As the tension around presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden seems to be increasing, the fight among prospective candidates to be his running mate has not abated. While the question over whether Biden’s candidacy can remain viable is becoming more suspenseful with each day due to the sexual accusations of Tara Reade and now Eva Murry. In the #MeToo era, Biden (or his inner circle) have gambled on a female running mate being the keystone to his strategy of taking the White House and ending the Trump era. But the choice is not so simple, mainly because many of the leading ladies were his opponents during the primary, and in some cases they took direct shots at him.
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For the Biden campaign the challenge is much more daunting, since he would turn 78 less than three weeks after the election. Biden already acknowledged in January that he needs a young VP capable of being president immediately, because “I’m an old guy”. Several candidates have been thrown into the mix, some of them more the product of media speculation than serious consideration:
Great Lakes, Limited choices: One of the main concerns that the Democrats have is in reclaiming the old Rustbelt states of the Midwest: Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. With 46 electoral votes between the three in 2016, they provided the margin of victory that doomed the Hillary Clinton campaign. But as mentioned above the candidate must be a woman, so male midwesterners like Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown or West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin are out of the question. The two most often mentioned are Sen. Amy Klobuchar (MN) and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. But Whitmer has been at the center of contentious protests owing to her high handed quarantine mandates during the Coronavirus epidemic, and on May 3 in response to Reade’s allegations said that “not every claim is equal”. Add to this the fact that Whitmer has been in office less than two years and has no foreign policy experience.
As for Klobuchar, many had hoped during the primaries that she would emerge as the voice of the centrist Democrats, but that never happened. Newspapers constantly remarked about how she seemed to have momentum but would have to “keep it alive”, but her best showing was third place in New Hampshire after which she promptly bowed out. Klobuchar’s main selling points are her electability and her long track record in three Senate terms, but her “Minnesota nice” personality (that’s not a compliment, look it up) is too bland to electrify voters. Still, she has a healthy chance of getting the nod given her reliability and role as the head of the US Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee. Fresh off re-election in 2018, she risks little by running.
Dances with Lies: The Democratic leadership would have loved to have Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren backing up Biden. In the 2000s it was her advocacy against banks and Wall Street that led to the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under Obama in 2011. A Harvard Law professor until then, Warren used the political capital from this to successfully challenge Republican Scott Brown in 2012. Until 2015 Warren was considered the standard bearer for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. That year former Harvard colleague Larry Lessig declared his intention to run because Warren wouldn’t. It was also the reason that Bernie Sanders ran that year. From then on, Sanders attracted throngs of admirers and volunteers and became a serious threat to the Hillary Clinton campaign after winning states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and West Virginia. But rather than back Bernie during the campaign, Warren held her tongue and eventually endorsed Clinton once the race was effectively clinched.
In 2020 Warren did enter the race on February 9, 2019 a full ten days before Bernie announced his own candidacy. But for much of the race she was playing catch-up behind Sanders and Biden. In the Fall of 2019 she briefly surged thanks to good press and her detailed plans, but when even liberal media called them out as deceptively structured her campaign collapsed.
Warren still has decent prospects of being named the VP nominee, but a number of past mistakes could tank her bid. The foremost among them are her comically ridiculous past claims of Native American ancestry that she eventually had to recant after several embarassing episodes. This is a topic where Trump particularly enjoys savaging her reputation by calling her “Pocahontas”. Secondly, Warren alienated most of the Sanders base in January when her aides dubiously claimed that she told them that he said in private conversation that a woman could not win the presidency. This led to a famous confrontation on the debate stage and afterward, and a heavy backlash from Sanders’ much larger fanbase that effectively sunk her fortunes. Warren may therefore be a toxic selection given that she would embolden the Trump campaign attacks while also causing indignation among the left-wing activist base. Warren also held out on endorsing Biden until weeks after she was no longer viable.
Kamala Chameleon and the Wamen of Colour: In the interval between the last election and the upcoming one, many Democrats have expressed opinions on race that run the full spectrum between apathy and lunacy. Former Bernie press secretary Symone Sanders declared only two weeks after the 2016 election that “we don’t need white people leading the Democratic Party now”. But in 2019 Joe Biden, a geriatric white man, hired as his senior advisor none other than the same Symone Sanders. In February, with the nomination still completely wide open, Biden vowed to pick a “woman of colour” as his running mate. It was a sign of his own personal insecurity given that he had been the VP for the first black president. Biden was assailed repeatedly while on the primary campaign trail by critics of his policies toward minorities. Julian Castro, who like Biden served under Obama as his HUD Secretary, attacked the administration’s deportation policy. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) ridiculed him for his anti-marijuana stance and claimed that the drug was effectively already legal for privileged white people.
But the opponent who went most directly against the former vice president was Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), who attacked Biden in the very first debate over his opposition to integration through forced busing in the 1970s. Biden had bragged about his ability to find common ground with old Southern Democrat senators John Eastman and Herman Talmadge. Harris’s attack landed hard at the time, and Biden meekly ended his own argument by saying “anyway, my time is up”. But by December Harris’s own campaign had been deflated thanks to distrust from the black community, Tulsi Gabbard’s successful attack on her prosecutorial record, and the entrance of Michael Bloomberg into the race as she was running out of money. By March 8 Harris had endorsed Biden following Super Tuesday and in a staged video committed her group of supporters known as #KHive to getting him elected after he asked for their help. Biden unfortunately is probably unaware that the #KHive are a small subculture of woke bitter Twitter creatures and stans that spend most of their time hating on other Democrats for being racist and misogynistic.
What Harris lacks in public popularity and Rust Belt appeal she makes up for among Democrat powerbrokers in that she can be a reliable enforcer of their mandates. An excellent example was when she vowed in September 2019 that she would impose an assault weapons ban by executive order if necessary. All of this has put Harris near or at the top of all betting odds on the VP nomination, regardless of what she said about Biden in the past.
Other “WOC” candidates that could make the cut are Susan Rice and Rep. Val Demings (D-FL), one of the Trump impeachment House managers, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. The Dems’ dream candidate, former First Lady Michelle Obama, has been ruled out by the Obamas’ top acolyte Valerie Jarrett. One who seems to have overplayed her hand is former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who insiders claim “no one takes seriously”. Abrams at one point touted her 25 years of “independent study” on foreign policy, which for all anyone knows could amount to a monthly subscription to National Geographic or Travel + Leisure.
While the speculation continues to build, there’s nothing saying that Biden must make the choice anytime soon. In 2016, Tim Kane was not selected as Clinton’s running mate until July 22, and Biden was only selected as Obama’s VP pick on August 23, 2008. The New York Times has published an op-ed by Elizabeth Bruenig called “Democrats, it’s time to consider a plan B“, which cites Rebecca Traister as saying that any female politician that may agree to join the ticket into a “poisonous bind”. The clear signal from many on the left is that even if they will not attack Biden directly for his sexual harassment allegations, they know the difficulty of defending him given their own previous statements.
The author continues to stand by his prediction from earlier this year that Kamala Harris will be the nominee, given how pundits once called her the “female Obama” and the way the media bemoaned her campaign’s failure as the result of racism and misogyny. CBS News has released a poll showing Elizabeth Warren running ahead of Kamala Harris. But the Boston Globe, Warren’s hometown newspaper that fawns over her and other New England Democrat politicians published an opinion on May 3 claiming that “Kamala Harris is Biden’s best choice for vice president”. Bill Scher of Politico has called Harris the “Do no harm choice for VP”. In March it was reported by CNBC that Biden’s business allies were lobbying for Harris to be picked. As a sitting senator she has more standing to appear on the news cycle than a failed gubernatorial candidate like Abrams, and she has a more ferocious group of backers than Klobuchar. Most of all, her calls to prosecute Trump for obstruction of justice based on the findings of the Mueller probe are useful in framing her as a “wartime” running mate as opposed to less feisty picks like Klobuchar and Warren.
The historical risk
Joe Biden is not the first politician to try to gain votes by selecting a supporting cast based on chromosomes rather than qualifications. The first female VP nominee, Geraldine Ferraro, was selected in 1984 after an op-ed in Time asked “Why Not a Woman?” back when Time editorials still were major movers of public opinion. But Ferraro’s strong personality overshadowed the main candidate, former VP Walter Mondale, and when her husband refused to release their joint tax returns for their business it became a distraction that only helped drag down the ticket toward its eventual thrashing by the Reagan-Bush ticket. In 2008 the John McCain campaign opted for Sarah Palin as a way of contrasting the headliner’s age with a young, peppy, religious mother and state governor. But the aides that selected her, Steve Schmidt and Nicolle Wallace, failed to do substantial background vetting beyond internet searches and she became a gaffe machine on the campaign trail. Worse than that, McCain’s staff discovered that once Palin was on board they didn’t like her and could not adequately control her, claiming that she had “gone rogue” when she objected to a decision to pull resources from Michigan in late October. And who can forget Bill and Hillary Clinton’s “two for the price of one” pitch in 1992 implying that she would be a strong first lady? Hillary’s legal troubles including Whitewater and Travelgate would bog down the Clinton White House in constant legal quagmires.
Just north of the border when Justin Trudeau was elected Prime Minister of Canada he appointed a cabinet that was “gender balanced” and explained the choice by saying “because it’s 2015”. This type of posturing may have caused some eyes to roll, but was heartily exalted by the world media and celebrities like Emma Watson. This also only happened after the election, so he could grandstand about being a feminist without actually having to commit to it early. But Trudeau would live to rue his decision as two of the women, Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, turned against him during the SNC Lavalin scandal and had to be expelled from the Liberal Party. There are still examples of female deputies and staff that become assets, whatever one thinks of their boss, such as Barack Obama’s Public Engagement director Valerie Jarrett and National Security Advisor Susan Rice or Donald Trump’s PR people Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, Kellyanne Conway and Kayleigh McEnany.
In 2020, Biden’s candidacy is plagued by problems that would be a far bigger challenge than anything a running mate of either sex has encountered. While McCain was decades older than Palin, he wasn’t suffering from cognitive decline at the time like Biden. Mondale was not out of step with the youngest Democrats in 1984 the way Biden is, and he had won the nomination by fighting off powerful rivals like Gary Hart and Jesse Jackson. And as for Trudeau, he had the benefit of being young and admired by women himself for his looks when he ran and not having to declare a running mate in the Canadian parliamentary system. All of these factors combined mean that this may be as ill-fated a no. 2 position as first mate on The Titanic.