THE BLOG
07/18/2016 06:07 pm ET | Updated Jul 18, 2016

Hillary's VP Choice Will Show If 'Unity' Talk Is Just Hot Air

When he introduced Christian conservative Mike Pence as his running-mate on Saturday, Donald Trump made a point of acknowledging that "party unity" was a reason for his choice. Pence, who'd endorsed Trump's main rival, "Lyin' Ted Cruz," is beloved by the Republican Party's loyal base of religious and free-market fundamentalists - which includes many Republican voters and activists still wary of Trump.

Trump's choice may make the GOP convention less contentious. And it's a smart electoral strategy to galvanize the activist base of the party; Trump wants these people to not only vote for him in November, but to actively work for the Trump-Pence ticket over the next several months.

Now let's turn to Hillary Clinton's VP strategy.

According to press accounts, Clinton is leaning toward the opposite strategy - ignoring her party's progressive base. If she does so, she may open the door to a Trump presidency.

Bernie Sanders received 13 million votes (far more than Cruz received on the other side). Millions of those progressive voters - which include thousands of talented and Internet-savvy activists - are wary of Clinton and prepared to stay home or cast a Green Party vote, even in the dozen swing states that will determine who inhabits the White House in January.

The best way for Hillary Clinton to give momentum to "Bernie or Bust" activists would be to choose from her reportedly short list of corporate Democratic politicians.

On the other hand, one way Clinton could build an energized center-left alliance able to overwhelm Trump in November would be to choose a running-mate from the Democrat's progressive wing - someone like Elizabeth Warren or Keith Ellison or perhaps Sherrod Brown. Such a choice would also assure a less unruly Democratic convention in Philadelphia.

Unfortunately, it looks like Clinton - a Democratic centrist with close ties to corporate America - is ready to disregard the party's activist base.

You don't need to survey Bernie supporters to know that they will be appalled by two corporate-centrists on the Democratic ticket. Or that Bernie delegates will publicly denounce or protest such a choice at the upcoming convention.

But in case you do need a survey, here are the results of a brand new one. The independent Bernie Delegates Network (launched by RootsAction.org in partnership with Progressive Democrats of America) received responses in recent days from more than 270 Sanders delegates who took the time to complete a lengthy survey about Clinton's selection of a running-mate.

Asked how important Clinton's VP choice would be to these delegates, 71 percent said "very important" or "important." An additional 14 percent responded "somewhat important."

Delegates were then asked to respond with "Acceptable" or "Not Acceptable" or "Unsure" about several individuals mentioned in recent news reports as possible Clinton running-mates. (The survey offered brief summaries of some of their positions on issues important to progressives, such as TPP, Keystone XL and Wall Street.)

SEN. TIM KAINE: As Virginia's governor, he supported restrictions on abortion and defended the state's anti-union "right-to-work" law. Kaine strongly supports corporate trade deals like the TPP, and criticized fellow Democrats in 2011 for seeking a higher tax rate on millionaires. By most measures, he is less progressive than Hillary Clinton.

Only 2.9 percent of responding Bernie delegates considered Kaine "Acceptable" -- while 88.5 percent responded "Not Acceptable."

HUD SECRETARY JULIAN CASTRO: A corporate lawyer who was an ally of real estate and banking interests as mayor of San Antonio, Castro supports trade pacts like NAFTA and the TPP. As HUD secretary, he has angered progressives with policies that favored Wall Street banks.

Only 7.8 percent of respondents deemed Castro "Acceptable," while 80.1 percent responded "Not Acceptable."

SEN MARK WARNER: A wealthy senator from Virginia, he boasted of his "bipartisan" centrism while pushing for a "grand bargain" that would cut the social safety net. Warner supports the TPP and was one of only nine Senate Democrats who voted for the Keystone XL pipeline.

Only 2.1 percent deemed Warner "Acceptable," while 91.8 percent said "Not Acceptable."

SEN. CORY BOOKER: A longtime corporate ally, the New Jersey senator received more funding from financial firms than any other US senator. He famously denounced the Obama campaign in 2012 - while he was an Obama surrogate - for its "nauseating" criticism of private equity firms and Mitt Romney's work at Bain Capital. Booker has supported school privatization and vouchers.

Only 11.1 percent considered Booker "Acceptable," while 73.1 percent responded "Not Acceptable."

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the survey was the question asking delegates if they would speak out or protest at the convention if Clinton chose one of the named centrists "or someone politically similar" as her VP pick. The vast majority of surveyed delegates said that they would "seriously consider participating" in one or both of these actions:

--- "Denouncing the VP pick as a clear indication that Hillary Clinton does not intend to seek common ground with the progressive ideals and positions of the Bernie Sanders campaign."

--- "Nonviolently and emphatically protesting in the convention hall during Clinton's acceptance speech."

Since I've always taken the menace of a Trump presidency seriously (his movement and ideology have fascist tendencies, in my view) and since I believe it's silly to say that Hillary Clinton is as dangerous as Trump, I've never been part of the "Bernie or Bust" forces.

But I'm not blind to those forces, as Team Clinton seems to be.

Nor am I blind to history, especially the 2000 election.

Sixteen years later, you can still hear Democratic leaders blaming their failure to keep the White House in 2000 on "defections" to Ralph Nader's Green Party campaign. These Democrats want us to forget that in the face of serious, publicly-expressed progressive dissatisfaction with Al Gore's candidacy, Gore told left-leaning voters to take a hike by choosing Joe Lieberman as his running-mate, one of the few inside-the-Beltway Democrats even more corporate and hawkish than himself.

(You remember Lieberman? He exited the party several years later over his Iraq War fanaticism and campaigned for McCain in 2008 against Obama.)

Today, progressive dissatisfaction with Hillary Clinton is even stronger, more organized and better-networked than was dissatisfaction with Gore in 2000.

I sure hope Clinton does not ignore this reality - or this history.

If she loses a close election after choosing a corporate-centrist running-mate seen by progressive voters as a slap in the face, she'll be the one to blame for a Trump White House.


Jeff Cohen is cofounder of the online activism group RootsAction.org, which initiated the Bernie Delegates Network. He founded the media watch group FAIR in 1986, and has directed the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College since 2008.

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