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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

July 23: Progressive Unhappiness With Kaine Understandable, But Will Fade

Immediately after Hillary Clinton’s announcement of Sen. Tim Kaine as her running-mate, I discussed at New York some of the negative sentiment expressed about this option even before it was exercised:

For all the talk of Kaine as a sort of political wallflower, he is actually an estimable man who has won losable campaigns in a state Republicans may need to win this year. He has a reputation as being ethically spotless, which matters a lot this year — any hint of scandal in a running mate could be disastrous for Clinton. As has often been noted, he is fluent in Spanish, which is not only a good weapon in a campaign against Donald “Deport ‘Em All” Trump, but a sop to those who were disappointed that the Veep was not Hispanic.

Despite the pushback from progressive Democrats when Kaine emerged as the front-runner for this gig, he’s by no means some sort of warmed-over Blue Dog. He’s a career civil rights lawyer in what was then a pretty conservative state — let that sink in for a bit. He was also the mayor of a relatively large and diverse city. He was elected governor despite an opponent pounding him relentlessly for a faith-based opposition to capital punishment, and he was smart and agile enough to turn the issue around and make it a positive. These are all good signs of both Democratic orthodoxy and political dexterity.

The one issue on which progressives have asked very legitimate questions about Kaine involves another faith-based position: his “personal opposition” to abortion. He’s been about as clear as possible in recent weeks that he’s firmly and comprehensively pro-choice, as he would absolutely have to be in a Hillary Clinton administration where the president is not exactly going to have to consult him or anyone else on this issue.

So the heartburn from the left that’s undoubtedly being felt tonight almost entirely involves economic issues, and beyond that, the sense that choosing Kaine is an insult to Bernie Sanders’ following, which could also provide an opening for Donald Trump.

In a vaccum Kaine’s unfortunately timed expressions of support for less regulation of regional banks, and for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, aren’t necessarily deal-breakers for a Veep. The first issue does not involve the biggest banks that are the target of progressive ire, and the second, after all, aligns him with the Democratic President of the United States, whose popularity throughout the party remains high despite occasional lefty grumbling.

But Kaine’s economic heresies highlight the fact that Sanders supporters (and even some more ideologically liberal supporters of her own) expected Clinton to move towards rather than away from them in choosing a running-mate. Given the Clinton family reputation for taking the Left for granted or even triangulating against it, raising Kaine to the ticket plays some bad old tapes in the minds of many progressives. And it’s not like the Virginian has the sort of inspirational personal story that’s going to appeal to the young Sanders voters whose November turnout levels are in doubt. With the Republican nominee posturing as an anti-Wall Street, anti-status quo candidate, there may even be fears that Kaine will expose the ticket to further erosion of white working class support.

You have to figure Hillary Clinton is counting on Bernie Sanders (with a supporting cast of other progressives, including passe-over Veep prospects Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown) to put a halt to any serious revolt against the Kaine selection when he speaks in Philadelphia. Endorsements aside, the most important thing the Clinton-Kaine ticket has going for it in avoiding disunity is the alternative, made so plain in Cleveland this last week. As a progressive acquaintance of mine put it earlier this week when Kaine started looking inevitable: “On one side of the scales you’ve got a ticket made up of two people with troubling attitudes towards the financial sector. On the other side, you’ve got maybe fascism. They are not even remotely of the same weight.”

In that sense, the Clinton-Kaine ticket is “safe” in a more fundamental sense, and even “boring” is not so bad when compared to the bellowing bully-boy who was nominated in Cleveland.

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