Expert Speak Atlantic Files
Published on Jul 11, 2016
#USElections2016: Why VP Warren would be a mistake Hillary Clinton’s rocky, however eventually successful, primary campaign to emerge as the presumptive Democratic nominee for President can be understood as comprising two central tropes that have become indistinguishable from her persona: Her deep and almost inextricable ties to Wall Street and other special interests, and her propensity to be a moderate, much to the continuing dismay of the Democratic base. As the search for her running mate begins, Mrs. Clinton must select a candidate who helps her appeal not only to regions that favoured Senator Sanders in the primary, but also perhaps to Republicans that find themselves disillusioned at the rise of a megalomaniacal and xenophobic candidate that has seized the party from their grasp. While the possibility of a Clinton-Warren ticket is being widely speculated in Washington, it risks costing Clinton the support of moderates, who are likely to feel alienated by Elizabeth Warren’s history of activism against free trade agreements, and of her donor-base, which has been at the receiving end of Senator Warren’s crusade against the finance industry. It would, thus, be in the best interest of Clinton’s chances in November to not pander to the reluctant left, which is likely to come around eventually, at the expense of alienating her core supporters who have chosen — overwhelmingly — to side with her over Bernie Sanders thus far.

< style="color: #163449;">Massachusetts: A safe democratic state

Traditionally, presidential candidates have favored running mates from either a region in which they do not have a stronghold, or one in which the result is uncertain i.e. battleground states. On both these counts, Massachusetts — Senator Warren’s home state — is not particularly meaningful for Clinton. Not only did she claim it in her most recent, albeit close, contest with Mr. Sanders in March, it is also a state that has consistently favored the Democrats since 1984. Graphic 1 shows the results of the Democratic Primary in Massachusetts on March 1, 2016. Hillary Clinton secured more delegates than Bernie Sanders in a closely fought race. Source: < style="color: #0069a6;">The New York Times  In fact, even in 2012 when President Obama contested Mitt Romney, a former Governor of Massachusetts, the Democrats won the state with an overwhelming mandate. The only instance in recent memory when the state has featured a close race has been in 1984; incidentally also the last time Democrats came up short. It would, therefore, not particularly benefit Clinton in terms of shifting the regional balance to her advantage were she to select Elizabeth Warren as a candidate for VP.   President-result Graphic 2 shows the result of the Presidential Election of 2012 in the state of Massachusetts, in which President Obama carried the state comfortably. Source: < style="color: #0069a6;">Politico  

< style="color: #163449;">Warren as a protectionist

Among other factors that may hurt Mrs. Clinton’s possible alliance with Senator Warren is the latter’s stance on free trade. Whereas Clinton has been reticent on the issue, given her track record of having played an instrumental role in forging NAFTA and the TPP — both of which became the object of Mr. Sanders’ critique — Warren’s stance has been anything but equivocal. She has led a scathing attack against President Obama’s trade policy, incriminating him for allowing multinational corporations to sue the United States far too easily. This may well be in line with Mr. Sanders rhetoric, which exhibited a cynicism for free trade similar to that espoused by Donald Trump, but is almost impossible to reconcile with Clinton’s own record. While Clinton has turned around to express qualms about both NAFTA (signed into law by her husband) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (which she once described as “the gold standard in trade agreements”), her take on the issue is hardly as partisan as that of Warren. Given how central a place trade policy has occupied in this election discourse, with Mr. Trump repeatedly lashing out at the Chinese, Mexicans, and even Indians for stealing Americans’ jobs, Clinton can either maintain her support for free trade — which would mostly be in line with her record — or select Warren to align her stance with Trump’s in order to render this a non-issue. While the second option may seem tempting, considering Clinton’s track record, this is likely to be raked up in the debates by her opponent nevertheless. Therefore, in the case that it does continue to be a relevant issue, she would benefit from defending her stance than from aligning with Warren and coming across as the flip-flopper that she is often accused of being.

< style="color: #163449;">Alienation of the moderates

The last, and perhaps the most pressing, issue with a Clinton-Warren ticket would be that it may prevent Clinton from exploiting her perception as a moderate to her advantage. It is quite clear, from the reservations expressed by several House and Senate Republicans about a Trump candidacy, that their nominee does not reflect traditional GOP values of small government, free markets, and constitutional textualism. Seeing as the Republican agenda has found no champions in this election, many moderates would have to evaluate whether they prefer to support Donald Trump, a candidate who has proved to be thoroughly unfavourable and unpredictable on issues such as trade and nuclear security, or to support a less radical Clinton, who embodies — as even several Republican business executives have conceded — experience and sound judgment. Trump-Rating Graphic 3 indicates that Donald Trump’s favorability ratings are not positive, i.e. the number of Americans that are unfavorable of him far exceeds the number that is favorable. This allows Hillary Clinton the chance to reach out to several moderates who may normally side with the GOP, but are particularly disapproving of a Trump presidency. Source: < style="color: #0069a6;">Huffington Post  In essence, Clinton’s favourability among moderates may stem from not only ideological agreements per se, but also from an appreciation for her record of competence and maturity, quite unlike her opponent in the race has exhibited. Therefore, the elevation of Senator Warren, who is widely considered an ideologue for progressive values and a populist, may distance moderates, especially those that identify as fiscal conservatives, from the Democratic ticket. There are even reports of several Wall Street donors wanting to cut the Clinton campaign off any support, if Warren were handed the VP ticket, due to her history of attacks on the finance industry. Warren refrained from endorsing Mrs. Clinton up until it became absolutely certain that she was going to represent the party; while she has not ruled out “jump in this fight”, she has steered clear of voicing any ideological or policy alignments with Clinton, sticking instead to only supporting her indomitable spirit. Such avoidance of policy discussions will not be enough to secure the White House, and those romanticising about an all-female ticket must recognise that the Democrats are better off eschewing identity politics, for beating Trump at his own game would prove to be a tall order. The author is Research Intern at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.
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