Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s name keeps appearing on short lists of potential 2024 presidential candidates. Despite AOC’s minimal governing experience, her complete lack of foreign policy experience, and her youth, the general public views AOC as ready to take the next step. Frankly, I don’t see AOC as a viable candidate. Based on her inexperience and youth, yes, but also based on her demeanor and her divisiveness. Regardless, let’s entertain the possibility of an AOC presidential run and go over her most likely running mates.
First, let’s get a better sense of what the vice presidency is.
For most of American history, the vice presidency was a ceremonial, slighted post. The vice president was selected not to govern, or to partner with the president, but rather for the sake of bolstering the president’s electability – by “balancing.” The balancing could relate to either geography, or ideology, or both. For example, northerner John F. Kennedy selected southerner Lyndon B. Johnson as the vice president. Southern conservative Jimmy Carter selected northern liberal Walter Mondale as vice president. Typically, however, the vice president’s role didn’t extend much beyond helping the president get elected – especially if the president and vice president differed substantially with respect to ideology. “All too often the dynamic between the president and vice president ran the gamut from cold and distantly cordial to outright hostile,” Elaine Kamarck wrote for Brookings Institute. “The result was vice presidents who were cut out of the action, relegated to trivial duties, or dispatched to attend funerals in foreign countries or to take part in other, largely ceremonial roles.”
The vice presidency began to change from a ceremonial, electability booster to a proper partnership during the Clinton administration, when Al Gore served as vice president. Clinton delegated Gore substantial power and “treated vice-presidential projects as presidential projects.” The trend continued, indeed accelerated, during the Bush administration, where Dick Cheney served as the most powerful vice president ever. “It is not an exaggeration to say that [Gore and Cheney] exerted more influence on policy than all prior vice presidents combined,” Kamarck wrote. “Presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump did call their VPs.”
An AOC presidency would likely continue the trend of relying on the vice president as a partnership. AOC would be the youngest – and most inexperienced – president ever. Like Obama before her (who had barely served in the Senate before running for president) she would need some help navigating an increasingly complex governmental landscape. AOC would need her Biden equivalent – someone who knows his way around Washington. But AOC, on account of her divisive nature, would also benefit from some old-school vice presidential “balancing.” With partnership and balancing in mind, let’s look at the top picks for AOC’s vice president, in no particular order.
“Mayor Pete” markets himself as a progressive but he’s a mainstream McKinsey bro. He’ll say and promote whatever suits him in the moment, which, more often than not, is going to be Establishment-friendly. So, Buttigieg would complement AOC with respect to appearing progressive – while still being someone the Establishment is comfortable with. Buttigieg is also a Midwesterner, which could help firm up ticket support amongst the hotly contested rust belt. Although Buttigieg wouldn’t be able to help AOC navigate Washington – he has less experience than she does; he was the mayor of a big town before sliding into the Secretary of Transportation role under President Biden. Regardless, Buttigieg is popular, young, and will definitely hustle behind the scenes to get on any ticket.
On paper, Harris could work. She’s already served as vice president, senator, and attorney general. She’s experienced. She’s “diverse.” She’s from California and could give AOC, the New Yorker, appeal on each coast. The problem with Harris is that her popularity has nosedived during her time as vice president. Harris is generally understood to be doing a poor job. And also, it would be highly unorthodox for a vice president to serve under different presidents. It would also require a special kind of humility for Harris to serve as vice president under AOC, who is younger, less experienced, and would essentially be leapfrogging Harris to get to the presidency.
Clinton certainly knows her way around Washington. Formerly, she has served as the First Lady, in the Senate, and as Secretary of State. She has run two “front-runner” presidential campaigns. Clinton, along with her husband, former president Bill, basically is the Democratic Establishment. Hillary is also a policy wonk, capable of lending some substantiality to AOC’s effort. The problem with Hillary is that she has the stench of a loser. She was supposed to win in 2008 and she was supposed to win in 2016. She lost both campaigns. Further, Clinton is too capable, too experienced, and too vain to serve below the neophyte AOC. Besides, as Clinton likes to point out, she already served as the vice president during her husband’s administration.
Obama has been very clear that she does not intend to run for political office. Whether she means it is another story. Obama has never served as an elected official, although she did have a front row seat to her husband Barack’s presidency – and his overall political phenomena. Michelle is capable in her own right – plus exceedingly popular; she would have appeal among left-wing constituents. Obama would also increase support amongst black voters. But it’s hard to imagine Michelle running with AOC, who is younger, less educated, and less dignified. If Michelle were to break her vow never to enter politics, it would probably be a role that is not directly answerable to AOC.
Klobuchar has tons of relatable experience, as a corporate lawyer, as a district attorney, as a senator – she could help AOC find her way around. And Klobuchar, a Minnesota native, would help the ticket in the battleground midwestern states. Lately, Klobuchar has been railing against Big Tech – which could appeal to progressives and to AOC herself. Klobuchar is a safe, boring choice.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.