Opinion

Should Hillary Clinton pick Bernie Sanders as a running mate?

It's a tough decision — and not just for Clinton

The 2016 Democratic primary is far from over, but Hillary Clinton appears to be maintaining a substantial lead over Bernie Sanders. Both Donald Trump and Clinton are clearly pivoting towards the general election, putting "Make America Great Again" up against "America Has Always Been Great."

Clinton is surely now thinking about picking a running mate. Should she make the traditional move, and choose her opponent Sanders? It's a tough decision — and not just for Clinton.

The first and most obvious reason to do so is to try and get Sanders' voters on board with the Democratic Party. It's been a fairly acrimonious primary, and Sanders has been winning stunning margins among young people in many states. The youth vote is a key part of the Obama coalition, particularly in the swing states where Sanders has been doing better. Having him on the ticket would go a long ways towards convincing young voters who might have been turned off by Clinton's dishonest attacks on single-payer health care.

Of course, Sanders is an old white guy in a diverse and younger party. The Clinton campaign might calculate that tapping a younger minority politician would be a better choice, but on the other hand, polling shows that today's young people are actually ideologically left-wing, and pandering with mere representation (as opposed to co-opting Sanders' platform, or at least a weaker version of it) might actually backfire, as with the god-awful abuela listicle affair. A young minority candidate with leftist views might be the ideal choice, but that would mean foregoing Sanders' built-up base of support, high popularity, and huge reserves of credibility.

Vermont is also a state controlled by Democrats, which is key as it ensures Sanders' Senate seat wouldn't be filled by a Republican (as it would with Elizabeth Warren). With GOP domination at the state level, there simply aren't very many working politicians with a national profile that wouldn't also be leaving critical Senate or House posts. Sanders is honestly a very reasonable option.

But perhaps a bigger question is whether Sanders would want to accept such a nomination. The extremely powerful vice presidencies of Joe Biden and (especially) Dick Cheney are something of a historical aberration. JFK probably couldn't have won the South in 1960 without Lyndon Johnson, but that didn't stop Johnson being largely locked out of high-level discussions during the Kennedy administration, as Robert Caro demonstrated in the latest installment of his LBJ biography.

Sanders would be taking an awful risk signing up to be Clinton's running mate. They are not on the same political page, at all. He comes from the old New Deal tradition, and is running to build and extend it to full Nordic-style social democracy. She comes from a party tradition that was founded to overthrow those old ideas as electoral failures, to be replaced with a lot of fiddly tax credits heavily slanted towards the rich.

Furthermore, the Clintons are fairly cynical politicians who highly prize personal loyalty. There is every reason to think that they would completely ignore Sanders as soon as the election was over — and with basically zero institutional power as vice president, he'd be stuck twiddling his thumbs for the rest of his career. Better from his perspective to stay in the Senate, if that's the case.

So if Clinton were to offer him the running mate position, I'd suggest that Sanders should at a minimum extract some ironclad promises that Clinton will run on quality policy — if not his maximalist reach goals, then somewhere in between there and Clinton's milquetoast program.

I have no idea whether Clinton would try to bring Sanders on board, but I'd be quite surprised if they weren't strongly considering it. It would be a decent way to contest Trump's strength among the white working class. But if she does, Sanders ought to be wary indeed.

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