Donald Brand is a professor of political science at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.
Hillary Clinton’s choice of U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine from Virginia as a running mate was widely anticipated, but nevertheless a disappointment to the left wing of the Democratic Party. Bernie Sanders’ supporters still held out hope for U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts or U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown from Ohio—those who are adversarial toward Wall Street and less supportive of free trade deals, such as NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The left was also disappointed she didn’t choose the first African-American vice-presidential candidate (U.S. Sen. Cory Booker from New Jersey), the first Latino vice-presidential candidate (Secretary of Labor Tom Perez or Secretary of Housing Julian Castro), or double-down for women with Warren. Clinton is shrewdly calculating that these progressives will ultimately swallow their objections and vote for her anyway because they’re horrified by the thought of voting for Donald Trump as an alternative.
When Trump chose Mike Pence, a white, male, rock-ribbed conservative as his running mate to unify the Republican Party, that choice freed Clinton from any need to play the multi-cultural game and allowed her to choose a Democrat who could appeal to moderates and white men, groups that have been standoffish toward Clinton. Trump chose a rally-the-base strategy (or maybe he was forced to choose this strategy given questions about the level of Republican support he would receive in the general election), while Clinton opted for an expand-the-base strategy. Since Kaine is not well-known beyond Virginia, it will take a while for Clinton’s decision to bear fruit, and the vice-presidential debate this fall may be more important than it typically is.
Winning the election was undoubtedly a factor in Clinton’s vice-presidential decision-making process, but it may not have been the decisive factor. Geographic considerations often weigh in choosing a vice president. If Clinton had focused primarily on electoral considerations, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown from Ohio might have gotten the nod. Ohio is a critical battleground state, and polls show Trump and Clinton neck and neck nationwide, while a recent NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll put Clinton ahead by 9 percentage points in Virginia. Over the past decade, Virginia has been trending purple with the growth of Washington D.C. suburbs, becoming less of a battleground state than Ohio. Clinton’s significant lead in Virginia lends credibility to her claim that her foremost criteria in choosing a vice president was finding someone who could help her govern and would be prepared to step into the presidency if she could no longer serve.
In the Senate, Kaine has been a workhorse rather than a show horse. Trump’s best-seller, The Art of the Deal, may better describe Kaine than it does Trump. Kaine’s deal-making abilities have won the respect of Democrats and Republicans alike. He played a particularly critical role in brokering a deal on the Iran nuclear agreement that persuaded the Obama Administration to submit the deal to Congress. This provided Obama with congressional support for the deal, but more importantly, reasserted the proper role of Congress in foreign policy. Kaine has even clashed with Obama, demanding a greater role for Congress in decisions regarding the use of force in Syria and Iraq. This constitutional posture, combined with his pragmatic approach to governing, has won respect across the aisle.
Lindsay Graham, South Carolina’s Republican senator, has said of Kaine, “Tim would be a good steady hand for her. He’d be well received on our side of the aisle if he’s an emissary from the president.” This praise of Kaine has been seconded by Jeff Flake (R- Ariz), Kelly Ayotte (R- NH), and Sue Collins (R- ME). When a bipartisan group of senators tried to enact a bill that would prevent the sale of firearms to suspected terrorists, Collins noted that Kaine was “very helpful … in convincing other Democrats to give their support to the compromise.” Although the bill stalled when U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell strongly opposed it, it demonstrated once again to those who lament partisan gridlock that having Kaine as vice president might provide a glimmer of hope.