Vice Presidents Collage

Veepstakes 2016 Part 3: Elizabeth Warren & the Insider Dilemma

Joe Biden, in his inimitable way, has thrown Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s hat in the Veepstakes ring. Biden began by saying that if he’d been the nominee he would have picked her and urged Hillary to do so.

Would she have one in Hillaryland?

Let’s leave aside the politics of choosing Warren. She either shores up Hillary’s flank on the left or she pushes Hillary too far to the left to get votes from moderates who are offended by Trump. In having an historic two woman ticket, the campaign will really bring out the woman vote to counteract Trump’s appeal to men or it will lead the campaign to be stereotyped by gender and turn off voters. I honestly have no idea how this will play out. I assume people who have actually run in and won elections have far, far better judgment about this kind of thing than I possibly can.

I’m interested in the VP as a governing partner and on this front Warren would be an interesting choice for either Clinton or Biden. The vice president’s role is defined by the president’s needs. The rise of vice presidential influence has accompanied an increased tendency to select outsider vice presidents with little Washington experience. Some of these outsiders have explicitly chosen a VP with experience they did not possess. Carter chose Mondale in part because he wanted someone familiar with Congress. Bush 43 chose Cheney in part for his national security experience. In other cases the VP’s role develops
with the administration, as the VP fills deficits in the decision-making process. Reagan choose Bush because you have to have a vice president (it’s in the Constitution.) But, in office, the Reagan White House had a chaotic national security process and at several points Vice President Bush filled the gap.

Overall, as experienced politicians, vice president possess a unique blend of policy and political experience that can be a unique source of counsel to the president.

The problem for a potential VP is that Biden and Clinton are insiders. Both were Senators who had an inside seat at the White House. You may not like where they are going, but you can be pretty certain they know how to drive the car. Or, building on my metaphor as the president as a realtor, you may not like the houses they are showing you but you can be confident that they know how to close the deal.

Under insider presidents, VPs do a lot of fundraising, campaigning, and funerals. The most recent insider president was Bush 41 and Quayle had limited scope for influence. (In foreign affairs, with a savvy advisor, he did take the initiative in US-Japan relations and in Latin America – primarily because Bush himself and Secretary of State James Baker weren’t that interested.)

So VP Warren would not have much to add to the inner councils of a Clinton White House. Hillary knows what she wants to do and how to do it. If she seeks the unique blend of political and policy advice a VP can provide, she’d probably appeal to Bill Clinton first.

But Warren is a renowned expert on a particular very important issue – banking reform – and would be utterly credible and well-placed to oversee work in this realm. This could establish an interesting precedent for future insider candidates. Clinton or Biden wouldn’t particularly need a senior advisor to help them work Washington, but a VP who could oversee a particularly critical policy area could be useful.

Flies in the Ointment
There are two problems with a Clinton-Warren ticket as governing partners. The first is that Warren has very strong feelings on her critical issues. What if Warren’s reform efforts are beyond what Clinton believes are politically feasible. The ongoing challenge of giving the VP a major long-term policy portfolio is the danger that VP will have to be removed, which would be politically embarrassing. This is not simply a problem for Clinton-Warren but really for any administration.

The other problem is Warren’s credentials. She is clearly smart and accomplished – that is not in question. However, she has only been in the Senate for four years (the same amount of time Barack Obama was a Senator before becoming President.) Is that sufficient experience? She has not worked on national security issues in the Senate. Clinton does not particularly need a VP with national security experience – she already has it. But for her VP pick to appear “presidential” there ought to be some on the running mate’s resume.

Still, this is an interesting possibility. Generally the VP is a generalist, helping out the president wherever he (and probably soon she) can. But an insider president won’t need as much help, so choosing a specialist could be an asset to an administration.

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