If you’d asked me a few weeks ago whether Elizabeth Warren would make a good vice presidential candidate for Hillary Clinton, I would have fired off a long list of reasons why putting the Massachusetts senator on the ticket was a bad idea. From a crassly electoral standpoint, she’s a Democratic senator whose vacancy would be filled by her state’s Republican governor, and elevating her to the vice presidency would undermine the Democrats’ chances of retaking the Senate. From a policy standpoint, she’s transformed herself into an influential voice for progressive economic policies from her perch in the Senate, and folding her into a presidential campaign/administration would necessarily subordinate her message and her presence to Hillary’s. Put simply, Warren has been doing great and important work as a senator, so why rock the boat?
Now I’m not so convinced. All those old concerns still apply, of course, but now I think they’re outweighed by the benefits, especially given how the Democratic primary has dragged on and how Donald Trump has behaved since securing the Republican nomination.
Bernie Sanders isn’t going down quietly, and nor should he. But the vigorous challenge he put up against Hillary has left some raw feelings and exposed an element of division within the party as the newer generation of Democrats balks at supporting an establishment figure like Clinton. I don’t think Clinton should pick a liberal like Warren to repair rifts with supporters of Bernie Sanders because, generally speaking, I think whatever intraparty injuries do exist will be mended by time and the threat of a Trump presidency. What Warren does provide, however, is a reason for liberal Democratic voters to be enthusiastic about a Clinton ticket.
As it stands, the party looks to be headed towards unity, but a good deal of that unification seems to be grudging or motivated by partisan loyalty. Polling from the New York Times shows that roughly 40 percent of Democrats who expect to back Clinton in the general election are either doing so with reservations or simply because she’ll be the party’s nominee. Those numbers have been consistent over the past few months. Warren represents a bridge between Clinton and that younger, more activist element of the party that she’ll need to turn out in November. For a lot of voters in both parties, 2016 looks to be shaping up as something of a slog, but Warren would give the ticket energy and she would give disaffected Democrats someone to get excited about.
More broadly speaking, voters in both primaries made it abundantly clear that anger towards governing and financial institutions are powerful political forces this cycle, and Warren represents a credible voice of outrage and defiance against the status quo. She can speak to frustrations with Wall Street in ways that Hillary can’t and hit the same populist themes that Sanders has effectively utilized throughout the primary.
And, as we’ve already seen, Warren can bait the everloving hell out of Donald Trump. No public figure –low-energy Jeb, Liddle Marco, and Lyin’ Ted included – has achieved as much success at crawling under Trump’s skin as Warren has with just a few tweets and stray public remarks. She mocks him and dismisses him as small, weak, a failure – everything Trump can’t tolerate being called. She’s figured out how to attack Trump, and she’s goaded the Republican nominee into crude responses that are both racially charged and clearly sexist. She’s also one of the few political actors out there who can actually manage to steal some of the media spotlight from the Republican nominee. And even if Warren weren’t an efficient and deadly Trump provocateur, the simple fact of having two women standing in opposition to him will likely cause him to boil over on the regular.
Again, it’s not a perfect arrangement, and pulling Warren out of the leadership track in the Senate for the relatively sequestered and ceremonial office of the Vice President brings certain drawbacks. But it’s hard to argue that there’s anyone better suited to the political moment than Warren, and a spot on the Democratic ticket would be an excellent way to utilize her unique talents.