How Tim Kaine Could Help Hillary Clinton, Because The Flashy VP Isn't Always The Best
Friday was a big day for Virginia senator and former governor Tim Kaine, who was announced as the running mate of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Kaine, 58, is a center-left Democrat with an easygoing rhetorical style, a sterling record at winning elections (as he mentioned during his introductory event with Clinton, he's a perfect 8-0), and he hails from a contested swing state. But is he really the right choice? It's impossible to tell the future, obviously, but there are some distinct ways Tim Kaine could help Hillary Clinton.
For one, Kaine ― while not the most animating candidate ― does project a stability and relative moderation that none of the other candidates do, at least perceptually. While Clinton is in reality a fairly center-left Democrat, especially when her foreign policy record is brought into the discussion, she's widely perceived by the American right as a raging liberal, and by the grassroots far-left as a Republican in Democratic clothing. Neither of these views come close to the full context of Clinton's career or record, but perception matters here.
Trump and Pence, on the other hand, are both quite radical in very different ways ― Pence towards social and religious conservatism, and Trump on immigration, military force, terrorism, and the use of torture, to say nothing of his personal style, inflammatory outbursts, and apparent lack of political knowledge and experience.
In Kaine's case, however, his relative anonymity up until this point allows for perceptions of him to still be shaped. And it's a lot easier to shape positive political perceptions when you're dealing with somebody who's low-key, and doesn't already have many of high-profile, signature issues to their name ― the way, say, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren does.
Of course, the simplest case in Kaine's favor is that his no-frills demeanor strikes a hard contrast against what's at the top of the Republican ticket. While Clinton can't necessarily launch too many searing attacks on Trump's integrity or honestly, due to her own abysmal trust and favorability ratings, in Kaine you're presented with a plain visual and intellectual contrast. On one side, the egotist who can't stop admiring himself, hurling insults, and talking about his glory days during the primaries, and on the other, just a solid, unassuming all-around politico. That's a point that Greg Sargent of the Washington Post made on Friday, following Kaine's announcement.
Of course, the risks associated with Kaine are pretty straightforward ― although he's reportedly going to reverse course and oppose the Trans Pacific-Partnership trade agreement, just like Clinton did during the primaries, his nomination represents a doubling-down on Democratic centrism that could rile progressives still smarting from Vermont senator Bernie Sanders' loss. But those concerns have to be weighed against not just Kaine's appeal in his home state of Virginia (which is a swing state, naturally), but against how well he'll function as Clinton's newfound sidekick, too.
By all accounts, Clinton and Kaine have an excellent working relationship, something that was rumored to not always be the case with Clinton and Warren. And that's maybe the longer-view of this ― keep a progressive power-broker like Warren in the Senate where she'll be hugely important to a Clinton administration, and bring in a less-known member of Congress who'll be superior from a relationship and governing standpoint.
As always, it's worth remembering that the real measure of a VP pick isn't how they impact the race ― in truth, those impacts are very minor. Rather, ii's how they'll do the job once they have it, and Kaine sounds like as strong a choice as any for that purpose.