Why Clinton Will Tap Kaine for VP

by Alex Knepper

Hillary Clinton is running as the responsible candidate — the one you can trust, at the very least, not to blow up the world. Therefore, she will pick Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, the ultimate do-no-harm pick, for the vice-presidency.

Kaine’s resume is nearly as impressive as Clinton’s: as a popular governor and senator of the major swing state of Virginia, former DNC head, fluent Spanish speaker, and apparently ethically-spotless family man, Kaine checks off all the essential boxes. There is no doubt whatsoever that he could step in as president on Day One, if required. In a testament to his raw political talent, he was even a finalist to serve as Obama’s vice-president eight years ago — before he even finished serving a single term as governor. He is, in a word, an articulate, center-left party man — and one who is loyal to Hillary Clinton. Combined, the Clinton-Kaine ticket would have a total of two decades in major executive and legislative roles — and would have the strongest formal credentials of any ticket in the modern era.

Like nearly all successful politicians, Hillary Clinton places a heavy premium on loyalty: she wants to know that her associates have put some skin in the game on her behalf. Sen. Kaine was one of Clinton’s earliest and most enthusiastic endorsers — just as he was one of Obama’s earliest and most enthusiastic endorsers in 2007. He has proven himself as an effective surrogate for Clinton time and again on television, radio, and on the campaign trail, and she can sleep soundly knowing she will never have to worry about him flubbing an interview, committing an embarrassing policy gaffe, or being slow on his feet against Donald Trump’s vice-presidential candidate (probably Chris Christie) during their October debate.

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For all his attractive qualities, Kaine is a little boring. But that might actually be a good thing: Clinton doesn’t want someone — like Elizabeth Warren (pipe dream alert!) — who is going to overshadow her on her own ticket. Her fundamental case against Trump is that he is temperamentally unfit for the job. Besides herself, who does Clinton think is temperamentally fit for the job? Her vice-presidential selection will reveal that answer. Everyone considering running for president since 2008 is acutely aware of the lessons of the Sarah Palin disaster: throwing away your best argument for the sake of some kind of Hail-Mary pass is probably not a good idea. The simple fact is that Clinton doesn’t need a progressive ‘rock star’ on the ticket to win. (Plus — what is Donald Trump gonna call Kaine? “Boring Tim”?)

The alternatives — Julian Castro or Cory Booker, probably — are surely tempting to Clinton, although certainly not for the reason that, as exciting young minority progressives, they could ‘excite the base.’ Selecting Castro or Booker would indicate that Clinton is aiming for something far more shrewd and long-term oriented. Elevating one of those young men and attaching his political fate to the success of the Clinton agenda would be an excellent long-term bulwark for the ‘DLC wing’ of the party against the possibility of a rising ‘Sanders-Warren wing’ over the next 10-20 years. Sen. Kaine is only 58 — young enough to run in four or eight years — but he would not be as effective as Castro or Booker at articulating the center-left message to progressives. But again — this is a temptation, and there is too much at stake in the short-term. We know that Clinton is typically not one to roll the dice.

To reiterate: Tim Kaine is the ultimate do-no-harm pick — by that standard, he is in many ways this year’s consultant’s dream candidate. He reinforces all of Clinton’s major strengths — highly experienced, articulate, policy-smart — while providing a boost in a critical swing state (a nice ‘cherry on top,’ though he’d still be equally likely to be chosen if he were from, say, Maryland) and mitigating some of the intensity of the accusations of questionable ethical behavior. He is a man people can trust to serve as president — and that’s why Hillary Clinton will choose him to join the Democratic ticket.

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