Mr. Congeniality: Is Tim Kaine for Real?

Mr. Congeniality: Is Tim Kaine for Real?

When Hillary Clinton announced her choice of running mate on July 22, like many liberals, I initially blanched. Just who the heck is Tim Kaine, Senator from Virginia? And how does the selection of a lesser known, middle-aged white man help unify a party rent in two by a bruising Clinton/Sanders primary contest?

It became quickly apparent that Kaine is one of the most likable people in Washington. Tim Kaine’s Republican Fan Club includes longtime South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham who said in a candid display of admiration, “He’s sort of Biden-lite on the engagement with the Hill…Tim would be a good steady hand for her. He’d be well received on our side of the aisle if he’s an emissary from the President.”

Whoa. But wait, there’s more! Kaine is so spectacularly nice and approachable that he’s able to engage in regular conversation with Texas’ Senate pariah, Ted Cruz – without throwing up in his own mouth! Says Kaine of the unlikely duo, “We get along great…We’ve socialized together. Took dinners, sometimes he and I together, just the two of us. Sometimes with others. We’re often disagreeing, but we’re both serious about our work.”

Kaine’s anomalous popularity with conservatives can’t help but function as a 2016 asset. Last week’s Democratic National Convention, with all of its flag-waving patriotism, was in part a clear play for disaffected Republicans who can’t stomach pulling the Trump lever in November. Hillary Clinton’s semi-hawkish foreign policy positions were already a carrot. With Mr. Nice Guy on the ticket, the strategy may prove that much more effective.

One of Senator Kaine’s other surface selling points is his fluency in the Spanish language. Hillary’s electoral opponent, Donald Trump, is a man who’s publicly recorded a low opinion of Latino immigrants as follows, “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Not hurling scandalous slurs at nearly 20 percent of the total American population probably gives Clinton an advantage amongst these voters. Kaine’s linguistics could, on paper, yield the TKO.

But actions will matter more to this constituency than mere words. Conventional wisdom says that part of Hillary’s success, should she be elected President, hangs on her ability to do what previous POTUS’ George W. Bush and Barack Obama could not – pass comprehensive immigration reform. For those who have accepted Clinton running as the de facto third Obama term, immigration overhaul must be among the top priorities. Tim Kaine is a perfect wingman for that effort.

His positively ingratiating DNC speech (where among other talents, the candidate for VPOTUS displayed delight in roasting the Donald) featured several forays into bilingualism that offered real substance. Writer Katherine Don from Romper observed:

“It was here, while describing his experiences in Honduras, that Kaine proudly broke out the Spanish, declaring that he had learned the values of the Honduran village: ‘faith, familia, y trabajo!’ At that, the Philadelphia crowd enthusiastically held up signs reading ‘Juntos se puede,’ and Kaine translated his words into English: faith, family, and work. ‘Somos Americanos todos,’ he added…The fact that Kaine is a white dude who can speak Spanish well, and not just for show, wasn’t lost on viewers.”

The most cursory effort at researching Tim Kaine’s life, family and career reveal that the man may not have an inauthentic bone in his body. In a campaign cycle of historic cynicism levels, this is most refreshing. Conservatives would likely be quaking in their boots, were many of them not so turned off by their own nominee and deeply fond of Clinton’s running mate.

The knee-jerk liberal reaction to Kaine as a centrist pick with the ability to ingratiate himself with Latino voters is logical, but superficial. The real story here is the well-rounded nature of his experiences. Missionary, dedicated Catholic parishioner of a mostly African-American church, devoted husband and father from humble beginnings. Kaine is connecting with the country at lightning speed because he walks the walk. And let’s not forget, Virginia is a swing state in this election, a traditionally red one that has elected Kaine to several important posts.

Hillary may not have picked Bernie or Elizabeth Warren to stand beside her at the DNC. It’s a blow to some on the far left that will never be healed. But if at the end of the day, the goal is to win the Presidency with some modicum of character and decency, Hillary has definitely found the man.

Becky Sarwate

Becky Sarwate

Becky is an award-winning journalist, Op-Ed columnist and blogger. On March 29, 2018 her first book, Cubsessions: Famous Fans of Chicago’s North Side Baseball Team, will be published by Eckhartz Press. She is a proud Chicago resident, where Becky lives with her husband Bob. Check out her collected work at, and follow her on Twitter @BeckySarwate.