Why Hillary Clinton Should Recruit David Petraeus for Vice President

Assuming she gets the nomination, Hillary Clinton needs someone on the ticket who offers something she cannot provide. To win an election with a level of rancor and negativity unlike anything we've seen before, Clinton needs a very specific type of individual. It needs to be a man. A white man. And it would really help if this white man was a military man--someone who has been in the theater of combat. Someone who understands national security threats from firsthand experience. Someone who has been the nation's top spy. Someone with a Ph.D. in International Relations. Someone like David Petraeus.

If you've made it this far in the article, you are either nodding in agreement or making a puking sound. It seems like an outlandish suggestion. Most prognostication has it that Clinton needs to make herself more appealing by value-adding some measure of regional balance, shoring up a swing state or appeasing a needed demographic with a symbolic selection. At first blush, a northeastern white male who was recently disgraced in a sex-and-secrets scandal with his biographer, who now has a misdemeanor conviction for mishandling classified information and who is a registered Republican to top it all off, would not seem right for the role. But hear me out.

For one thing, Hillary Clinton has a white male problem. Thus far, she has failed to muster the same support she enjoyed from white men in 2008, losing them by double digits in key states. To become president, she doesn't need to win with white males, but she does need to lose them "better," if you will. It's true that simply having a white man on the ticket won't win over die-hard Trump supporters, or more generally those disaffected "Reagan Democrats" that pundits love to talk about in this election cycle, but it should help with independents and others disinclined to vote for (or against) a candidate based solely on party labels. Is it patronizing and even patriarchal to contend that a woman needs a man to reach the White House? Probably. But it's also pragmatic--and Hillary Clinton is nothing if not pragmatic.

But, you might ask, what about the infidelity that in part brought Petraeus down a few years ago? Could Clinton really support someone who cheated on his wife with a younger woman? Um, yeah. She could. She has before. Who better to negotiate the indignation of those casting stones at her glass house? She has had twenty years (or even thirty or forty years) to adopt, and adjust, her posture on such matters and we can reasonably enough assume her ability to manage this move. She is still married to Bill, after all. Whether that bespeaks a forgiving nature or simply raw opportunism, it's hard to see her being too troubled by the one-time philandering of a seemingly contrite four-star general. The moral high ground offers a nice view, but most of the people live down in the valley.

Okay, then how about the sharing of secrets in notebooks and the lying to investigators? How could he (or she) overcome that? Clearly, Petraeus would have an easy target on his back, with opposition research only a few clicks away, but consider this: What other prominent former government official has been accused of failing to protect the privileged information of the United States? Maybe the woman at the top of the ticket--the one who is vulnerable to the same kind of attack? Pairing liabilities in this way effectively packs two pieces of political baggage into one. Those who think Hillary's email scandal disqualifies her to be president won't be turned off by Petraeus because they were unwilling to vote for her in the first place. And those supporting her can hardly be turned off by his lapses in judgment, indiscretions and failure to abide protocol, because while he knew he was doing it and she claims she didn't, the voters aren't focused on what the definition of "is" is. If it is not a death knell for her, nor is it for him.

Finally, there is the issue of Petraeus's personal politics. He is a registered member of the Grand Old Party, but it's important to note that he describes himself as a "Rockefeller" Republican--aka the type of Republican that no longer has a place in the Republican Party. Petraeus accepted President Obama's nomination to serve as commander of US forces in Afghanistan in 2010 and in 2011 he began service as Obama's Director of the CIA, winning unanimous confirmation in the Senate. Whether Petraeus the citizen appreciates the Donald Trump phenomenon within the Republican Party, or whether his Rockefeller-orientation (moderate and even liberal on many issues) would impel him in another direction, we do not know. What we do know is that Petraeus the soldier has already served within a Democratic administration and, especially since we've entered a political era where anything can happen, we can at least infer a potential willingness to do so again.

So, he could do this--but would he? Only he knows the answer to that, but if he wants to have another chance on the national stage, if only to rehabilitate his reputation through another act of public service, he might see this as his last best shot. Running on the Clinton ticket would provide the kind of exposure and opportunity for political redefinition that he'd need, should he have any future desire to hold elective office. Finally, as someone with both academic and battlefield schooling in international relations, Petraeus can hardly be pleased to hear the isolationist rhetoric of Donald Trump and presumably anyone President Trump would pick for his Cabinet.

Successfully recruiting Petraeus would be a bold move for a politician never really known to be much of a gambler, but I submit this is precisely why it's the one Hillary Clinton needs to make. Despite her experience as Secretary of State, the fact that she is a woman and a Democrat suggests that public perception will deem her opponent better prepared to address national security issues. And thus, putting Petraeus on the ticket takes a page from Karl Rove's old playbook by attacking the enemy at his strength, not his weakness. Rather than ceding national security to Trump--who is already busy sending tweets questioning Clinton's "stamina" to keep us safe from ISIS, North Korea and so on--she'd be saying, "Here's my counsel in the War on Terror. Where's yours?"

Still, Petraeus is a long shot--such a long shot, in fact, that he doesn't even register as a shot at all for the chattering class. Most assume Clinton will choose someone from Virginia or Ohio, hoping to get the count right with her electoral math; that she will make even more history for her gender by selecting another woman as her running mate; or that she will offer comparable symbolism, albeit in a different form, by running with someone of Hispanic descent, for example. These options might help her appease disgruntled Sanders supporters, and certainly they are the right tactics if that's the strategy for the general election. But, instead, if the plan is to essentially count on x-% support from those inclined toward Sanders (as Obama counted on Clinton supporters in 2008), while making a hard push for the unaffiliated centrists and middle-dwelling moderates that make up an increasingly large bloc of the electorate, then toss out all the short lists that have been piling up in campaign headquarters. Short-list thinking tends to be fixed on the last campaign, just as armies tend to fight the last war. As we have seen already, this election finds ways to buck convention--meaning that, at a certain point, conventional wisdom no longer applies.