The Clinton-Kaine Ticket Is Safe and Boring — In a Good Way

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Hillary Clinton Campaigns With Tim Kaine In Virginia
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (L) and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) (R) acknowledge the crowd during a campaign event at Ernst Community Cultural Center at Northern Virginia Community College July 14, 2016 in Annandale, Virginia. Hillary Clinton continued to campaign for the general election in November. Photo: Alex Wong

So it’s Tim Kaine after all as Hillary Clinton’s running mate: the “safe” and “boring” choice who clearly benefited from a high comfort level with the presumptive nominee and her husband, and energetic lobbying from their mutual friend, Terry McAuliffe, the current governor of Virginia.

For all the talk of Kaine as a sort of political wallflower, he is actually an estimable man who has won losable campaigns in a state Republicans may need to win this year. He has a reputation as being ethically spotless, which matters a lot this year; any hint of scandal in a running mate could be disastrous for Clinton. As has often been noted, he is fluent in Spanish, which is not only a good weapon in a campaign against Donald “Deport ‘Em All” Trump, but a sop to those who were disappointed that the veep was not Hispanic.

Despite the pushback from progressive Democrats when Kaine emerged as the front-runner for this gig, he’s by no means some sort of warmed-over blue dog. He’s a career civil-rights lawyer in what was then a pretty conservative state — let that sink in for a bit. He was also the mayor of a relatively large and diverse city. He was elected governor of Virginia, despite an opponent pounding him relentlessly for a faith-based opposition to capital punishment, and he was smart and agile enough to turn the issue around and make it a positive. These are all good signs of both Democratic orthodoxy and political dexterity.

The one issue on which progressives have asked very legitimate questions about Kaine involves another faith-based position: his “personal opposition” to abortion. He’s been about as clear as possible in recent weeks that he’s firmly and comprehensively pro-choice, as he would absolutely have to be in a Hillary Clinton administration — where the president is not exactly going to have to consult him or anyone else on this issue.

So the heartburn from the left that’s undoubtedly being felt tonight almost entirely involves economic issues, and, beyond that, the sense that choosing Kaine is an insult to Bernie Sanders’s following — which could also provide an opening for Donald Trump.

In a vacuum, Kaine’s unfortunately timed expressions of support for less regulation of regional banks, and for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, aren’t necessarily deal-breakers for a veep. The first issue does not involve the biggest banks, which are the target of progressive ire, and the second, after all, aligns him with the Democratic president of the United States, whose popularity throughout the party remains high despite occasional lefty grumbling.

But Kaine’s economic heresies highlight the fact that Sanders supporters (and even some more ideologically liberal supporters of Clinton’s own) expected Clinton to move toward rather than away from them in choosing a running mate. Given the Clinton family’s reputation for taking the left for granted, or even triangulating against it, raising Kaine to the ticket plays some bad old tapes in the minds of many progressives. And it’s not like the Virginian has the sort of inspirational persona that’s going to appeal to the young Sanders voters whose November turnout levels are in doubt. With the Republican nominee posturing as an anti-Wall Street, anti-status quo candidate, there may even be fears that Kaine will expose the ticket to further erosion of white-working-class support.

You have to figure Clinton is counting on Sanders (with a supporting cast of other progressives, including passed-over veep prospects Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown) to put a halt to any serious revolt against the Kaine selection when he speaks in Philadelphia. Endorsements aside, the most important thing the Clinton-Kaine ticket has going for it in avoiding disunity is the alternative that was made so plain in Cleveland this last week. As a progressive acquaintance of mine put it earlier this week, when Kaine started looking inevitable, “On one side of the scales, you’ve got a ticket made up of two people with troubling attitudes toward the financial sector. On the other side, you’ve got maybe fascism. They are not even remotely of the same weight.”

In that sense, the Clinton-Kaine ticket is “safe” in a more fundamental sense. And even “boring” is not so bad, when compared to the bellowing bullyboy who was nominated in Cleveland.