As Democrats aim to “unite the party” in the aftermath of the primary, speculation about Sen. Elizabeth Warren as Hillary Clinton’s choice for vice president has dominated the electoral news cycle.
Powerful Democratic politicians have been discussing this possibility, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who said he “wants Warren for VP.” The Senate’s number two Democrat, Dick Durbin, said Warren would be an “excellent choice.” The Boston Globe has reported that Reid has been assessing contingency plans for Warren’s Senate seat, should she be selected as Clinton’s running mate. This, according to the Globe, is an “indication of the seriousness” with which the Democrats are considering this possibility. This speculation is occurring soon after Warren endorsed Clinton and had a high-profile meeting with her in front of television cameras.
The media, too, has been running with the speculation. Dana Milbank of The Washington Post said Clinton “must choose Elizabeth Warren” as a running mate. Reuters reports that Warren is “intrigued” by the possibility. Rachel Maddow asked Warren if she could handle the responsibilities of the vice presidency (which, of course, always carries the possibility of assuming the presidency). Warren, without a moment’s hesitation, said “yes.” All of this has, understandably, fueled much excitement on Twitter (#WarrenforVP) and among progressive writers and pundits.
The benefits for the Democrats are clear. Warren is a progressive icon and would help Clinton court Sanders’ supporters into the fold. Warren can raise money like few others — her 2012 senatorial campaign against incumbent Scott Brown set fundraising records. A two-woman ticket would be a great sign of progress for gender equality. And perhaps most importantly, Warren is not afraid to confront Donald Trump. Two days after Clinton became the presumptive nominee, she called him “a thin-skinned, racist bully,” and a “fraud.”
Progressives, however, should take note: Warren, sadly, will probably not be named as Clinton’s running mate. The reason? The Democrats, and Clinton in particular, depend on the financial support of Wall Street. And they have been receiving it in droves.
“Hillary Clinton is consolidating her support among Wall Street donors and other businesses ahead of a general-election battle with Donald Trump, winning more campaign contributions from financial-services executives in the most recent fundraising period than all other candidates combined,” reported The Wall Street Journal.
This is not a new phenomenon. In 2008, Obama got more money from the finance sector than any candidate in history. Wall Street may generally prefer GOP policies, but they also like to be on the side of the winner. In 2008, when regulatory changes were inevitable and Obama was favored to win the White House, the finance industry wanted to have a friendly relationship with the soon-to-be President. This support continued in 2012. “Mr. Obama’s record in drawing money from Wall Street tracks his political evolution. No longer an insurgent challenger, he is now an incumbent president soaking up support from well-heeled interests,” reported the Wall Street Journal during the 2012 campaign. Moreover, the industry’s donations are highly coveted in down-ticket races for Congress.
Warren, however, is different from most Democrats in one significant way. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Warren (like Sanders) gets no money from Big Finance. In this they are basically alone among their peers in the Senate. Even Sherrod Brown, whom many view as the third most liberal Senator, gets some money from the industry. If Clinton and the Democrats choose someone like Warren — someone who owes the banks nothing and has devoted her career to fighting against their greed — the finance industry will probably take its money elsewhere, most likely to the Republicans. The GOP has already been benefiting from the industry’s donations going increasingly to GOP candidates, at the expense of the Democrats. Despite this trend, Wall Street seems far more comfortable with Clinton than with Trump. But adding Warren to the ticket could change that calculus.
Wall Street has already made threats over such matters. When Warren made harsh critiques of the big banks in 2015, they responded with the threat of cutting of the flow of money to the party. “Big Wall Street banks are so upset with U.S. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren’s call for them to be broken up that some have discussed withholding campaign donations to Senate Democrats in symbolic protest,” reported Reuters at the time. Citigroup decided to withhold donations to the Democrat Senatorial Campaign Committee, “over concerns that Senate Democrats could give Warren and lawmakers who share her views more power.” A 2015 Bloomberg article reported that Warren, and her advocacy of breaking up the big banks, “makes Wall Street tremble.”
But why then, are Democrats floating Warren’s name as a serious candidate? It may simply be about optics. The Democrats are putting on a show and hoping to court Sanders’ supporters in the process. By making it look like Warren is on the short list, it throws a small bone in the direction of progressives and allows them to look like they are on the same side as Warren (or Sanders) when it comes to opposing the big banks.
In reality, the Democratic Party will not choose Warren (or Sanders, for that matter). If the Democratic Party alienates the finance industry, it will lose donations — donations that the Republicans would then likely gain. And this will, in the long run, put the Democrats in a weakened positioned in the coming elections, including midterms.
Of course, when Warren is ultimately passed over for some Wall-Street friendly (probably white and male) establishment politician — Tim Kaine has been mentioned as a possibility — the influence of Wall Street will not be mentioned. The dominant media have shamelessly ignored the entire subject when they report on Clinton’s search for a running mate.
Instead the Democrats will cite other reasons. Clinton supporter and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell already laid the groundwork for such an excuse, saying Warren lacks sufficient experience. Warren has “no experience in foreign affairs and [is] not in any way, shape or form ready to be commander-in-chief,” Rendell said on a Philadelphia radio station. Of course, Warren has as much experience with foreign affairs as Obama did in 2008, but this doesn’t matter since the “experience” angle is just an excuse that sounds better than, “We can’t alienate our corporate funders on Wall Street.”
Others will say the Warren’s Senate seat is too important to risk giving up, even though only one Republican has held a Senate seat in Massachusetts in the last 37 years, and that was only for half of a term.
Money has had a sinister influence on elections for many years. The Citizens United ruling has only accelerated the problem. As a result, candidates such as Hillary Clinton who rely heavily on donations from Wall Street are compelled to consider the needs of these corporate donors as much, or more, than their actual, human constituents. This will not change until there is significant campaign finance reform, a point Bernie Sanders made over and over again in the last year.
If Clinton were to choose Warren, and put her so very close to a position of significant influence, the finance industry would likely make the Democrats pay, up and down the ticket. In effect, Wall Street has veto power over decisions like this.
Wall Street’s influence won’t end with the vice presidency. Should Clinton win, one can expect that, like Obama before her, she will appoint the same types of financial advisors with close ties to the big banks in important positions.
This scenario is one reason why Sanders challenged Clinton. The current campaign finance system forces politicians to make decisions based, in large part, on how it will impact their flow of corporate donations. And under the status quo, Congress’ most passionate crusader against the excesses of Wall Street greed is unlikely to serve as vice president. Not as long as corporate money dominates our broken democracy.