The Clinton-Kaine ‘16 Balancing Act
Matthew JAMISON | 30.07.2016 | WORLD / Americas

The Clinton-Kaine ‘16 Balancing Act

With the selection of Virginia Senator Tim Kaine as Hillary Clinton’s Vice-Presidential running mate, the tickets are now in place for the epic choice ahead of Americans come November 8th.

In choosing Senator Kaine, Mrs Clinton is being politically cautious and adept at appealing to the widest array of Americans possible. The Democratic primary shifted the centre of political gravity within the party to a more liberal position. The party’s platform – a non-binding statement of core policies and political beliefs – is the most progressive platform to be fashioned by the Democrats in generations. Clearly the influence of Bernie Sanders has changed the Democrats calculus. So Mrs Clinton is leading a party even more liberal than Barack Obama did in 2008 or her husband did twenty-four years ago. Thus, adding Tim Kaine to the Presidential ticket, on the surface seems to be slightly out of sync with the prevailing political direction and perhaps that was one of the most attractive features for adding him to the ticket.

Senator Kaine is a moderate who is personally, though not politically, opposed to abortion. As a centrist he has not been at the forefront of campaigning against Wall Street excess as say Senator Elizabeth Warren has been. After the, at times, bruising and harder fought primary election, it was widely speculated that a liberal firebrand would be needed to win over the Sandersistas. The politics of this selection would indicate that the Democrats are unifying with or without a Sanders progressive being added to the Clinton ticket. The backing of Elizabeth Warren and belated endorsement of Senator Sanders has gone a long way to soothing any lingering bitterness at the Clinton comeback. So too has the urgent threat of a Donald Trump candidacy.

Yet, even though Senator Kaine does not hail from the left of the party, he was an early backer of then Senator Obama’s way back in 2007 and was one of the first to endorse Hillary even before she announced she was running again. His status as an early Obama backer combined with his early support for Mrs Clinton’s second Presidential bid symbolised the convergence of the Obama and Clinton wings of the Democratic Party. What Kaine lacks in progressive fireworks he compensates with experience. As well as being a Senator, Kaine previously served as Governor and Lt. Governor of Virginia. He also has presided over the Democratic National Committee as Chairman during the early Obama years. Perhaps above all it is his vanilla, «safe pair of hands» image which was also a bonus for Mrs Clinton. No Presidential candidate would want to be upstaged or outshone by their running mate and given Mrs Clinton’s difficulties with white, working-class males it could prove beneficial optics to showcase Hillary working alongside a male deputy in harmony.

What the Kaine VP nomination also indicates about a possible second Clinton administration is that even though the Democrats are turning left, more so than even during the Obama administration, they will not completely abandon what is getting smaller and smaller within the US polity – what Arthur Schlesinger Jr called «the vital centre». Just as Trump is determined to woo Reagan Democrats hit badly by globalisation and the financial crisis so too is Mrs Clinton set on a trajectory of reaching out to moderate Republicans concerned with national security and government competence but aghast at a Trump led Republican Party.

The Kaine pick also indicates that Mrs Clinton intends her administration to be very much a Presidency fronted by her. By going with such a conventional, some would say perhaps uninspiring and uncharismatic choice, Hillary has ensured she will not be upstaged or outshone by a running mate with more gifted oratorical skills like Senator Elizabeth Warren or Senator Cory Booker. Some commentators have speculated that by choosing Mike Pence as his running mate, Donald Trump played directly to the Republican base throwing them some ultra-conservative red meat.

The Pence selection was a base pleaser rather than expanding the electoral possibilities. Thus, Hillary Clinton had no need to counter Pence with an imaginative and game changing VP of her own who could fire up the Democratic base.

Rather, the Pence choice liberated her from the need to pick a charismatic populist or minority candidate and instead play safe with Kaine who as a white male Catholic and moderate could help attract independents, white suburban Republicans and Irish, Italian and Polish Catholic voters.

Rather than spicing things up with a wild card VP pick, Mrs Clinton has calculated that she does not need a Warren or Sanders progressive liberal type to excite and enliven the Democratic ticket. The Clinton-Kaine ticket will be about policy substance, steady statesmanship and work horse ability.

Yet the political mood in America is volatile and febrile. Voters are deeply disillusioned, even angry and extremely distrustful of Washington DC and elites. Mr Trump has come this far by portraying himself as an anti-Establishment outsider and the voice of angry white America, despite the fact, as a billionaire mogul, he is very much a part of the Establishment he rails against.

If Trump does win in November, historians could well look back and see the Kaine selection has a major miscalculation on the part of the Clinton campaign. If the Trump campaign can paint Clinton-Kaine as a ticket of ultimate DC insiders and one representing the status quo, Mr Trump could well end up as President Trump.