arrive at a vice presidential choice. She could choose someone likable such as Tim Kaine or Cory Booker. She could choose someone from a swing state to give her an advantage in the electoral vote tally. VP candidates don’t necessarily guarantee that the presidential candidate will win their state, but they generally add a few points to the candidate’s totals in that state, which could help immensely in a close election. Clinton should also try to keep the liberal wing of the party represented by Bernie Sanders’ campaign from fleeing when she secures the nomination. Clinton could also pick someone designed to exploit Trump’s weaknesses with minority voters. Previously, I’d thought that picking a woman for her running mate would be a bad idea for Clinton, but since Trump’s approval ratings among women have been sinking, doubling down on that advantage might actually help her. That said, here is my list. I’m ordering them roughly in viability order , or how good an addition to the ticket I think they’d be. It’s not necessarily a reflection of who I want to see on the ticket (KAINE! WARREN! FRANKEN!), but rather how each choice looks from a strategic standpoint.
Sen. Tim Kaine (VA)– Kaine would seem tailor-made for this ticket. He’s from a swing state, he wouldn’t cost the Democrats a Senate seat since they have a Democratic governor to appoint his replacement, and he definitely wins points in the likability department. He isn’t an unabashed liberal, though, and may not placate the Sanders crowd. He also may be just a little too milquetoast for an insane, anti-establishment year like 2016, which Vanity Fair columnist Tina Nguyen has argued.
HUD Secretary Julian Castro (TX)- Castro is one of the top picks to exploit Trump’s weakness among Latino voters, and would probably be good on the stump, as evidenced by his keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. He’s also provides a youthful, rising-star complement to Clinton’s “elder stateswoman” image. He’s not as well-known nationally as some other candidates, and doesn’t have a ton of campaign experience, though.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA)- Warren would be the perfect figure to appeal to Sanders’ voters aside from picking Sanders himself. While Massachusetts has a Republican Governor that would appoint Warren’s replacement in the Senate, the pick would likely be a moderate Republican that could be persuaded to help Democrats on certain issues if the Senate remains Republican by a seat or two. She is a solid campaigner (so much so that she could overshadow Clinton on the stump) and doesn’t carry the same baggage from being a self-described Socialist as Sanders would.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH)- This Senator proposed legislation to break up the big banks, voted against the Iraq War, has criticized free trade, and has been a forceful advocate for LGBT rights. Sound like Bernie Sanders? Actually, it’s Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio. He’s 11 years younger than Sanders, and might make a difference at the margins in a swing state, even if he is more liberal than the median Ohio voter. The big strike against him is that Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, would appoint his Senate replacement, and thus his selection could cost the Democrats control of the Upper House. Despite this, I think he’d still be a solid pick, as Democrats have several paths to Senate control this year thanks to a favorable map.
Sen. Al Franken (MN)- Franken’s history as a former Saturday Night Live cast member will help his charisma on the stump and in debates, and could help him be Clinton’s attack dog. These qualities along with his liberal voting record would help with Sanders voters, and his state’s governor is a Democrat. While there are concerns that he would be a loose cannon, he has largely avoided making controversial comments during his campaigns and tenure in the Senate, and enjoys high approval ratings at home. I have read almost all of his books and would absolutely adore this selection myself, but there are probably slightly better strategic choices.
Sen. Cory Booker (NJ)– He’s a great speaker, a nice guy, and although his state has a Republican governor and isn’t a swing state, he could help Clinton exploit Trump’s weaknesses with minority voters. I just can’t shake the suspicion that he has a skeleton in his closet that vetting teams haven’t found yet. I have no real evidence for this position, but politicians that look too good to be true (see Edwards, John) generally are. Though if Clinton’s vetting team is competent, they’ll find said skeleton and won’t pick him.
Sen. Patty Murray (WA)– Murray has experience running vigorous statewide campaigns in Washington state, and can point to her negotiation of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 as a major across-the-aisle legislative achievement. She would help with Trump’s weaknesses with women as well. She isn’t as well-known nationally as the others, so her ability to excite the base could be in question.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (WI)- I’m a little surprised more people aren’t throwing Baldwin’s name out as a possibility. She presents many of the same strengths as someone like Warren: a woman with liberal street cred (only Warren has a more liberal voting record than her according to VoteView). Baldwin won her seat by defeating a popular Republican figure in the state, Tommy Thompson, that many didn’t give her a chance against at first. She also would make additional history as the first openly gay member of a presidential ticket. Though her state’s governor is a Republican who would likely nominate a staunch conservative to her seat.
Many of the other names being thrown around have strengths or weaknesses similar to the above:
Courting Sanders voters: Sen. Jeff Merkley (OR)
Latinos/women to attack Trump: Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (CO), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (MN), Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano (AZ), Rep. Xavier Becerra (CA), Sen. Claire McCaskill (MO), Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (NH)
Swing-state Democrats that may be too vanilla or anger Sanders voters: Sen. Mark Warner (VA), Sen. Bill Nelson (FL), Gov. Terry McAuliffe (VA), Sen. Martin Heinrich (NM)
Finally, there are a few slightly less conventional choices that I do want to talk about here. I don’t view any of these selections as very likely.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT)- Senator Sanders has run a great campaign for President, doing far better against Clinton than anyone expected and bringing several important issues, such as economic inequality and free trade, to the forefront of the campaign. He is also a solid fundraiser. But it’s hard to imagine Sanders suddenly playing ball with Clinton on the ticket and in a future administration after he has criticized her so much on the trail. He’s also six years older than Clinton. He wouldn’t really exploit any of Trump’s weaknesses, either, nor would he be much help from an electoral college standpoint. And there’s also the infamous s-word. I don’t think Sanders would necessarily be a bad pick strategically, I just don’t see Clinton offering him the job.
Vice President Joe Biden (DE)- Biden’s popularity has remained strong as he has insulated himself from politics. But the second Clinton got back onto the trail, her favorables dropped, and Biden’s likely would too. He also has a reputation as a loose cannon and keeping both him and Bill Clinton in check could prove difficult. I doubt he would want the #2 job again as well, and he has the same age concerns that Sanders would have.
Former Sen. Evan Bayh (IN)- Bayh is a longtime Clinton loyalist, and is from a state that Clinton would love to try to flip back to the blue column, as Obama did in 2008. But honestly, if Clinton is winning Indiana, she’s probably running away with the election anyway. Bayh is a good campaigner and good on the stump, but would probably anger Sanders voters more than almost anyone on this list due to how moderate he is. Many Democrats such as myself are still annoyed at him for how he left the Senate, too. He suddenly announced he was dropping out right before the filing deadline to run for reelection in 2010, leaving Democrats to scramble to find a replacement to run for the seat, basically conceding it to Republican Dan Coats. I really hope she doesn’t pick Bayh, as there are far better possibilities across the board.
I literally have no idea what way Donald Trump is going to go here. He has implied that he wants a political insider, which despite the anti-establishment mood in the electorate, I think would be a smart choice. He needs to make sure he can keep the party unified and lend credibility to his presidential campaign that many are still skeptical of. He could also look to shore up his weaknesses with women and minorities, or double down and choose someone with a similar combative style on the stump, or who shares his hawkish views on immigration.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (WV)- Capito is very popular in her home state, and is respected for her professionalism in office. I think she would lend a lot of gravitas to the Trump ticket, could help counteract Clinton’s difficulties with women, and would probably conduct herself well in the debate. Her big weakness is her moderate stances: she has supported legislation to mandate equal pay for women, and has a mixed record on abortion, for instance. Though as Trump’s candidacy has proven, this hasn’t been an issues-driven campaign. Trump is far from a conservative ideologue himself, and if his voters ignored that in him, they’d likely ignore it in his running mate. Or it could thrust Trump’s moderation to the forefront. Could be interesting.
Rep. Mia Love (UT)- I’m shocked more people aren’t talking about Love as a running mate. First of all, she’s the first black Republican Congresswoman in history. While many Hispanic VP prospects for Trump have abandoned him (Gov. Susana Martinez, Gov. Brian Sandoval), Love would help shore up some of his weaknesses in that area. She’s also a fairly charismatic speaker too. She isn’t especially well-known nationally and doesn’t have a ton of experience, but she could be a good outside-the-box pick that is still an insider. She did vote for Ted Cruz in the primary, though, so she might not want the job.
Sen. Bob Corker (TN)- Corker is the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and would be able to lend Trump a lot of credibility on foreign policy and terrorism, which are shaping up to be big issues in this election. He is a well-respected member of the Senate who might unify the party the same way Capito would without worrying about moderate policy stances.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (AL)- Sessions is the ultimate insider, having served in Congress since 1997, and serving as Attorney General of Alabama before then. He was also the first Senator to endorse Trump, so we know he’s comfortable with him as a nominee. He also shares Trump’s strict views on immigration. He would probably be the ultimate safe pick. He isn’t well-known nationally, and wouldn’t make a splash. Nor is he from anything resembling a swing state.
Former Governor Jan Brewer (AZ)- Brewer is basically a female, more extreme version of Sessions. She signed the infamous SB 1070 into law, which requires immigrants to register with the state government and to keep their registration papers with them at all times. If a policeman asks to see them and an immigrant doesn’t have them, they could be charged with a misdemeanor. This law was roundly criticized when it was passed, and Brewer would have to answer for it if she runs for Vice President. But, she would be a good fit on a ticket that has made immigration a huge issue, and she could counteract Clinton. I think she’d be the sort of high-risk, high-reward pick that would be attractive to someone like Trump.
Gov. John Kasich (OH)- I can’t imagine Kasich would want the job, as he seemed hell-bent on being President or bust. His “kinder, gentler” campaign style also clashes about as much with Trump’s as anyone ever could. He also isn’t a lockstep conservative either, having supported Medicaid expansion in his state. I think he could help soften Trump’s image and could point to a lot of accomplishments over his many years in government, but I just don’t see him accepting the job.
Gov. Chris Christie (NJ)- I’ve often described Trump as “Chris Christie on steroids,” as the two both have combative personalities and are unafraid to speak their minds. But two personalities like that on the ticket could be too much for many voters, even if Christie was one of the first establishment figures to support Trump. Christie also has his own baggage from Bridgegate and a low approval rating in his home state, as many New Jersey voters felt he neglected the state when running for President. I think Christie would hurt the ticket more than help it, but he is a possibility nonetheless.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (GA)- Newt has openly campaigned for the job, and is reportedly on the short list. He could be an effective attack dog, and ran a campaign in 2012 that was perhaps slightly better than expected. But he has a lot of baggage as well from the end of his time as Speaker, and his aggressive prosecution of Bill Clinton for having an affair while he was having one himself. Four divorces on one ticket might be a bridge too far for evangelical Christian voters, who have mostly backed Trump despite his messy personal life.
We can probably group the lower-profile names into groups too, just like we did for Clinton:
Women/minorities to counteract Clinton: Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA), Sen. Deb Fischer (NE), Gov. Mary Fallin (OK), Sen. Tim Scott (SC), Sen. Joni Ernst (IA)
Gravitas/credibility lenders: Sen. John Thune (SD)
Combative personalities: Gov. Rick Scott (FL), Gov. Paul LePage (ME)
One last name has cropped up on many lists- and I can’t believe I’m typing this- is Former Sen. Jim Webb (VA). After running a quixotic campaign for the Democratic nomination, Webb told MSNBC he wouldn’t vote for Clinton, but would consider voting for Trump. While he is ostensibly still a Democrat and might prompt a revolt among convention delegates, he used to be a Republican and served as Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy, so he could probably switch back. He is pro-gun and has working-class appeal, though is also pro-choice and in favor of LGBT rights, but like I noted with Capito, that might not be a problem. He also isn’t especially charismatic on the stump, but Trump could sell himself as a nonpartisan problem solver by putting a Democrat on the ticket with him. I don’t think he’ll do it, but you can’t count anything out these days.