When Hillary Clinton started mentioning a potential role for her husband as an economy fixer on the campaign trail, she highlighted a potential vulnerability in her impending matchup with presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.
For all of her experience in foreign affairs and domestic policy — and for all the credit Bill Clinton gets for the strength of the economy during his presidency — she doesn’t have much of a background in economic policy. As secretary of State, she was the nation’s chief advocate for American companies’ efforts to secure contracts in foreign lands. The Clinton Global Initiative plays a convening role for financiers and projects that need funding, and she knows all the heavyweights in the economic policy world. But none of that makes her an economy czar.
Some voters are certain to see Trump, the billionaire real estate executive and marketing genius, as someone who has a good understanding of what it takes to create jobs.
In a CNN/ORC poll earlier this month, Clinton led Trump on nearly every issue, except handling the economy, where Trump had a 50 percent to 45 percent lead.
That’s one of the reasons why, even in this time of demagoguery against corporate titans, Clinton should put a former CEO of a Fortune 50 company on her short list of possible vice presidential candidates.
Along with Sens. Tim Kaine, Sherrod Brown and a couple of up-and-coming Democratic members of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, Clinton should consider former Procter & Gamble CEO and current Veterans Administration Secretary Bob McDonald as a running mate.
The Trump antidote
McDonald, 62, trumps Trump’s business-world experience. He took on the thankless task of reshaping the broken bureaucracy of the VA and he’s well-liked and well-respected on both sides of the aisle.
A West Point graduate who served in the 82nd Airborne Division and retired as a captain after five years in the Army, McDonald worked his way up the corporate ladder at P&G and spent years working for the company in Asia and Europe.
Make no mistake, many liberals would be furious at the notion that Clinton might pick a former CEO — and a donor to former Speaker John Boehner and Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman — to be one heartbeat away from the presidency. Translating his work at a department that remains rife with systemic problems would be a challenge, especially as Trump has knocked the VA’s current state as “unacceptable.” And McDonald was forced to admit last year that he had inflated his service by telling a veteran he had served in U.S. special forces when he had only completed Ranger training.
Clinton also has a history with McDonald that would make critics of her coziness with the business community a little more queasy. Where Clinton sees benefit in public-private partnerships, her detractors see conflicts of interest.
When McDonald was a top executive, P&G helped fund the Clinton State Department’s pavilion at the Shanghai Expo in 2010, and the company committed $3 million to purifying drinking water in East Africa through the Clinton Global Initiative. And at a State Department ceremony honoring P&G in 2012, Clinton handed McDonald an Award for Corporate Excellence.
All of that makes McDonald a tougher pick than, say, Kaine, the Virginia senator, whose appointment to the Democratic ticket would ruffle the fewest feathers. But, for better and worse, Clinton often takes criticism as a sign that she’s doing the right thing.
The right experience
McDonald ought to be in the mix. The most important factor in selecting a running mate should be his or her readiness to take over the presidency at a moment’s notice. McDonald’s combination of experience as a chief executive at the elite levels of both the private and public sectors recommend him for that task.
Even as the VA continues to struggle, he’s won high marks from Republicans for his competence and commitment to a job that, let’s face it, only an idiot or a dedicated patriot would have been willing to take on at the time he agreed to tackle it.
The other key consideration for a running mate, often in competition with competence, is whether he or she provides a benefit on the campaign trail.
Clinton will fight Trump for swing voters in swing states — folks who care about competent leadership and the strength of the economy — and McDonald would shore up her flank on both of those counts. His presence on the ticket would also reinforce the steady-hands narrative she’s tried to build.
While Trump’s business record is full of blotches, McDonald’s story at Procter & Gamble is one of success. Clinton may decide there’s a better pick than McDonald, but it would be a mistake not give him careful consideration.