In Choosing Kaine, Clinton Opts for 'Boring' Over Bluster

At Miami debut, Kaine came across as Trump’s antithesis: a veteran professional politician, a creature of the establishment, a devout Catholic, an avowed liberal, a man well liked on both sides of the political aisle.

Tim Kaine and Hillary Clinton in Miami, Florida, July 23, 2016.
Andrew Harnik, AP

Virginia Senator Tim Kaine has successfully accomplished his first mission for Hillary Clinton: The roll out of his nomination as Democratic candidate for vice president captured the media’s attention and ejected Donald Trump’s successful speech at the end of the Republican Convention in Cleveland to the sidelines. On the eve of the Democratic confab gathering on Monday in Philadelphia, Trump was left to vent his frustrations in his bedrock forum on Twitter.

Other than in the fact that they are both white men, Kaine comes across as Trump’s antithesis: a veteran professional politician, a creature of the establishment, a devout Catholic, an avowed liberal, a man well liked on both sides of the political aisle who is, as he admits, a little boring. He might be able to buttress Clinton with some of the integrity that is ascribed to him and found lacking in her. He might also be able to persuade some white males who previously voted for Democrats but have now moved to Trump to reconsider. He will definitely be able to make sure that Hispanics who have defected to Clinton from Trump’s harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric won’t change their minds: Kaine speaks Spanish better than any non-Hispanic politician in America.

Clinton and her aides said Saturday, however, that political calculations had very little to do with Kaine’s appointment, though one of Clinton’s aides admitted that no will believe the real reason that he ended up as Clinton’s choice: she wanted someone who could quickly and competently assume the role of president, if the need arises. 

There were many expressions of disappointment at Kaine’s nomination. Some progressives were disappointed that Clinton had not seized the chance to expand the makeup of the top candidates of both parties, who are all white, given that among her finalists for the nomination there was at least one African American, two Hispanics and one woman, Elizabeth Warren. Leftist Democrats, especially Bernie Sanders supporters, were angry that Clinton had dared appoint a candidate who was an outright supporter of free trade and only a lukewarm endorser of the fight against global warming. Republican colleagues of the former Governor and current Senator from Virginia said they had nothing negative to say about Kaine, other than that they would have preferred him as the presidential candidate, rather than Clinton.

Right-wing Jews and conservative supporters of Israel brought up Kaine’s support for a two-state solution and worse, his vote for the Iran nuclear deal and decision to boycott Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 2015 speech to Congress. His links to J Street were also blasted. Kaine, however, has always been considered a classic Democratic centrist supporter of Israel: he was one of the original sponsors of the additional U.S. funding for Iron Dome. Such Democratic stalwarts, however, may soon be extinct: These days, if you dare to stray from the dogma emanating from the Prime Ministers Office in Jerusalem, the Jewish right will always find a way to cast you as an enemy of Israel.

Clinton assumes that adding Kaine to her ticket will boost her image as an experienced and pragmatic candidate who prefers action to words and moderation to bluster. She assumes American voters will prefer her level-headed responsibility to Trump’s populist gimmick, her optimistic outlook and positive image of the state of the union to the kind of dark, dystopian vision that Trump presented in his speech in Cleveland. She could be right, of course, though the very fact that Trump is the GOP’s candidate indicates that times may have changed along with the factors that sway the electorate.

Clinton and Kane seemed obviously at ease with each other at the roll out of his candidacy in Florida on Saturday: they might even seem to be genuinely fond of each other. Their joint appearance marked a sharp contrast with Trump’s presentation of vice presidential candidate Indiana Governor Mike Pence ten days ago, which seemed cold and distant. Democrats also hope to contrast their unity at the top, with appearances by Barack and Michelle Obama along with Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and all top national Democrats highlighting the decision of most top Republicans to boycott the convention that nominated Trump in Cleveland last week. 

And the Democrats won’t even have to lift a finger to showcase the most obvious and blatant difference between them and the GOP: the makeup of their convention will present a rainbow America of many cultures and colors, compared to the all white Republican delegates who were he overwhelming majority of the participants in Cleveland.