The next president's Robin

Who will the presidential candidates in the race for the White House choose to be their running mate

In a particularly memorable statement that rather aptly summarized his central role in the first Bush presidency, Vice President Dan Quayle said he yearned to be "Robin to Bush's Batman".

While the seemingly never-ending primary season we are starting to see the conversation moving on to actual presidential campaigns, with one of the biggest questions of course being: who are the candidates likely to be for the number two slot?

The key thing with vice presidential candidates according to Dr Paul Rundquist, a visiting professor at the London School of Economics with 30 years experience in Capitol Hill, is that "you try to figure out where you are weakest as a candidate, and try to fill those gaps".

In other words, you use your vice presidential candidate to reach out to a constituency you worry might otherwise go to the other side - usually in the form of a someone from a keenly contested state, or someone whose personality touches a societal strata which might hesitate to vote for you. So if you are perceived as a godless tax raiser who is distrusted by his own base (step forward Senator McCain ), then you aim for a Veep candidate who is has gone on record as wanting to abolish the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and has taken holy orders (step forward Governor Huckabee).

This seems a natural pairing for Dr Rundquist, who sees Governor Huckabee's popular conservatism, state governmental experience (as Governor of Arkansas), and "proven ability to win votes in the Southern states" as factors that might appeal to Republican strategists who see all of these issues as possible holes for Maverick McCain.

However, for Alexandros Petersen, Section Director North America at the Henry Jackson Society and a longstanding McCainiac, Huckabee overplayed his hand, "he seemed to be angling for the VP spot under McCain, but he seems to have scuttled his chances by staying in the race too long".

He instead sees McCain taking on a number two along the lines of Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, "a young, exceedingly-popular governor with a catchy nick-name: 'T-Paw'". Pawlenty has been a staunch McCainiac from the beginning and his strong stance on immigration might balance some of the questions over Mack's perceived weakness on this topic, and finally, Minnesota is a key state for the Republicans come the election.

There is, however, one candidate on the Republican side that both Rundquist and Petersen, and the U.S. punditocracy all agree on, and that is the fabled Governor Charlie Crist of Florida. Already responsible for securing the state for Senator McCain in the primaries (and consequently doing the world a great service by putting the much needed nails in the coffin of the terrifying Giuliani campaign), Crist is a hugely popular governor in a state that has repeatedly proved to be central to U.S. campaigns (anyone remember the 2000 hanging chads?).

The problem with Crist, however, is best summarized by Dr Rundquist's point about the awkward nature of Senator McCain choosing another "old white man with white hair to help him run for president." If the Mack is facing off against either the first female or first African American to run for the highest office in the land, it will be an awful hard sell to present himself as something fresh and new if he is running with another silvered haired Southern gent.

This finally turns us to the Democratic race, which is a hard one to call in this field since a conclusion is by no means on the horizon. The fact that none of the heavy hitter candidates in the race who dropped out earlier (John Edwards or Governor Bill Richardson) have chosen to give their endorsement to each candidate is telling - both would bring substantial heft to either a Clinton or Obama ticket, and it is a time honoured tradition to bring on a close competitor in the primaries as your number two.

But the real question on everyone's mind is whether Obama and Clinton could team up. Traditional wisdom would dictate that while he could be seen to do it for her, she could never do it for him (the humiliation on her behalf, while he is still a young chap and could wait out eight years to season in the public eye and then sweep in as the incumbent - a sort of Gordon to her Tony). Paul Rundquist, however, sees it quite differently: "Obama does not see himself as a career politician - he isn't going to serve four terms in the Senate. Clinton on the other hand is a career civil servant."

For Hilary, there are more career options left in politics. "If she loses the presidential election, she could leverage her insider position to become the party leader in the Senate. If she loses the primaries and shows her loyalty by taking the vice presidential position, it would work for her either way."

This is certainly what some inside the party are already hoping for; Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean has already hinted that "we are going to have to get the candidates together and make some kind of an arrangement," and others have salivated at the opportunity of a Clinton-Obama "dream ticket."

The problem is that both candidates can see victory within reach, and consequently neither is willing to cede to the other in such an overt way - Senator Clinton's offer that she would take Obama on as her number two was little more than a bid to paint herself into the superior position.

Ultimately, whoever is chosen will be stepping into the substantial shade thrown by the Cheney vice presidentship, that has been characterised as more of a co-presidency. Back in the day, Vice President Truman was only in the job for three months when Roosevelt died. This time has passed and now the challenge is not to get stuck with a Dan Quayle (President Bush I's deputy who once boldly announced that "[it's] time for the human race to enter the solar system"), or a crook like Spiro Agnew who President Nixon brought on to assuage his conservative base and was eventually forced to quit after pleading guilty to charges of bribery and tax evasion.

Rest assured that we are not going to see any resolution to this question any time soon. Senator McCain will keep his powder dry until he knows what he is facing off against, and, for the Democrats, they need to decide who is actually going to run against him before they start choosing who will support whoever is running against him.

For us in Europe, this entire debate matters little - except for the fact that there is a strong possibility that whoever ends up with the Veep job will be the one who spends him time travelling around the world assuring us nervous European nellies that they are actually doing something about climate change.

Getty
Show Hide image

The French millennials marching behind Marine Le Pen

A Front National rally attracts former socialists with manicured beards, and a lesbian couple. 

“In 85 days, Marine will be President of the French Republic!” The 150-strong crowd cheered at the sound of the words. On stage, the speaker, the vice-president of the far-right Front National (FN), Florian Philippot, continued: “We will be told that it’s the apocalypse, by the same banks, media, politicians, who were telling the British that Brexit would be an immediate catastrophe.

"Well, they voted, and it’s not! The British are much better off than we are!” The applause grew louder and louder. 

I was in the medieval city of Metz, in a municipal hall near the banks of the Moselle River, a tributary of the Rhine from which the region takes its name. The German border lies 49km east; Luxembourg City is less than an hour’s drive away. This is the "Country of the Three Borders", equidistant from Strasbourg and Frankfurt, and French, German and French again after various wars. Yet for all that local history is deeply rooted in the wider European history, votes for the Front National rank among the highest nationally, and continue to rise at every poll. 

In rural Moselle, “Marine”, as the Front National leader Marine Le Pen is known, has an envoy. In 2014, the well-spoken, elite-educated Philippot, 35, ran for mayor in Forbach, a former miner’s town near the border. He lost to the Socialist candidate but has visited regularly since. Enough for the locals to call him “Florian".

I grew up in a small town, Saint-Avold, halfway between Metz and Forbach. When my grandfather was working in the then-prosperous coal mines, the Moselle region attracted many foreign workers. Many of my fellow schoolmates bore Italian and Polish surnames. But the last mine closed in 2004, and now, some of the immigrants’ grandchildren are voting for the National Front.

Returning, I can't help but wonder: How did my generation, born with the Maastricht treaty, end up turning to the Eurosceptic, hard right FN?

“We’ve seen what the other political parties do – it’s always the same. We must try something else," said Candice Bertrand, 23, She might not be part of the group asking Philippot for selfies, but she had voted FN at every election, and her family agreed. “My mum was a Communist, then voted for [Nicolas] Sarkozy, and now she votes FN. She’s come a long way.”  The way, it seemed, was political distrust.

Minutes earlier, Philippot had pleaded with the audience to talk to their relatives and neighbours. Bertrand had brought her girlfriend, Lola, whom she was trying to convince to vote FN.  Lola wouldn’t give her surname – her strongly left-wing family would “certainly not” like to know she was there. She herself had never voted.

This infuriated Bertrand. “Women have fought for the right to vote!” she declared. Daily chats with Bertrand and her family had warmed up Lola to voting Le Pen in the first round, although not yet in the second. “I’m scared of a major change,” she confided, looking lost. “It’s a bit too extreme.” Both were too young to remember 2002, when a presidential victory for the then-Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, was only a few percentage points away.

Since then, under the leadership of his daughter, Marine, the FN has broken every record. But in this region, the FN’s success isn’t new. In 2002, when liberal France was shocked to see Le Pen reach the second round of the presidential election, the FN was already sailing in Moselle. Le Pen grabbed 23.7 per cent of the Moselle vote in the first round and 21.9 per cent in the second, compared to 16.9 per cent and 17.8 per cent nationally. 

The far-right vote in Moselle remained higher than the national average before skyrocketing in 2012. By then, the younger, softer-looking Marine had taken over the party. In that year, the FN won an astonishing 24.7 per cent of the Moselle vote, and 17.8 per cent nationwide.

For some people of my generation, the FN has already provided opportunities. With his manicured beard and chic suit, Emilien Noé still looks like the Young Socialist he was between 16 and 18 years old. But looks can be deceiving. “I have been disgusted by the internal politics at the Socialist Party, the lack of respect for the low-ranked campaigners," he told me. So instead, he stood as the FN’s youngest national candidate to become mayor in his village, Gosselming, in 2014. “I entered directly into action," he said. (He lost). Now, at just 21, Noé is the FN’s youth coordinator for Eastern France.

Metz, Creative Commons licence credit Morgaine

Next to him stood Kevin Pfeiffer, 27. He told me he used to believe in the Socialist ideal, too - in 2007, as a 17-year-old, he backed Ségolène Royal against Sarkozy. But he is now a FN local councillor and acts as the party's general co-ordinator in the region. Both Noé and Pfeiffer radiated a quiet self-confidence, the sort that such swift rises induces. They shared a deep respect for the young-achiever-in-chief: Philippot. “We’re young and we know we can have perspectives in this party without being a graduate of l’ENA,” said another activist, Olivier Musci, 24. (The elite school Ecole Nationale d’Administration, or ENA, is considered something of a mandatory finishing school for politicians. It counts Francois Hollande and Jacques Chirac among its alumni. Ironically, Philippot is one, too.)

“Florian” likes to say that the FN scores the highest among the young. “Today’s youth have not grown up in a left-right divide”, he told me when I asked why. “The big topics, for them, were Maastricht, 9/11, the Chinese competition, and now Brexit. They have grown up in a political world structured around two poles: globalism versus patriotism.” Notably, half his speech was dedicated to ridiculing the FN's most probably rival, the maverick centrist Emmanuel Macron. “It is a time of the nations. Macron is the opposite of that," Philippot declared. 

At the rally, the blue, red and white flame, the FN’s historic logo, was nowhere to be seen. Even the words “Front National” had deserted the posters, which were instead plastered with “in the name of the people” slogans beneath Marine’s name and large smile. But everyone wears a blue rose at the buttonhole. “It’s the synthesis between the left’s rose and the right’s blue colour”, Pfeiffer said. “The symbol of the impossible becoming possible.” So, neither left nor right? I ask, echoing Macron’s campaign appeal. “Or both left and right”, Pfeiffer answered with a grin.

This nationwide rebranding follows years of efforts to polish the party’s jackass image, forged by decades of xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic declarations by Le Pen Sr. His daughter evicted him from the party in 2015.

Still, Le Pen’s main pledges revolve around the same issue her father obsessed over - immigration. The resources spent on "dealing with migrants" will, Le Pen promises, be redirected to address the concerns of "the French people". Unemployment, which has been hovering at 10 per cent for years, is very much one of them. Moselle's damaged job market is a booster for the FN - between 10 and 12 per cent of young people are unemployed.

Yet the two phenomena cannot always rationally be linked. The female FN supporters I met candidly admitted they drove from France to Luxembourg every day for work and, like many locals, often went shopping in Germany. Yet they hoped to see the candidate of “Frexit” enter the Elysee palace in May. “We've never had problems to work in Luxembourg. Why would that change?” asked Bertrand. (Le Pen's “144 campaign pledges” promise frontier workers “special measures” to cross the border once out of the Schengen area, which sounds very much like the concept of the Schengen area itself.)

Grégoire Laloux, 21, studied history at the University of Metz. He didn't believe in the European Union. “Countries have their own interests. There are people, but no European people,” he said. “Marine is different because she defends patriotism, sovereignty, French greatness and French history.” He compared Le Pen to Richelieu, the cardinal who made Louis XIV's absolute monarchy possible:  “She, too, wants to build a modern state.”

French populists are quick to link the country's current problems to immigration, and these FN supporters were no exception. “With 7m poor and unemployed, we can't accept all the world's misery,” Olivier Musci, 24, a grandchild of Polish and Italian immigrants, told me. “Those we welcome must serve the country and be proud to be here.”

Lola echoed this call for more assimilation. “At our shopping centre, everyone speaks Arabic now," she said. "People have spat on us, thrown pebbles at us because we're lesbians. But I'm in my country and I have the right to do what I want.” When I asked if the people who attacked them were migrants, she was not so sure. “Let's say, they weren't white.”

Trump promised to “Make America Great Again”. To where would Le Pen's France return? Would it be sovereign again? White again? French again? Ruled by absolutism again? She has blurred enough lines to seduce voters her father never could – the young, the gay, the left-wingers. At the end of his speech, under the rebranded banners, Philippot invited the audience to sing La Marseillaise with him. And in one voice they did: “To arms citizens! Form your battalions! March, march, let impure blood, water our furrows...” The song is the same as the one I knew growing up. But it seemed to me, this time, a more sinister tune.