The overlooked importance of Clinton and Trump's running mates
The focus on the contention between presidential candidates Secretary Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump has caused many to overlook their respective running mates. While this is not uncommon, the growing influence of the vice president gives reason for Americans to pay more attention to the candidates’ stances on relevant issues. Recent presidents have delegated more and more duties to the vice president, and such a polarizing election as this one should cause us to pay more attention to possible implications of having each respective candidate in office. It’s important to note how the impact of this election goes beyond merely the will of whoever is elected president.
The vice president’s official powers are fairly lackluster. One of their primary duties used to be presiding over the Senate, which derived mainly from 1st Vice President John Adams sitting in and acting as an agent for President George Washington. The Constitution only outlines how the vice president oversees procedural matters and casts a tiebreaking vote if necessary (Article I, Section III), and thus there has been debate over what influence they should have over the decision making process. Nowadays, it is widely accepted that the vice president practices a hands-off approach, only intervening when it’s unavoidable. Vice presidents will also take over as President in the event of the death, incapacitation, or resignation of the sitting president. This fulfills the idea that the vice president is a complement to the president, and has the difficult task of sometimes mirroring their ideals while also making up for shortcomings they may have. For example, a president who lacks experience interacting with a certain set of foreign nations may consult a vice president who has such experience. The precedent for this was set when the 12th Amendment to the Constitution was passed in 1804, which mandated that a presidential candidate run with a specific vice presidential during the general election, and that electors would vote for a set of running mates. Previously, electors cast ballots for their top two choices, with the first place finisher becoming president and the runner-up being named vice president. It’s common for the vice president to attend certain events that the United States wants to have a presence in, such as the funeral of an important political figure (national or international), but the president is unable to attend.
In recent times, the vice president has seen an increased number of powers delegated to them specifically by the president. Former presidents have commissioned duties generally reserved for the president to such vice presidents as Al Gore, Dick Cheney, and Joe Biden. Cheney gave President George W. Bush much inspiration to fight the War on Terror, and drummed up public support by asserting the dangers of radical terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda. Biden helped to sustain a positive relationship with multiple Middle Eastern nations, draw popular support for the legalization of same-sex marriage, and promote bipartisanship via his connections with major Republican leaders, such as John McCain. The vice president acts as a bridge between the executive branch and the other branches of government, and pushes the president’s agenda without directly echoing everything they say. They must appeal to the legislative body in ways that the president cannot. The ambiguous nature of the vice presidency requires the analysis of the relationship between the vice presidential candidates and their respective running mates in order to assess likely impacts of one pair or the other getting elected.
This election gives defined examples of vice presidential candidates balancing out the ticket. Donald Trump is an unconventional candidate, both in that he has virtually no prior political experience and in that many of his values were/are not based in traditional conservatism. Trump’s background as a businessman gives his platform a unique angle that appeals to both the working and business classes, especially those who feel disenfranchised by both the overall political process and the Obama administration. However, traditional Republicans were very hesitant to endorse him, not only due to his personal controversies but also because his views which they fundamentally disagree with. He was noted for stating, for example, that he believed transgendered persons should be allowed to use whichever bathroom they feel comfortable with, and that laws preventing them from doing so were harmful to business relations. His stances on immigration, NAFTA, the War on Drugs and other LGBTQA+ issues alienated a decent portion of the conservative community. His decision to run with Indiana Governor Mike Pence shows a clear attempt at attracting such a voter base, as Pence heavily contrasts with his outspoken and erratic personality. Pence is known to be a soft-spoken and mild-mannered person with a much more extensive standing in politics. A central aspect of his identity is his Christianity, and almost all of his political ideals are far right. Despite this, Pence has minimal influence over Trump and the voter base as a whole, and many view the effort to balance the ticket as superficial and thinly veiled. Trump has consistently declined to listen to Pence or work to come to agreements with him, and they disagree on many major issues, including the Iraq War and NAFTA. Major Republicans supporting Pence will almost certainly be his greatest source of leverage. Many have expressed deep approval Pence’s performance as a governor, and in the Vice Presidential Debate. Trump claims to view major issues through a conservative lens, advocating for limited government intervention, but he still resonates with regular citizens more than with politicians. So while Trump’s path to the nomination didn’t require him to subscribe too heavily to traditional conservatism, actually passing legislation is going to require Pence’s aid. This gives Pence the unique opportunity to push his own agenda more than previous vice presidents could. He would most likely push for limits on women’s reproductive rights, expansion of offshore drilling, stronger religious freedom, and maybe even support Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the US-Mexico border.
Hillary also faced a decent dilemma when choosing her running mate. Many believed she would choose a figure such as Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren: a far left politician who appeals to millennials and radicals. She ultimately took the route of selecting a traditional Democrat who mirrored her own views, clearly trying to sway the median voters who felt alienated by Trump but were too conservative to ever endorse someone like Bernie, or even Hillary alone. Him being from Virginia, which is considered a swing state, should also aid Hillary in winning the Electoral College. His stances are that of a typical liberal, though one might argue he is more of a centrist than Clinton. He has expressed moral disapproval of abortion, citing his Roman Catholic background, but he remains pro-choice and has received strong approval from organizations such as Planned Parenthood. He is also a gun owner, and while he has supported heightened gun control this revelation may help convince supporters of the 2nd Amendment to distrust claims that Hillary wants to seize all citizens’ guns. The dynamic between a President Clinton and Vice President Kaine would most likely be similar to the current one between Barack Obama and Joe Biden, in that Kaine would represent Hillary at events which she could not attend, and would act as an echoing mechanism in order to enforce her ideas and support her decisions. As sad as it may be, he may also be able to appeal to the male populace simply due to a historic divide between genders in regard to political ideology. In the unlikely event of her inability to continue as president he would continue right where she left off, something that Pence would struggle to do if the same happened with Trump. Kaine’s history of working together and compromising with Republicans is a strategic effort on Hillary’s part to preemptively prevent a situation in which a Republican-controlled House and Senate halt any attempt of hers to enact change.
The logical conclusion is that Pence would attempt to bring Trump closer to other politicians, and perform actions that only a seasoned member of government ought to carry out. He would also have the chance to advocate for his own objectives. Kaine, conversely, would most likely be tasked with strengthening Clinton’s efforts to pass legislation and ensure that she remains popular with median voters.