Opinion

Hillary Clinton just picked a super-boring and overly cautious VP. Perfect!

This is the political equivalent of the prevent defense

After much wrangling, whispering, and surely plenty of backroom dealing, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has chosen Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate.

In case you haven't heard of Kaine, here's pretty much all you need to know: He is the most boring, conventional, and centrist liberal out of a roster of mostly boring, conventional, centrist liberals who Clinton was considering.

Bland. Safe. Cautious. This is perfectly in keeping with Clinton's strategy thus far, both for good and for ill. Poised between nightmarish Trumpists on the right and rowdy Sandernistas on the left, Clinton has gone cautious and small-c conservative, trying to win Republicans and anxious white people disaffected by Trump's deranged hate-mongering. But by doing so, she is foreclosing a chance to activate any true passion among her base.

Kaine is a bog-standard '90s Democrat, much like Clinton herself. He supports free trade, has won several elections in a swing state, and had a largely undistinguished legislative career. Hilariously, given the tremendous weight Clinton supporters have placed on Clinton's victory being a huge stride forward for feminism, he's a bit of a squish on abortion. A committed Catholic, he is personally pro-life, and passed a number of minor abortion restrictions as governor of Virginia, as well as a bill adding "Choose Life" to the state license plate. Kaine has since moved left on reproductive rights, and is already working to assure Democrats he's a reliable pro-choicer on policy (as opposed to personal beliefs), but it's still... odd.

Still, by the lights of team Clinton, it's not a bad choice. Despite the fact that recent vice presidents, particularly Dick Cheney, have been extremely powerful and influential, the office of vice president has little real power. A veep depends on a good relationship with the president to be effective and useful. The Clintons are secretive and prize personal loyalty; there is every reason to think that a more left-wing running mate — such as Elizabeth Warren, who was under consideration for a time — would be locked out of the White House inner circle, and end up serving mostly as a powerless sop to the left. The centrist and subservient Kaine will at least be an effective spear-carrier.

But this is just another way of saying that Clinton is simply not very interested in appealing to left-wing Sanders Democrats. A status quo politician, she doesn't think the U.S. political system is deeply corrupt, sees nothing wrong with taking obscene sums from Wall Street goons, and doesn't believe that the '90s turn to neoliberalism in the Democratic Party was a disastrous mistake.

At most Clinton can throw the left an occasional bone, as when she half-heartedly disavowed the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement — though given that her surrogates on the Democratic platform committee refused to allow an anti-TPP plank, this was pretty obviously duplicitous. She did recently endorse a public option for ObamaCare (and allowing a buy-in to Medicare at age 55), but as David Dayen points out, this is driven as much by a crippling lack of competition on the state insurance exchanges as by any real ideological commitment.

You'd think Clinton would see the danger — and the opportunity — in having had to work so hard to beat back a no-name left-wing challenger who ran up terrific margins among millennial voters. With the one-third of the Obama coalition comprised of young people, minorities, and white liberals looking shaky, a smart candidate might look to shore up that base, and ideally expand it, with some meaty outreach to the disproportionately brown and young population of non-voters. Clinton shows little interest in this.

More fundamentally, Clinton is very unpopular, and negative partisanship means that most conservatives will probably reconcile themselves to Trump eventually. She consistently holds a moderate single-digit lead over Trump in the polls — enough to win, but probably not enough to overcome Republicans' roughly 8-point gerrymander in the House of Representatives. She'd be well advised to try something creative to wallop Trump, instead of grinding out a safe victory.

But that's simply not who Hillary Clinton is.

Tim Kaine will be a perfectly serviceable running mate. But his choice is indicative of a cautious temperament that regularly slides into mere timidity. With Kaine at her side, she will probably be able to defeat Trump. But she will struggle to run up the big margins necessary to win back the House of Representatives — thus making it all but impossible to rack up some big legislative victories and ensure her legacy.

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