Wall Street cash or Elizabeth Warren: Hillary's choice

All eyes on Elizabeth Warren as potential VP pick
All eyes on Elizabeth Warren as potential VP pick

Wall Street has an unambiguous message for Hillary Clinton: Don't pick Elizabeth Warren as your vice president if you want to keep getting our money.

That warning came through very clearly in over a dozen interviews I did over the last week with some of the largest Democratic donors on Wall Street who have helped fund Clinton's campaigns over the years as well as funneled cash to Bill Clinton's political career in the 1990s.

"If Clinton picked Warren, her whole base on Wall Street would leave her," one top Democratic donor who has helped raise millions for Clinton told me. "They would literally just say, 'We have no qualms with you moving left, we understand all the things you've had to do because of Bernie Sanders, but if you are going there with Warren, we just can't trust you, you've killed it.'"

The arguments of course are mostly self-serving. The financial services industry loathes Warren, who more than anyone in the last 80 years has channeled the rage against Wall Street that began with the Great Depression and continues to course through the nation following the 2008 financial crisis. Warren wants to break up the nation's largest banks. She created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The mere mention of her name draws groans from bankers.

But there is at least a bit of substance to their arguments. Bankers believe Clinton, should she win, will have an opportunity to make deals with Republicans in Congress to pass major infrastructure spending coupled with international tax reform during her first months in office. And they think Warren in the VP's office would make cutting any such deals harder.

"Clinton is going to face a divided government unless there is a total tsunami," said one moderate Washington Democrat with close ties to the banking industry. "What you want in a vice president is someone who can negotiate for you on the Hill, someone like Joe Biden. And that is not a Warren strength."

The bankers I spoke with also said they thought there was no chance Clinton would tap Warren. The arguments: The two don't really get along; Clinton would never pick a number two who could outshine her; Clinton doesn't want a VP who would create her own power center in both the campaign and the White House.

"First of all, they don't particularly like each other," said one prominent hedge fund manager who has raised millions for Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton before her. But, the manager added, "The absolute predicate for a vice presidential nominee is they have to understand they are No. 2 both during the campaign and once you take office, and I just don't think Elizabeth Warren is that type of person."

The financial considerations for Clinton are significant. Picking Warren could seriously deflate a major source of her campaign cash. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Clinton and outside groups supporting her have raised $289 million so far in the 2016 campaign. The securities and investment industry is easily Clinton's top source of money, donating over $28 million so far.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

But proponents of Warren said a bunch of Wall Street bankers whining would actually boost the Massachusetts senator's chances of getting the VP slot. "Great piece," one prominent progressive emailed on Monday. "I'm sure we'll be circulating some of the golden quotes from Wall Street!"

This progressive also noted that a Warren selection could lead to a massive outpouring of small dollar, grassroots donations to the campaign that could more than recoup money lost from Wall Street. In addition, rich liberals who like Warren would be more likely to cut big checks to the DNC and outside groups backing the presumptive Democratic nominee.

One Democrat close to the Clinton campaign said the Wall Street donor story was great for Warren's chances: "I can't think of a dumber strategy to derail Warren than a bunch of Wall Street execs saying she's unacceptable," this Democrat said. "Literally. Like that story couldn't be better for her if she planted it."

Still, a Warren pick remains unlikely. Clinton has a lead over Donald Trump at the moment. The presumptive GOP nominee's campaign is a mess. Trump has no ads on the air at the moment while Clinton's campaign and outside groups are spending tens of millions in swing states. Trump is feuding with the NRA over his comments about how Orlando club goers could have stopped the mass shooting last week if they had been armed. And the Manhattan real estate mogul began the week by firing his campaign manager.

So the last thing a temperamentally cautious Clinton needs or wants to do is go bold and risky with her VP pick. Warren would clearly fire up the liberal base. But she would present a risk on the money front and could turn off moderate Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans.

So the veepstakes betting line still favors a quiet, consensus choice for the number two slot. At the moment, the leading candidate remains Tim Kaine, a popular Virginia senator who speaks fluent Spanish, comes from a swing state, sits on the Armed Services Committee and passes the "I could see this person as president" test.

Warren would be more of a Hail Mary choice for a campaign running from behind. The Clinton campaign is very far from that.

—Ben White is Politico's chief economic correspondent and a CNBC contributor. He also authors the daily tip sheet Politico Morning Money [politico.com/morningmoney]. Follow him on Twitter @morningmoneyben.