Category Archives: Politics

Veepstakes 2020

Who might the four leading Democratic candidates (Biden, Buttigieg, Sanders, Warren), choose as their running mate if they were to get the nomination? Who should they pick to maximize their chances?

As Presidents delegate more real responsibilities to their Veeps, a presidential candidate’s choices are increasingly a matter of personal chemistry. The candidates also consider expertise, such as foreign policy or legislative experience. Sometimes, candidates even consider who could safely run the country. (But see Palin and Pence.) As a result, these choices are increasingly difficult for outsiders to predict. Nonetheless, it’s a fun parlor game. Remember, this isn’t about who you want, but who you think best fits the electoral calculations.

Let’s start with some basic political considerations:

  1. It helps if a Veep can pull in a swing state. Indeed, that used to be pretty much all Vice Presidents were thought to be good for. Trouble is, in these polarized times there are increasingly few politicians who are true favorite sons or daughters with that kind of pull beyond what the presidential nominee brings to the ticket. So this consideration has faded if only because almost no one satisfies it. Al Gore couldn’t even carry Tennessee for Bill Clinton. This consideration still weighs against picking a Veep from a safely Democratic state such as California, like Senator Kamala Harris.
  2. Geographic diversity matters. Even if there isn’t someone who could be counted on to deliver Wisconsin, Ohio, or Florida, or maybe even Arizona, geographic diversity has value. In particular, a Democratic ticket with two northeasterners would likely face a disadvantage. If Sanders or Warren or even Biden is the nominee, they’ll want to look well beyond their neighboring states.
  3. Other forms of diversity also matter. It helps if a Veep can appeal to a demographic or ideological group where the candidate is perceived to be weak. Modern history offers lots of examples: Pence (evangelicals); Biden (white “regular guys”); Reagan’s choice of the first Bush (moderate Republicans – back when they were numerous enough to matter); Mondale (the so-called liberal wing that suspected Carter). Occasionally, Veeps are presented as providing a skill set (e.g. Biden’s foreign policy experience, Cheney’s supposed gravitas) that the candidate is seen to lack.

  4. Another modern consideration is whether the electorate can see the Veep nominee as a potential President. Sarah Palin’s candidacy is an object lesson in the costs to the campaign if the Veep fails that test. A similar issue is whether the Veep nominee has ever been exposed to the unique rigors and scrutiny of a national campaign. Palin is also a lesson in the risks of picking someone who hasn’t. Sen. Thomas Eagleton notoriously had escaped scrutiny of a his history of ECT therapy, and when that came out days after his being named by George McGovern, Eagleton got dropped from the ticket; the incident torpedoed whatever small chance McGovern had of being elected.

  5. An additional consideration applies only if the candidate is thinking of picking a sitting Senator as a running mate: Who will appoint the Senator’s replacement if s/he gets elected Vice President? If Democrats have any hope of getting to even a tied Senate, the last thing they want to do is give up a sitting Senator’s seat. Here’s a list of the leading Senatorial presidential candidates, and their home-state governors:

Corey BookerNew JerseyPhil MurphyDemocrat
Kamala HarrisCaliforniaGavin NewsomDemocrat
Amy KlobucharMinnesotaTim WalzDFL, ie Democrat
Bernie SandersVermontPhil ScottRepublican
Elizabeth WarrenMassachusettsCharlie BakerRepublican

OK. Enough preliminaries. Let’s play!
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Posted in 2020 Election | 4 Comments

New Foreign Interference in US Presidential Election

While all eyes are focused on Russian interference in US elections (or, in the case of reality deniers, on imagined Ukrainian interference), a force planning to intervene in our domestic affairs is marshaling on our southern border.

I refer, of course, to former Mexican President Vicente Fox.

Posted in 2020 Election, Completely Different, Trump | Leave a comment

Open Season on Trump on Late-Night TV

Late-night comedians on broadcast TV (i.e. not cable, where pretty much anything goes) have become savage and even profane in their criticism of President Trump. I don’t regularly watch late-night TV, so I don’t know if this is a sudden development or has been going on for some time. Either way, it is a remarkable, even shocking, change from the norms that governed TV ten much less twenty years ago.

Back in the day, there was more than lip service to the idea that the President was entitled to a modicum of respect, or maybe much more than a modicum, just because he occupied an institution worthy of respect. That norm has seemed was a bit suspect since at least the Vietnam war, but this is a primarily positive, not normative, post so let’s leave that issue aside until we circle back at the end.

This week, Trump attacking Swedish 16-year-old Greta Thunberg via Twitter unleashed the comedic id. When Greta beat Trump for TIME magazine’s person of the year cover, Trump lashed out on Twitter. This provoked Stephen Colbert (CBS) to say “go Fjuk yourself” to the President; Colbert then softened it (not) by noting that he could say this on CBS because the reference was culturally appropriate, invoking Fjuk, a Swedish island: “it is lovely, they have a lighthouse, and you know where you can stick it.”

Colbert also responded to a Trump staff tweet photoshopping Trump’s head over Greta’s on an image of the TIME magazine cover by saying, “I’m guessing not the first time that Trump has forced himself on a young woman … [audience reacts] joke is based on a true story.”

Compared to the above, Seth Meyers (NBC) was actually tame, addressing Trump as follows:

Whenever you scream, you look like a tick that’s about to burst. I mean, look at him. He looks like a rabid possum hissing at you for disturbing his nest. Also, you are a 73-year-old man attacking a 16-year-old activist, because she cares about the environment. Think about how sad that is. You are a husk of a man. Actually not even, for there to have been a husk of a man, there would have had to been a man to begin with. You’re a husk of a husk.

Meanwhile, over on cable, mild-mannered Daily Show (Comedy Central) host Trevor Noah called President Trump “an asshole.”

The President of the United States is on Twitter bullying a teenage girl. Just try to imagine any other President doing something like this.

Noah then expanded the category to include first Donald Trump, Jr. for shooting an endangered sheep with a laser sight. Then Noah added in more adult Trump children: “this family is cartoonishly villainous — they even do charity like assholes”.

If these TV performances created any groundswell of public revulsion, it completely passed me by. One could argue this absence of respect for the Presidency began in the Nixon administration, and has grown steadily ever since — rightly (Bush 2) or wrongly (Obama). But now, surely, we can safely say that any reverence the public has for the Presidency as an institution is quite dead? On balance, this freedom might even be a good thing, since the US has often been criticized by political scientists for giving the head of government the deference that elsewhere is reserved for a separate and often largely ceremonial head of state. That said, the costs of getting to this point seem to me to have been quite high.

Posted in The Media, Trump | 1 Comment

Bon Mot

“The great mismatch that’s happening right now is Biden looks like he could beat Trump on paper but not in person,” said Mr. Jentleson, the Warren-supporting strategist, “and Warren looks like she could beat Trump in person but not on paper.”

NYT, Elizabeth Warren Seeks a Second Act After Slip From the Top

Posted in 2020 Election | 7 Comments

The Pizza Theory of Contemporary Politics

Killer Pizza

Image © 2008 Chris Radcliff.
Some rights reserved

James Grimmelmann explains the state of play in U.S. politics.  (Applies to the UK as well, alas):

I go back to this tweet a lot:

This election is like if your friends pick dinner and 3 vote pizza and 2 vote “kill and eat you”. Even if pizza wins, there’s a big problem.
— Andrew Shvarts (@Shvartacus)
August 9, 2016

Three months later, “kill and eat you” won the 2016 election. Three years on, “kill and eat you” is an established feature of the United States political system. To continue the metaphor:

  • One person wants plain cheese pizza.
  • One person wants vegan fig and mushroom pizza.
  • One person wants to kill and eat you because the talking lizards living under his bed told him that you have delicious space aliens hiding under your skin.
  • One person wants to kill and eat you because anything else would be better than pizza again.
  • One person hasn’t been paying attention, isn’t really hungry, and doesn’t really believe in killing people or talking lizards, but says you have to admit that the talking-lizards guy makes some valid points about the aliens.

Living together in this house is impossible, and yet it goes on. You can’t make the talking-lizards guy move out; he has too many friends. (Even if he did, could you ever really trust your other friend who went along with him?) You can’t move out; you have nowhere else to go. The fact of the matter is, dinner – and your life – depend on the person who knows and cares the least about either.

(There’s more where that came from.)

Posted in Politics | 1 Comment

Every Grift Great and Small

cutlery but not from the White HouseDaily Kos is publishing excerpts from the Anonymous book on life inside the Trump administration.  This little bit is arresting, although there will it seems be no arrests:

Donald Trump cannot not do crimes. It is not possible for him. Early on in the administration it became apparent that he was pocketing the official White House silverware after every meal served to him. It is not something the staff was willing to challenge him on, so it has continued after every meal, every week, since the inauguration. Nobody had the slightest idea where he had been squirreling them off to until the cleaning crew discovered a sack underneath the bed in the Lincoln Bedroom containing literally hundreds and hundreds of stolen knives, forks, and spoons. Does he intend to take them with him when he leaves office? Does he take them just to prove he can? Nobody knows, and none of us want to.

Not I suppose a high crime or misdemeanor, at least until he takes them out of the White House, but sooo weird.

Posted in The Scandals | 2 Comments