Why Hillary Clinton Won't Pick Elizabeth Warren for VP

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There are many good reasons Hillary Clinton won't choose U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, pictured, as her running mate. Brian Synder/Reuters

The mass of American liberals (or progressives, as we're calling them nowadays) lead lives of quiet desperation. They vote Democrat only because they view the party as the lesser of two evils. Their desire to see Bernie Sanders defeat Hillary Clinton has become nearly palpable. But this won't happen. The math stacked against Sanders is implacable: It doesn't care that she voted for the Iraq War, and it doesn't care that she voted for welfare reform.

If liberals have to vote for Clinton for president, then the hope is that she could choose a real, God-honest liberal as her running mate—somebody who will excite the liberal base. Or excite anyone, really—despite her impressive résumé, hardly anyone gets fired up about Clinton, as opposed to, say, Barack Obama circa 2008. As Slate's Michelle Goldberg puts it, "Obama’s campaign created an incandescent sense that America was on the cusp of history. That magic is missing from Clinton’s long slog."

For liberals, the next best thing to Sanders in the White House might be Elizabeth Warren in the White House—as Clinton’s veep. Warren, a Massachusetts senator and former Harvard law professor, is actually less liberal than Sanders—he’s the senate’s most liberal member, she the 11th-most, according to GovTrack—but Warren has an outsized reputation on the left. Recently, she's proposed legislation that would increase federal oversight on Wall Street and force the IRS to fill out your tax returns for you—a move that would gut the tax preparation industry.

The argument for Clinton picking Warren goes like this: After an ugly primary scrap, Sanders supporters are pissed at Clinton. Some are. in fact, so pissed that they might not vote for her in the general election, they say. If that happens, she stands a chance of losing the presidency to Donald Trump. Ergo, she should pick someone that die-hard liberals like as her running mate. Not only would a very liberal VP energize the left, it could help drive out independents who are unexcited by the prospect of voting for Clinton. The problem with this argument is that Clinton doesn't need "magic" to win the election. She needs 270 electoral votes. Warren doesn't help her get any.

First, the Warren pick assumes that liberals will stay home, rather than voting for Clinton, unless she picks a liberal as her running mate. "There were similar concerns in 2008 that Clinton supporters would sit out the election, or even vote for McCain," says Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist and election forecaster at Emory. But that didn't happen. The vast majority of Clinton's supporters voted for Obama, not McCain. "If anything, Trump is a much scarier alternative than McCain," Abramowitz says.

Second, Warren has publicly criticized Clinton in the past. In 2004, Warren told PBS that Clinton had reversed her position on a bankruptcy reform bill after opponents of the bill donated to her senate campaign. This essentially confirmed liberals' worst fears about Clinton—that she can be, and has, been bought. It so happens that this is also Trump's strongest line of attack against her. If Clinton were to pick her, Warren would go from being a potential ally and attack dog to a liability. Her past attacks would be played and replayed by Trump and the GOP until November, and rather than energizing the left, it might deflate them. Instead of making Clinton seem more likable, it could backfire and paint Warren as a sellout.

Third, there's the matter of political chemistry. Clinton and Warren have none. "[They] seem like oil and water," says Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "This would be a match made in purgatory, rather than heaven." Clinton already has a likability problem, and it would be helpful if her running mate likes her, or at least appears to like her. While likability isn't the key to winning the election, there's no reason for Clinton to pick a running mate with visible antipathy toward her.

Fourth, Warren is from Massachusetts, a state Clinton is going to win anyway. Obama won the state with 60 percent of the vote in 2012, and he was running against a native son, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Obama won the state by slightly more in 2008. As Clinton only gets one VP, she'd be better off going with someone from a swing state, such as Tim Kaine of Virginia or Sherrod Brown of Ohio. And Massachusetts's Republican governor would pick Warren's replacement. Since Clinton thinks in terms of the party, it’s unlikely she’d give up a secure seat in the Senate when the Democrats have a chance to win it back.

Finally, there are just better VP options out there. Choosing a veep is all about ticking boxes. The first, and most important, is that the running mate does no harm—which isn't a sure thing in Warren's case. If she wants to placate the left, there are more liberal senators: Kirsten Gillibrand from New York (though, since Clinton will run from her home in Chappaqua, that might present a constitutional problem, as electors aren't allowed to cast both their ballots for people from the same state), and Barbara Boxer from California, to name two. Sherrod Brown is more liberal than Warren, and he's from a swing state—though Clinton would also run into the problem here of his replacement being picked by the GOP.

At the end of the day, for Clinton, Warren is more useful as a liberal champion in the Senate than she would be as vice president. Clinton knows this. Come November, liberals will go back to pining for a more just, more charitable world. And they'll vote for Clinton, whoever her running mate may be. It just won't be Warren.