Tag Archives: Vice President

Is Marc Ambinder Crazy?

In a post assessing Obama’s VP shortlist, Ambinder writes this

Sebelius and Kaine are both governing choices, not campaign choices. They’re not going to match Obama’s enthusiasm levels; they’re not going to do all that well at the VP debates; they’re not even going to solve political problems (even Kaine).  But they are solid; they are centrist-in-style; they are Washington outsiders; they know how to balance budgets and deal with Republicans. As an historical analogy, think Clinton’s choice of Gore.

Choosing Biden or Bayh would put in the White House strong and knowledgeable legislators who would be expected to do heavy lifting with allies and adversaries. both would do well at the debates; Biden is flashy and might upstage Obama, but he’d be the best sheer campaigner and his selection would bring a jolt of enthusiasm to the Democratic ticket (as if it needed more).  The downside here is the same as the upside: the focus will be on the ticket and not on Obama, per se.

It seems to me that Ambinder is dead wrong. Not only are Sebelius and Kaine appealing because of how perfectly they fit in with Obama’s message of unity. They are red state governors who have been successful, though far more successful in Sebelius’ case. While both certainly would be assets in office, again, Sebelius more than Kaine, in my estimation, neither have a ton of governing experience. They are both governors, but neither has been in office longer than six years. Plus, as outsiders, they don’t have a grasp on how Washington works and how to govern from the White House.

Biden and Bayh, on the other hand, are creatures of Washington. They know how the legislative process works, know what has worked and failed for past presidents and have a lot more experience in government than either Kaine or Sebelius. Plus, the worry that anyone could overshadow Obama on the ticket seems perposterous to me. Obama is the biggets thing in American politics since sliced bread. There is no way his number 2 will over shadow him in the fall campaign. It simply isn’t going to happen.

In short, it seems to me that if Obama wants to reinforce his campaign narrative with his VP choice, Kaine or Sebelius is the way to go. On the other hand, if he wants a governing partner who can help him steer legislation through the sausage factory, Biden or Bayh seems the way to go.

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Biden for Veep?

I think Ezra Klein is largely right in his case for Joe Biden as Vice President.

In the 2008 election, he was the only Democrat who really figured out how to talk about Republicans and foreign policy. All the other candidates on the stage started from the presumption that Republicans were strong on national security, and voters needed to be convinced of their failures and then led to a place of support for a Democratic alternative. Biden dispensed with all that. He started from the position that Republicans had been catastrophic failures on foreign policy, and their ongoing claims to competence and leadership should be laughed at, and even mocked.

When Rudy Giuliani said, simply, “America will be safer with a Republican president,” Obama responded with a traditional, more-in-sadness-than-in-anger statement. “Rudy Giuliani today has taken the politics of fear to a new low and I believe Americans are ready to reject those kind of politics. America’s mayor should know that when it comes to 9/11 and fighting terrorists, America is united.” The release goes on in this way for eight more lines.

Biden, by contrast, laughed at Giuliani. He mocked him. “The irony is, Rudy Giuliani, probably the most underqualified man since George Bush to seek the presidency, is here talking about any of the people here,” said Biden at one of the debates. “Rudy Giuliani… I mean, think about it! Rudy Giuliani. There’s only three things he mentions in a sentence — a noun, a verb, and 9/11. There’s nothing else!”

That’s Biden’s great strength. He’s the single best foreign policy advocate the Democrats have. Obama has some of these strengths as well. He’s the most confident Democratic presidential candidate on foreign policy issues in a generation, perhaps since Johnson. But its is hard for Obama to be an attack dog. It just isn’t his personality.

But it is Biden’s. He’s made a point of it recently, going after McCain on warrantless wiretapping, Lieberman on the Democratic foreign policy tradition and Bush on appeasement. He revels in being an attack dog. He skewers Republican foreign policy arguments with gusto and is completely comfortable doing it. Plus, as Ezra points out, he has a long, and mostly positive, relationship with the press, who universally regard him as a foreign policy expert.

To me, the case for Biden boils down to the fact that the only real chance McCain has at winning the general election is making it all about foreign policy. Biden helps neutralize that. He allows Obama to outline his own positive vision of American foreign policy, while outsourcing the most virulent attacks to Biden, who is better than any other Democrat at it.

Biden does have downsides. His plagiarism of Niel Kinnock would inevitably come up, he is old, he has a reputation as being gaffe prone, he wouldn’t do anything to help expand the map and he isn’t the greatest campaigner. But Biden has a single big strength, which may well overwhelm all his weaknesses; his ability to attack on foreign policy.

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Vice President Graham?

Add another name to the list:

Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), an Obama adviser, offered several names to the list of potential vice presidential choices, including those of former Florida governor and senator Bob Graham; Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, a top Clinton supporter; and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, an Obama supporter who could assuage the disappointment of women who wanted the chance to vote for the first female president. (emphasis mine)

dday, writing at Washington Monthly, succinctly makes the case for Graham:

I think the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee in the run-up to the war, the guy who knew that the Bush Administration was lying and told his colleagues all about it, who voted against the authorization, is someone who would amplify that message on the war. He’s beloved in Florida and that might help there, but that’s not the point. Graham is very intelligent and provides an authoritative voice on foreign policy issues. I don’t know that he’s the best campaigner, but again I think that stuff is kind of overblown.

On the surface Graham is a perfect choice. He’s got all the qualification usually demanded of Obama’s VP. Foreign policy experience? Check. Executive experience? Check. Anti-War? Check. Swing-state? Check.

But Graham has real downsides too. Setting aside the campaigner issue, which I’d agree is overblown, the biggest one is age. Graham is 72, the same age as John McCain. Picking him would answer all the questions about McCain’s age is one fell swoop. Plus, at that age, he wouldn’t be able to run in 8 years or continue Obama’s legacy after his presidency. Secondly, Graham has been out of politics for 4 years now. He was a famously skilled politician and campaigner in Florida, where he held work days where he did the jobs of his constituents for a day. But he wasn’t nearly that good a politician when he ran in 2004 he may be losing or have lost his political touch, which would be disastrous for a VP nominee. Thirdly, while Graham may be well remembered in Florida, he hasn’t faced an election in the state since 1998. Florida has changed immensely in the last decade, and Graham hasn’t had to win an election since before Jeb Bush won office. Since then Florida has become vastly more Republican and there would be real questions about whether Graham could even put Florida on the map.

That’s not to say Obama shouldn’t tap Graham to play a role in an Obama administration, or in the campaign for that matter. Graham would be a great surrogate on foreign policy issues, particularly with regards to intelligence issues, and could play a key role in an Obama administration as a Secretary of Defense or Director of National Intelligence. Intelligence policy is an area where Obama has shown real interest and has some unique proposals, such as insulating the DNI from the political process by appointing him for a fixed term, like the Federal Reserve Chairman. Graham, with is long background in intelligence policy and record of having been one of the few to get the Iraq intelligence right, could be just the man to head up those reforms.

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The Contradictions of Jim Webb

Like Michael Crowley, I had no idea that Jim Webb is an opponent of the death penalty. I’ve followed Webb’s rise pretty closely, given that he is my Senator, so it has been quite interesting to see the boom of Webb related content that’s hit the web in the last couple of days. There have been people who claimed he is too independent to be Vice President. That he hasn’t been a Democrat long enough and his past views on cultural issues, particularly race and sex. That his views about the Vietnam war are insufficiently orthodox.

Webb’s biggest national appeal is supposed to be his cultural conservatism. Yet he is an ardent death penalty opponent and one of the few figures to have spoken out against the rate of imprisonment in the US. He is pro-life. Yet he has held that affirmative action is state sponsored racism, in the process of coming out for a more class based affirmative action program.

Basically, to me, the appeal of Jim Webb is pretty simple. He’s much more of an average guy than almost any other prominent politician. Nobody I know who doesn’t work in politics takes a party line stance on every issue they think about. People who are generally liberal agree with Republicans on some issues and people who are generally conservative agree with Democrats on some issues. Webb is like that too. In part because he hasn’t been a political creature for most of his career, in part because he’s switched back and forth between parties and in part because he’s iconoclastic, he doesn’t take a party line stand. Like most Americans he agrees with conservatives and liberals at different times. That is what is so refreshing about Jim Webb. He seems like a normal guy who just happens to serve in high office.

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Two More for the Veepstakes

David Brooks proposes Tom Daschle and Sam Nunn as potential Obama VP selections. Brooks proposes them because:

Obama will need a vice president who knows the millions of ways that power is exercised and subverted in Washington. He’ll need someone who can be a senior, authoritative presence in a cabinet that may range from Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to the labor leader Andy Stern. He’ll need someone who can supervise his young reformers and build transpartisan coalitions more effectively than Obama has as senator.

I’m not sure how well either of them fit the bill. Daschle will certainly have a place in an Obama administration. He’s been close to Obama since the beginning and was one of the key establishment figures who helped Obama get out of the gate. He’s already been talked about as a potential Obama Chief of Staff.

The problem with Daschle, however, is that the one thing he is most remembered for these days, his failure of leadership in the run-up to the Iraq war, is exactly the opposite of the message Obama wants to send. Plus, given his past role as Democratic leader in the Senate, he is likely to be remembered as a fierce partisan, the opposite of the image Obama wants to project.

Nunn is a more interesting case. He would certainly help Obama with his bipartisan credentials, both given how well Nunn worked across the aisle while in Congress and the fact that Nunn’s most important policy achievement, the Nunn-Lugar initiative, has since become the Lugar-Obama initiative. However, Nunn, at age 70, is probably too old for the post. Picking him wouldn’t help Obama project the young and fresh image that he wants to, wouldn’t allow his Vice President to be a leader in the party for a long time after Obama leaves office and would completely take John McCain’s age off of the table.

Its not that I wouldn’t be thrilled to see both Nunn and Daschle in an Obama administration. If Obama does his job well he will bring both of these towering figures into his administration to provide their expertise and experience. But putting them on the ticket seems a little counterproductive.

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Think About the Future

These two posts from The New Republic and The Washington Monthly raise important but interrelated points about Obama’s choices for the Vice Presidency. So much of the commentary surrounding the VP selection focuses in the short term considerations involved; what state might the candidate might help Obama win, how the candidate would help unify the party in the aftermath of the primary, how the candidate’s experience and public profile could help Obama against McCain, etc.

What this level of analysis misses is the fact that VP candidates rarely do much of anything for the ticket. What did John Edwards do to help Kerry? Anything substantial? I don’t really think so. Cheney did relatively little for Bush beyond helping with the impression that Bush was surrounded by competent adults, although that thought was completely wrong and in any event was more helped by the presence of Colin Powell.

What both Patashnick and Sinhababu point out is that Obama really has an opportunity to shape the future of the Democratic party. When Vice Presidential selections have succeeded, such as with Al Gore, George H.W. Bush and Richard Nixon, they have dominated their respective party for decades. Gore ran and lost, but he is still the most respected senior figure in the Democratic party and a global leader. Bush won the presidency and still had enough clout eight years later to help get his son elected. Nixon and his neuroses defined the Republican party for the next 15 years after he was nominated.

Looking at it this way Obama’s choices don’t seem great. Of the names floated thus far for Obama, only Tim Kaine, Janet Napolitano and Evan Bayh would unquestionably be young enough to run in 2016. Wes Clark would be 72 then, Ted Strickland would be 75 and Joe Biden would be 74. Those three are likely too old to mount a credible run. Jim Webb would be 70 and Kathleen Sebelius would be 68, both at the outer edge of being able to run. If a dream ticket does come about, Hillary Clinton would be 69.

From a future of the party perspective Napolitano and Bayh seem to make the most sense. Both are young, impressive and could credibly run in their own right 8 years from now. Biden and Strickland, on the other hand, seem completely ruled out on these grounds. The rest are somewhere in the middle, but not terribly desirable.

Now, all of this is probably completely overstated. Most VP nominees, like Jack Kemp, Dan Quayle, Lloyd Bentsen, Geraldine Ferraro, Sargent Shriver and William Miller quietly go away and are never heard from as serious candidates again. Nonetheless, its another quality to take a look at.

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Veepstakes

Now that Obama is starting his vice presidential search process, its as good as time as any to take a look at the potential VP candidates on both sides. So how should Obama and McCain go about making their picks?

So it’s an idea the candidates might consider. But whenever they make their picks, there are essentially two models to follow (in addition to picking someone from a key swing state, which is so twentieth century). There’s the Cheney model, in which you select a running mate who shores up your weaknesses, or the Gore model, in which you find someone who reinforces your strengths. In 2000, Dick Cheney appeared to be everything George W. Bush wasn’t: experienced, serious, knowledgeable and steady. In 1992, Al Gore appeared to be a virtual clone of Bill Clinton: young, Southern, ideologically moderate, and fresh. Both picks were extremely effective.

Marc Ambinder has some informed speculation up about the possible candidates. For Obama his list is:

1. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D-KS) — Obama really likes her; that’s very important.
2. The Virginia boys: Kaine and Webb
3. Gov. Ted Strickland (D-OH) — the Clinton stand in.
4. Gov. Janet Napolitano (D-AZ)
5. Sen. Hillary Clinton — there’s a fine balance between subtle pressure and overt hectoring

Wild card: Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE)

I think a lot of these would be good solid picks for Obama. They’re all in some way hybrid picks, with both Cheney and Gore elements. I’ve long though Sebelius was a great option. She’s got executive experience, but in many ways she personifies Obama’s change message. First, she’s a women, which would highlight the trailblazing nature of the Democratic ticket. Secondly, she is a popular, moderate governor from a red state, who has had incredible success winning Republicans over to the Democratic party. She’d highlight Obama’s bipartisan appeal and provide an actual example of what he wants to do with the country.

I’m not wild about a Kaine pick. First, I’m not sure he guarantees Virginia for Obama, and I think Obama could win it without him. Secondly, he doesn’t have much of a record as Governor. He’s faced Republican obstructionism, but he’s been manifestly unable to work across party lines to find acceptable solutions. Also, Democrats would lose the Virginia governorship if he were elected.

Webb is a different story. He’s got great military credentials and a real appeal to culturally conservative, Appalachian voters. He’s been a shocking effective Senator thus far, getting his GI Bill passed while putting McCain in an impossible political situation doing it. He also passed his Truman Commission for the Iraq War, which is looking into contracting abuses and war profiteering. He has a knack for proposing legislation dealing with the war that even pro-war Senators can get on board with. He’s a former Republican who has the ability to bolster Obama’s message of brining people together. Also, he’s a great attack dog, if a somewhat suspect campaigner. His response to Bush’s State of the Union in 2007 was the most effective I’ve ever seen, dwarfing Sebelius’ effort this year. He’d be hard to reign in, but he would really be a strong pick.

Strickland would only be an OK choice. He’s a former congressman and an ordained minister, which would be a plus, but he’s not particularly dynamic or nationally well known. He would probably bring along Ohio though. However, if you’re looking for strong Hillary supporters there are better options. General Wes Clark would be an outstanding choice, as would Senator Evan Bayh.

Napolitano would be a solid, Cheneyesque pick. She’s got great executive experience and has been effective in running Arizona. She also might be able to put Arizona on the map, which would be a plus given Obama’s preexisting strength in the rest of the Southwest. However, her record on immigration might be a little suspect, given that she signed the toughest employer sanction law in the country. That could lead to her being seen by Latino voters as anti-immigrant, a problem given Latinos preexisting affinity for John McCain.

Hillary herself may be the best option. She would bring the party together allow Democrats to present a united face in the fall. On the other hand, she would mobilize the right and could make Obama look weak if he is seen as being forced to pick her.

Biden or Hagel would be outstanding selections. There isn’t a better foreign policy attack dog than Joe Biden, whereas Hagel’s opposition to the war and status as a Republican, and close friend of John McCain, would emphasize Obama’s bipartisan appeal. Both are probably longshots, Biden especially given his habit of putting his foot in his mouth. On the other hand, picking Biden and publicly forgiving him for his infamous “clean” comments could help bridge the gap to white voters upset at being branded racists.

Ambinder’s GOP list:

1. Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN)
2. Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA)
3. Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R-NY)
4. Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC)
5. Sen. John Thune (R-SD)

Pawlenty would be an interesting choice. He’s a conservative Mid-Western governor who would satisfy the right. He’s also young, energetic and a good campaigner. On the other hand he’s not terribly popular. He’s never won more than 46 percent of the vote and probably wouldn’t allow McCain to carry Minnesota.

Romney would be a terrible pick for McCain. He’s a phony, electoral loser and blatant opportunist. He couldn’t bring his home state along and wouldn’t be anything more than a sop to the right who have for some reason adopted him as a hero.

Bloomberg would be a great choice, if he’d do it. There’s also been speculation that he’s favoring Obama. If he did go with McCain he’d emphasize McCain’s reach to the middle and put a popular executive on the ticket. He’d have a real appeal in parts of the country the GOP hasn’t competed in in for ever and would add real balance to McCain’s ticket, while still emphasizing his independence.

Sanford would be another interesting choice. He’d pacify worried social conservatives, yet still emphasize McCain’s reformer and budget hawk credentials. A McCain-Sanford ticket could make fiscal responsibility and pork busting central elements of their campaign. It could be a very strong ticket.

Thune would be another interesting option. He’d bring social conservatives solidly on board and has proved an ability to go toe to toe with Democrats, having beaten sitting Democratic leader, and Obama confidant, Tom Daschle in 2004. He’d be the best attack dog of the bunch and would provide solid regional balance for the ticket.

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