The Veepicks: Making Sense out of Pence, Praising Kaine

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Dan, a presidential party nominee’s first important task is to select a running mate, and that choice often – though not always – speaks volumes about the frontrunner’s decisionmaking ability.

If we look back to our ten most recent presidents, I think we’ve had two great ones: John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. And both made excellent choices in running mates. Kennedy picked Lyndon Johnson and Reagan selected George H.W. Bush. Both Johnson and Bush were Texans, which provided important geographical balance for the Bostonian Kennedy and Californian Reagan. But there were other important reasons.

Johnson was a lion in the Senate. From Capitol Hill, he would’ve given Kennedy fits. Better to get him out of the seat of power, Kennedy thought, and have him on his side in the White House.
As for Bush, he represented the Country Club Republican. A more moderate, “kinder, and gentler” (later a slogan during his own presidency) candidate, and one with important ties to Washington to balance the Western horseman.

There have been other very good picks during the past 50 or so years. Dick Cheney and Joe Biden come to mind. Neither brought flash, nor electoral votes, and could have easily been the ticket headliner. The same holds true for Lloyd Bentsen. And there were a few bad picks. Few would argue that the least sensible pick of all in recent memory was Dan Quayle. Even Sarah Palin, who became a national joke for the left, became a heroic hockey mom for the right and injected life into John McCain’s lackluster campaign. If Johnson and Bush were the zenith, Quayle was the nadir.

Turning to this year’s veepstakes, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both decided to play it safe, selecting Indiana Governor Mike Pence and U.S. Senator from Virginia Tim Kaine, respectively. Both are “gee willikers” nice guys – Pence in particular – and both are at least a decade younger than the presidential candidates.

Pence went from Congress to the governor’s mansion, Kaine did the opposite. But both have considerably more legislative and executive experience than either Trump (who has none) or Clinton (whose eight-year stint in the Senate was unremarkable).

Neither was a bad pick, but also neither was a great one. I think Trump should have doubled down and gone with Newt Gingrich, whom I often describe as being so smart that Google uses him as a search engine. Or, Trump could have found a way to swallow his pride and mend fences with Marco Rubio, who would have balanced him brilliantly, or John Kasich, who would have delivered Ohio and probably neighboring Pennsylvania.

As for Hillary, the obvious pick should have been Cory Booker, currently a U.S. Senator from New Jersey and former mayor of Newark. Young (47), energetic, well-spoken, quite likable, centrist, and African-American, Booker would have added much flavor to Clinton’s bland candidacy. I also thought she might have gone the route of California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom – an overrated slick Mitt Romney type who would be the darling of the liberal Hollywood crowd.

She also could have gone really bold and brought Al Gore out of retirement. He’s still bitter at his old boss, her husband, but a nostalgic “Clinton-Gore” ticket might have done the trick.
But that would have been the longshot of longshots. As would have Trump’s attempt to cajole Condoleezza Rice out of academia.
So as it stands, in their first big presidential test, the two bombastic, polarizing, and vilified nominees made rational, reasonable, and reserved choices. What do you think?


Dino, your summary of past vice presidential choices underscores how the selecting of a running mate reveals a great deal about a presidential candidate. Who you believe would have been the best pick for Trump and Clinton is arguable but ably explores what each candidate purports to stand for. I will focus on their actual choices of Governor Michael Pence (IN) and Senator Tim Keane (VA).

There was a sharp contrast in how the VP choices were presented. Trump opted for a press conference setting with some of his staff as the only popular audience. He mainly spoke about himself for 20 minutes, had an awkward embrace with Pence, and promptly left the room.

Clinton made her announcement at a student rally at a major Florida university. She used her speaking time to talk about Keane, greeted him warmly, and remained on stage while he spoke. When the speech ended, they again embraced and worked the crowd as a team.

Trump’s choice of arch-conservative Pence indicates Trump’s need to nail down the hardcore Evangelical vote even at the risk of further alienating other electoral blocks. Pence is governor of an extremely conservative state that is reliably Republican in presidential elections. He has little influence in neighboring Illinois and Ohio.

Pence is anti-abortion, against raising the minimum wage, against funding Planned Parenthood, and against renewal energy projects. He advocates a flat tax, which results in substantial tax cuts for the wealthy, and slashed funding for public education. He strongly endorses Trump’s views on immigration and is highly supportive of the National Rifle Association.

Pence’s political views have little appeal for Latinos, blacks, students in the Sanders camp, or independents. On the plus side, Pence has executive experience, some foreign policy credentials, and a competent speaking style. His mild-mannered personality and political experience offer a balance against Trump’s personal style and lack of governmental experience.

Keane likely clinches Virginia, a swing state, for the Democrats. That he speaks Spanish fluently is a major asset, especially in Florida, another swing state. That his son is a marine on active duty helps with the large military vote in neighboring North Carolina, another battleground state.

Keane, who has never lost an election, is a dynamic speaker. He is a devout Irish Catholic with working class roots, factors that may resonate with white working class males who have not been very supportive of Clinton. His religious convictions, which could appeal to people of various faiths, are reflected in his political life. Upon graduating Harvard Law School, he spent a year in Honduras serving in a human rights program. He mastered Spanish and gained considerable first-hand insight into the problems of Latin America.

During his career as a lawyer, Keane took on pro-bono cases involving discrimination against the disabled, African-Americans, and immigrants. On most issues, Keane is a congenial centrist who underscores the need for bipartisan consensus. His strong advocacy for common sense gun control has earned him a failed rating from the NRA. Although personally opposed to abortion, he respects a woman’s right to control her own body and is endorsed by Planned Parenthood. His views appeal to established Democrats and might win the vote of Republican women appalled by gun violence and Trump’s statements regarding women

Trump’s choice for vice-president is designed to nail down a critical voting block while Clinton’s combines strengthening existing support groups with outreach to other electoral sectors, including centrist Republicans. Ultimately, people vote for the top of the ticket, but to the degree that vice-presidents matter, Clinton has bested Trump.