Friday, June 07, 2019

Why Run For President? (Instead of for a Cabinet Position)

Mark Tushnet

Imagine Jay Inslee saying, "Sure, I'd like to be President, but hey, the odds of that are pretty slim, and the fact of the matter is, I'd be pretty happy to be EPA administrator." (I'm reasonably sure that, if he's sensible, in the dark of the night Inslee thinks that already.) You can go through the list of Democratic candidates and assemble a pretty good, maybe even well-above-average, Cabinet: Kamala Harris for Attorney General; Pete Buttigieg for Secretary of State; Elizabeth Warren for Secretary of Treasury; and more. And any candidate who managed to pull this off -- that is, not just coming up with a list of people she or he would nominate for the Cabinet, but actually getting those people to agree, even to the point of withdrawing from the presidential primaries -- would go a long way not only to crafting a campaign but also to alleviating concern that the primary contest will severely weaken the eventual Democratic nominee.

The thought is that Democrats (and eventually, perhaps, Republicans) could move toward creating something like (a distant cousin of) a shadow Cabinet. And, unlike some of my other speculations about innovative political moves (such as the creation of formal government coalitions crossing party lines), there don't seem to be structural reasons standing in the way.

What does stand in the way, of course, is ego -- or, more politely, an often well grounded judgment by second-tier candidates (and even more so by some first-tier candidates): A person approached by candidate X to become a member of the shadow Cabinet will think, "Certainly not yet -- there's a decent chance that candidate X will stumble even if I sign on with her or him, and if I remain in the race there's some chance that I'll actually get the nomination." (We've already seen something akin to this in the tweetiverse reaction to suggestions -- not from any candidate -- that a ticket of Biden for President, Harris for Vice-President would be really strong.)

Here's a thought about a "second-best" solution -- the mutual love-fest of competing shadow Cabinets. Each candidate continues to say "I'm in it to win it, and I understand that everyone else is too" but then names a shadow Cabinet: Warren says, "I'd love to have Harris in my Cabinet as Attorney General, Buttigieg as Secretary of State, Inslee as EPA head." Harris says, "Warren for Treasury, Buttigieg for State, etc." And so on. Nobody has to settle in advance for second place, but perhaps the intensity of the competition for first place might diminish. (My cynical thought here is that the obstacle to the mutual love-fest isn't the candidates' egos, but the ambitions of their staffers, who aren't mature enough to do the appropriate calculations: the value of being a principal aide to a President discounted by the risk of complete failure in the primary elections and the risk of losing in the general election in part because of persisting bad feelings generated by the primaries, versus the value of being a deputy or assistant Secretary discounted by the smaller risk of failure of the shadow Cabinet strategy in the primary elections and the risk of losing in the general election anyway.)

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