Political prognostications are a risky business. But I have been thinking about what the Republicans might do if Hillary Clinton announces in early 2015 (since she has indicated that is when she will make her decision) that she is running for president. While Republicans dislike this prospect because they know she might win, not to mention take most of the available oxygen out of the race along the way, they understand that they have no woman in their ranks who is qualified to be president, and it is a stretch to say they even have a woman qualified to be a vice presidential running mate. GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin reminded many thinking American voters that the vice president of the United States is only a heartbeat away from becoming president. In today’s world, a vice president must actually be qualified to become president. While a vice presidential candidate does not need the experience and political moxie of the top of the ticket, voters want a running mate who they feel confident could handle the job if necessary.
As I see it, it is now imaginable that both Republicans and Democrats will try to send a woman to the White House in 2016. Let me explain why if Hillary runs we could have a woman as president, and if Hillary lost we could still have a woman as a vice president. There is also the potential we could have both.
If Hillary Runs
If Hillary announces in early 2015 that she’s in the race, it is not likely that any serious Democratic Party candidate will oppose her, although several will file for president and run in the primaries to draw attention to themselves as potential vice presidents, or future presidents. (Also, in a world where anything can happen, some will file because something could happen to Hillary which might put them in play.)
So no one should be surprised if a slew of Democrats seek the nomination, even if Hillary runs, and many have already expressed such an interest (here and in other lists alphabetically): Joe Biden (former U.S. Senator from Delaware and vice president since 2009); Howard Dean (former governor of Vermont, a 2004 presidential candidate, and the former head of the Democratic National Committee); Joe Manchin (former governor and currently U.S. Senator from West Virginia); Martin O’Malley (former mayor of Baltimore and former governor of Maryland); Edward Rendell (former mayor of Philadelphia and former governor of Pennsylvania); Brian Schweitzer (former governor of Montana); along with Jim Webb (former Secretary of the Navy and former U.S. Senator from Virginia). Bernie Sanders, an Independent U.S. Senator from Vermont, who caucuses with the Democrats, has also indicated he will run for president.
A far more interesting question is whom Hillary might select as her vice presidential running mate. The true fantasy ticket for many Democrats, and it is not an inconceivable prospective, would be for Hillary to name a woman as her running mate. This action alone would severely crack the glass ceiling, but if they won the White House they would forever demolish it. As it happens, within the Democratic Party there are a number of women whom Hillary might select as her vice presidential running mate: Tammy Baldwin (former congresswoman now U.S. Senator from Wisconsin); Kirsten Gillibrand (U.S. Senator from New York); Kamala Harris (attorney general of California); Maggie Hassan (governor of New Hampshire); Amy Klobuchar (U.S. Senator from Minnesota); Janet Napolitano (former governor of Arizona and former Secretary of Homeland Security); and Elizabeth Warren (U.S. Senator from Massachusetts).
If Hillary runs, Republicans are going to be hard pressed not to, at minimum, name a woman to run with their presidential nominee who will certainly be a man. With no GOP women in play for the Republican presidential nomination, Republicans have a problem. Because Republicans need women to win the White House, they dare not claim a woman should not be president, which I know many of them actually believe.
The GOP’s Hillary Problem
There is no Republican who shares the posture that Hillary does with the Democrats, that if she wants it, the nomination is hers. This means Hillary will come out of the primaries less damaged than whoever emerges from the GOP primaries, where not less than a dozen plus men appear to be interested in the GOP nomination: Jeb Bush (former governor of Florida); Chris Christie (governor of New Jersey); Ted Cruz (U.S. Senator from Texas); Mike Huckabee (former governor of Arkansas and 2012 presidential candidate); Jon Huntsman (former governor of Utah and 2012 presidential candidate); Bobby Jindal (governor of Louisiana); John Kasich (governor of Ohio); Rand Paul (U.S. Senator from Kentucky); Rick Perry (former governor of Texas and 2012 presidential candidate); Rob Portman (U.S. Senator from Ohio); Mitt Romney (former governor of Massachusetts and 2012 GOP presidential nominee); Marco Rubio (U.S. Senator from Florida); Paul Ryan (congressman from Wisconsin and 2012 vice presidential nominee); and Scott Walker (governor of Wisconsin).
The hardline anti-abortion policy position of today’s Republican Party has translated into a perceived GOP “war against women.” Given this reality, and the difficulty running against Hillary (with or without a woman as her running mate), whoever wins the Republican presidential nomination will have a far narrower field of politically experienced women to select as a running mate, yet a number of fascinating possibilities.
Those who have been mentioned as could-be GOP vice presidential candidates include: Kelly Ayotte (former attorney general and now U.S. Senator from New Hampshire); Michele Bachmann (congresswoman from Minnesota and 2012 presidential candidate); Joni Ernst (U.S. Senator-elect from Iowa); Mary Fallin (former congresswoman and now governor of Oklahoma); Deb Fischer (U.S. Senator from Nebraska); Nikki Haley (governor of South Carolina); Susana Martinez (governor of New Mexico); Sarah Palin (former governor of Alaska and 2008 vice presidential nominee, still has a significant GOP following); Condoleezza Rice (former national security adviser and Secretary of State); and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (congresswoman from Washington). Republican pundits have suggested that the GOP nominee go outside the political sphere and tap someone like Meg Whitman, who unsuccessfully ran for governor of California between jobs heading eBay and Hewitt Packard, or Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook and bestselling author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (2013).
When I mentioned that Sandberg appeared to be a Democrat, I was reminded that Elizabeth Dole had been a Democrat as well, until Nixon brought her into the Republican Party. As we talked about Elizabeth, we both agreed no Republican woman was more qualified to be president, for she had served in the Johnson and Nixon White House as Deputy Assistant to the President for Consumer Affairs; Nixon appointed her to the Federal Trade Commission; she served in the Reagan White House before becoming Secretary of Transportation; from 1991 to 1999 she served as president of the American Red Cross; President George H. W. Bush appointed her Secretary of Labor, and was on Bush’s short list to be named vice-presidential nominee in 2000, the year she sought the GOP presidential nomination. Although she had not lived in North Carolina for years, in 2001 the powers-that-be cleared the way for her to seek and obtain the state’s U.S. Senate seat, where she served until 2008. Elizabeth was born in 1936 and if she is still in good health, she would be as powerful a vice presidential candidate as Hillary could be a presidential candidate.
I have a strong hunch that 2016 is going to be an historic year with a woman elected either president, vice president, or with Hillary it could be both. If any of this happens it will end the now stalled effort to bring more women into government service, particularly the top jobs, and if you have any doubt about that being a good idea simply look at how men have handled public business for the last 200 years in this county, not to mention other places in the world.