Last week, Hillary Clinton selected freshman Virginia Senator Tim Kaine to be her running mate. Kaine, the former Governor of Virginia who was first elected to the Senate in 2012, has been lauded as a solid pick for Clinton. Indeed, the affable and honest Senator compliments key aspects of Clinton’s candidacy. But he fails in so many others.
It’s not that Kaine was a bad choice. It is simply that in an election such as this he was not the right choice. The thinking for a Kaine candidacy in the Clinton world probably went something like this.
We need a strong, bipartisan and loyal voice. Somebody who will not rock the boat or upstage me. Somebody who has connections to Congressional Republicans. Somebody from a swing state who says to swing voters and Republicans I am the sane choice. Let’s pick Tim Kaine.
Except, this is not what anybody wants. Americans want certainty and clarity in these uncertain times. They want a President not afraid to tell Russia to go to hell and who will stand up to domestic or international terrorists. To a degree, Clinton started to recognize this when after Nice, France she went on national TV to sound tough. But those are half measures. She could have gone all in with a stronger, foreign policy hawk but instead choice whisperer in Kaine. She could have picked a progressive in Sherrod Brown. But she didn’t. That does not quell people’s concerns.
Amid polls showing more Democrats uniting behind Hillary than Republicans for Trump it is not surprising the play it safe campaign would think Kaine is a safe pick. Except, progressives are united behind Hillary only because of Trump. With a strong, progressive VP pick Clinton could have shored up her left flank. She also could have spoken to the American middle.
Donald Trump may be an ass but in his acceptance speech at the RNC he showed his recognition that many Americans are economically distressed. Bernie Sanders spoke to the same desperation in a different way.
Kaine, through his positions and temperament, fulfills none of these worries. Kaine is the VP pick who supports TPP (both Trump and Clinton oppose it) and accused opponents of free trade of having a “losers mentality.” He supports right to work laws (dating back to his successful 2005 gubernatorial campaign) and repealing the estate tax.
For ideological warriors on the left Kaine is a let-down. Clinton has staked her appeal to women on being a die-hard abortionist and Kaine has spoken openly about his opposition to late-term abortions and support of parental notification laws (the horror).
The fact Kaine is a doctrinaire liberal on a dozen other issues is not nearly enough to satisfy the bruised egos of progressives who have never trusted Clinton. Their trust is even weaker after WikiLeaks showed just how rigged the primary was against Bernie.
It’s true that few, if any, VP picks translate to votes. Most recently, Devine and Kopko found that voters will respond more positively to a candidate if they pick a strong VP but it rarely, if ever, translates into votes. In reality, the VP pick is outweighed by dozens of other factors that impact a voters choice.
But, a VP pick does tell us what a candidate really believes. It tells us what a candidate thinks about the election. Pundits and analysts alike have been flummoxed by this election. They cannot understand how a Trump or Bernie can rise so quickly amid other, more qualified opponents.
Clinton is the solid choice for these individuals in November. She knows it. But she also assumes that the average voter will see reason and fall in line behind her. Her choice of Kaine is to assure swing voters she is a strong, capable leader willing to work with Republicans to solve the nation’s issues.
But she is leaving her progressive base behind. Bernie supporters are not jumping for joy over Kaine. They are giving huge sighs and feeling like Clinton just gave them yet another middle finger.
Beyond the racial, ideological and political divide this election cycle one thing is clear. Voters, be it for Trump, Bernie or somebody else, crave change. Not just change, but radical, significant change.
Clinton has tried to sell herself as the steady hand amid the tumult of the world. But she also needs to sell herself as an agent of change to a degree. She’s done anything but by embracing Obama and refusing to acknowledge voters fears. Tim Kaine does not help her embrace change. He just helps personify her as more of the same.