We've got some Friday breaking news here. The day after accepting the Republican nomination, Donald Trump is back to talking about how Ted Cruz's dad definitely knew Lee Harvey Oswald … hmm, this doesn't sound like news. Oh yes, the actual news is that Hillary Clinton picked a running mate.
Are you going to tell us who it is?
Don't you want to guess?
OK. It’s Virginia Senator Tim Kaine.
And what does that mean?
First off, this pick does a good job of illustrating the different ways Trump and Clinton view the general election. Trump doesn't seem like he ever wants to leave the primary, like a kid who keeps jumping back into the Spinning Teacups line even though his mom tells him he’ll throw up if he rides again. As the New York Times points out, his Thursday night speech shows that "he is content with the angry voters he has won, who thunderously cheered him on here, and indifferent about wooing those he has not."
As his press conference Friday morning made clear, the one in which he talked about the JFK assassination and that meme he retweeted calling Heidi Cruz ugly, Trump would rather make fun of Little Marco and Lyin' Ted for all eternity rather than deal with an opponent he hasn't beat. Trump’s vice-presidential pick reflects his adoration for all the fun he's had too; instead of shuffling to the middle in an oft-predicted, never-delivered pivot, Trump picked Mike Pence, a guy tailor-made to appeal to the kind of voters Republican candidates try to win over most … during a primary.
Clinton, on the other hand, had been counting down the days until the primary was finally over. The furthest ideological wings of a party are out in full force during primary season, and lefty voters don't like Clinton. Now that it's over, she doesn't want to look back. Hence Kaine, the running mate who will do little to help or hurt her campaign — or excite it — but also happens to have a career that fits neatly with her ideas of how government should work — incrementally and pragmatically. We definitely shouldn't have been surprised by this choice. Of course, Hillary Clinton made the most cautious choice of running mate possible.
Who is this person?
Kaine, 58, has represented Virginia in the Senate since 2013. He was also Virginia's governor for four years, as well as DNC chair, Virginia's lieutenant governor, and mayor of Richmond. So, he's got lots of experience. Before his political career, he worked as a fair-housing lawyer. He is devoutly Catholic, and spent time as a missionary in Honduras, where he learned to speak Spanish. He's also somewhat of a perennial veepstakes short-lister; he was a finalist for Barack Obama’s ticket in 2008. Unlike the Republican vice-presidential pick, he has not voiced any strong negative feelings about the Disney movie Mulan.
Zzzzzzz -- wait, what?
Let's just say that he isn't someone who’s going to get anyone too worked up. Kaine himself has joked that he is boring; Clinton told Charlie Rose, "I love that about him." The fact that Trump picked Pence — which is like if KFC started selling a Double Down with spirulina and fish oil and no one noticed because it tasted exactly the same as before, because it was such a negligible amount of spirulina and fish oil that it didn't actually have any nutritional value — let Clinton pick the most Clintonly safe pick possible.
Bernie voters are among those who are decidedly not excited.
What are they saying about Kaine?
Right now, they aren't too pleased. Although Kaine checks off necessary boxes on plenty of liberal issues, he isn't at the forefront of the economic ones, like income inequality, that made Sanders's campaign spread like wildfire. He's generally supported trade deals, and isn't out there blasting Wall Street like Elizabeth Warren.
His position on abortion doesn't always make liberals happy. Since getting elected to the Senate, he's had a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood, but his record in the Virginia statehouse was a bit more mixed. (Kaine is pro-choice, but personally against abortion.)
Overall he's … a pretty standard Democrat. If you happen to be a Bernie supporter, that might not be encouraging. After the primary in 2008, however, a significant number of Clinton backers said they wouldn't support Obama. He still won — and it probably wasn't because Clinton voters were Joe Biden fans. But that does leave the Clinton campaign with the need to find another way to win over young or lefty voters.
What about everyone else on her list?
Many in Clinton's party were hoping she would use her vice-presidential pick to make the ticket look more like the voters that Democrats want to attract. Running mates don't sway constituents, but they can make a statement. Clinton is the first woman to win a major presidential party nomination, but she is also 68 years old. There has never been a Hispanic or black vice-presidential nominee. Forty-one-year-old Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, 47-year-old Senator Cory Booker, and 54-year-old Labor Secretary Tom Perez were also all listed as possible running mates.
In the end, however, Warren will probably have far more power to push the policies that progressives want right where she is in the Senate, and will be able to continue to make income inequality her primary focus. She'll probably be out on the campaign trail a bunch anyway this fall, thinking up new ways to insult Trump so the people at the top of the ticket don't have to.
If all the people Clinton didn't stay out on the trail, spreading a message of income inequality and civil rights and labor and issues younger voters care about, that leaves Kaine to serve as the gentle smell of freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies wafting through the presidential race, so nice and soothing that he makes the Democratic ticket look very calming compared to its opponents, who just spent an entire week forecasting that DEATH WILL COME FOR US ALL.
There's also an even more boring reason Clinton probably wanted to pick Kaine.
It has to do with the Senate. If Clinton picks a senator to as running mate and the ticket wins, her VP’s governor gets to select a temporary replacement while a special election is scheduled. Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown — another figure who would have made the left happier — all represent states with Republican governors. Kaine doesn't, which helps Democrats inch closer to a Senate majority. Of course, they could lose the seat in a 2017 special election if the GOP manages to get enough voters riled up about the first year of a Clinton presidency. But … look over there, the first 100 days!
Isn't Virginia a swing state?
Yes, but it isn't clear that Kaine would help the Democrats in that state. Nate Silver wrote in 2012 that running mates "produced a net gain of only about two percentage points for the top of the ticket in his home state" on average since 1920.
So what does all this mean?
Ultimately, nothing. This election is about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Tim Kaine and Mike Pence are just the sidekicks they have selected to provide amusing facial expressions while this face-off takes place, and to remind us what actual debates look like after we sit through Clinton and Trump's — which should already be on every Must-Watch TV Pilots list this fall.
No one is going to change their vote because Tim Kaine is on the ticket. But anyway, all the mystery is gone now and the general election is almost here.