Bernie Sanders is unlikely to easily accept an offer to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate. But as vice president, he can ensure the anti-establishment anger he represents is channelised into taking the US in the direction of a more empathetic and fair society.
The often used line ‘The next President of these United States, whoever SHE may be’ is now a step closer to reality. With Hillary Clinton’s victory in the primaries in California, South Dakota and New Jersey, the race for the Democratic party nomination for president is now all but over. In winning 22 states, Bernie Sanders has fought a tireless campaign, which has brought to the fore that young Americans are thoroughly disillusioned with the existing establishment, especially the hold that big money and mega-corporations have over the US political system. As Gloria Steinem succinctly put it in a recent interview to CNN, Sanders has diagnosed the disease that is afflicting the US system, but it has to be Clinton, an insider to this system, who delivers the medication and perhaps conducts the surgery that is required. Having garnered the required number of pledged delegates and an endorsement from President Barack Obama, Clinton has emerged as the Democratic contender against Republican candidate Donald Trump. The battle for the White House, which may likely become increasingly sordid, has just begun.
Uniting the Democrats
Having secured their party nominations, Clinton and Trump will now focus on a campaign that, unlike previous elections, is more about consolidating their own party bases than reaching out to the other side of the aisle. Trump’s early emergence as the Republican nominee has given him a head-start in wooing disgruntled moderate Republicans. For Clinton though, the struggle to unify the Democrats, convince the rest of the country to vote for her and crack the toughest glass ceiling will not be an easy task.
Clinton’s first step will be to seek the endorsement of popular Democratic leaders. With Obama and other party leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren having already endorsed her, Clinton will be looking to rally other party bigwigs to her cause and convert the upcoming Democrat convention into a virtual coronation. She must ensure the entire party is solidly behind her before she can begin to woo those in the Republican camp who are unhappy with Trump as their party’s nominee.
Picking a running mate
The next crucial step for Clinton would be to announce a running mate who can help win her the presidency. In many previous presidential campaigns, the selection of a potential vice president has been to satisfy a geographical, experience or ideological shortcoming. For John F. Kennedy and John Kerry, their running mates delivered the Southern Democrats. Bill Clinton picked Al Gore as his running mate for his foreign policy experience and environmental expertise, while Obama chose Joe Biden for his foreign policy and national security experience. But for Clinton, choosing a running mate will have more to do with bridging the divide within her own party than any other potential criteria. The option of offering the position to a powerful state governor or recognised party official is always available, but for Clinton to capture the far left, which has consistently backed Sanders, the criterion cannot be anything other than party unity.
While the moderate left, immigrants and minorities are deeply rooted in the Clinton camp, the far left, the millennials and even the young women voters have stayed clear thus far. Sanders’ anti-establishment political message has resonated with many voters, and his supporters are passionate and committed to their cause, such that many have pledged not to vote for Clinton if she is chosen to represent the Democratic Party in the November election. Sanders has presented an alternative to the current establishment-based politics, which is also a major plank of Trump’s appeal – minus the hate speech, racisms and sexism. Being seen as the quintessential establishment representative, Clinton risks losing the anti-establishment vote. If she manages to rope in the voters who may be tempted to abstain or even drift to the the Trump camp, if only to register their protest against the political system that they see as being arraigned against their cause, she will gain enormously.
Warren is a potential running mate who could help Clinton win over the anti-establishment vote. Warren, an outspoken and at times combative senator, can provide the support needed for Clinton to appear as a more moderate choice and could also perhaps sway some of the voters who are still sticking with Sanders’ revolutionary politics. The problem with this pairing, however, is that while America may be coming to terms with the possibility of a female president, the idea of women as president and vice president may not go down as smoothly. Moreover, Warren may only be able to bring back some of the entrenched far left voters still supporting Sanders, which may not be enough to secure the White House come November.
Sanders: Clinton’s vice president?
The best bet for Clinton would be to offer the vice presidency to Sanders. Although it is rare for presidential candidates to invite a primary rival to be their running mate, it is not unprecedented. Of the 17 presidential elections held since the end of the second world war, there have been five instances where two primary contenders have joined to form a team to battle for the White House. While the pairing of Stevenson-Kefauver in 1956 and Kerry-Edwards in 2004 failed, the three other such team-ups were successful (Kennedy-Johnson, Reagan-Bush and Obama-Biden).
It is unlikely that Sanders will easily accept an offer from Clinton, given the differences in their beliefs, as evident in their hard fought campaigns. But a Clinton-Sanders ticket is perhaps the only way to unite the divided Democrat vote and ensure that Trump is routed in the elections.
Importantly, as Clinton’s vice president, Sanders can ensure the anti-establishment anger he represents is channelised into taking the US in the direction of a more empathetic and fair society rather than a country that perpetually snarls at the world and expects others to pay obeisance to it. As vice president, Sanders will be given a platform to work with the president in pursuing transformative ideas far more effectively than he would from the Senate. Clinton will do well to embrace the young and passionate Sanders supporters rather than try and consolidate the moneybags on the right of the party. The US needs a real change in becoming a caring and nurturing society while retaining its innovative dynamism and openness. This will be best best served by a Clinton-Sanders administration. Most importantly, a Clinton-Sanders ticket will allow the many anti-establishment Democrat voters to feel represented without switching their allegiance to Trump. Clinton already realises the importance of party unity, evident from her remarks in her victory speech post the California primary, but without Sanders, her task of consolidating the party while trying to pull voters away from Trump will be that much tougher.
Prashant Kumar is Associate Fellow, Observer Research Foundation and Rajiv Kumar is Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research.