I assume this is more of a courtesy vetting than anything, designed to woo veterans by placing a top officer on the public short list, but maybe not. Maybe Trump flirting with Gen. Michael Flynn as his number two has Hillary worried that a strongman and a general on the opposing ticket isn’t a great match-up for the would-be first woman president, especially with the public worried about terrorism and social unrest.
Would putting Stavridis on her own ticket make voters more likely to see her as “tough”? I’m skeptical, but Hillary Clinton doesn’t go to the bathroom without focus-grouping it first. She must have her reasons.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign is vetting James G. Stavridis, a retired four-star Navy admiral who served as the 16th supreme allied commander at NATO, as a possible running mate, according to a person with knowledge of the vetting process…
The Clinton campaign declined requests for comment, and Mr. Stavridis declined to comment other than referring calls to the campaign. The person with knowledge of the vetting spoke anonymously because of the sensitive nature of the process.
In 2012, Mr. Stavridis was investigated for having improperly used a military aircraft to fly with his wife to an exclusive party in Burgundy, France with winemakers.
The investigation cleared him of misconduct. (Insert your own joke here about the Clintons admiring his ability to wriggle free from ethical trouble.) NBC News confirmed that Stavridis is getting a look from Team Clinton and has met with the lawyer leading the effort for the campaign. One question left unanswered, though: When did they start vetting him? Was it before Trump floated Flynn’s name or was this a hastily assembled response, designed to show that Republicans don’t have a monopoly on military support?
As for why a woman commander-in-chief might seek extra military credibility from a running mate, especially if she’ll be facing Benghazi attacks from Trump for the next three months, here’s a clue via YouGov data from 2014:
The gap is widest among Republicans but in every partisan group, including her own, there’s a significant minority who think a male candidate would be tougher than a female — or rather, there’s a minority who admit they think that way. The actual number may be higher. Relatedly, here’s some more YouGov data, this time from last November, tracking perceptions on Trump and Hillary as C-in-C. Ask voters who’s more ready to direct the military and who’d do better handling a crisis and Hillary wins easily. Ask them who’s “tougher” and, well…
Having a respected commander, formerly top dog in Europe, out on the trail arguing that the woman candidate in the race is the one he trusts to give the orders might soften up some of the skeptics about her “toughness.” And it might also blunt some of Trump’s attacks on “globalist” institutions like NATO, which Stavridis used to lead. Having him rather than her rebut Trump’s criticisms will lend an element of authority to the anti-isolationist argument. If Hillary is responding to Trump on NATO, it’s politics. If Stavridis is responding to him, it’s strategy.
One irony to all of this, though: Increasingly it seems like the Flynn bubble has popped for Trump. Flynn’s 24-hour flip-flop on abortion was lame even for a novice politician and Trump’s comments about what he’s looking for in a VP to WaPo yesterday imply that he’s thinking more about enlisting an operator on the Hill than a serviceman.
Trump was careful not to eliminate Flynn, but explained his reasons for prioritizing political experience over military credentials. “I have such great respect for the general, but believe it or not, that will be one of my strong suits,” he said. Second, he added, he sees picking a politician as a way to bring his party together for the fall campaign.
“I don’t need two anti-establishment people,” Trump said. “Someone respected by the establishment and liked by the establishment would be good for unification.”
When Flynn’s name first came up as a finalist for VP, political media leaped to note that Perot and George Wallace also named top military officers as running mates when they ran. True enough — that was a way to signal their independence from normal party politics. But Perot and Wallace were independents. Trump, although he’s running as a de facto independent, is the presumptive Republican nominee. He has a shot at winning only because he’s expecting to carry most of the traditional Republican base with him in November. As such, he’s under pressure to make a concession to them that Perot and Wallace weren’t. Flynn is not only a Democrat, he’s a Democrat who’s dubious on the most important social issue to the GOP’s evangelical voters. And Trump is right in what he told WaPo: One of his “strong suits” already is the sort of authoritarian appeal that would otherwise come with adding an officer to the ticket. Why does a strongman president need a military man to reinforce his strength? If anything, he needs the opposite, the sort of run-of-the-mill traditional politician whose presence will signal that Trump won’t be such a loose cannon after all.
Exit question: What are the odds that either Stavridis or Flynn end up on a ticket? Hillary’s already seen as too hawkish per her Iraq vote by the Bernie-loving progressives in the party she’s hoping to consolidate. Now she’s going to pass Elizabeth Warren over for an admiral?