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The Biden Veepstakes: Let’s get premature!

With the United States stuck in a holding pattern, I would say you might have forgotten we’re just six months away from the “Most Important Election of our Lifetimes” since we had the 2018 Midterm “Most Important Election of our Lifetimes,” but let’s be real. You’re stuck in your home all day with nothing to do but binge the latest Netflix miniseries and watch the news.

You definitely didn’t forget we’re just six months away from the 2020 U.S. Presidential “Most Important Election of our Lifetimes.”

Unless you’re as focused on your day job as, say, Alabama coach Nick Saban, you’ve known since November 9, 2016 that we would do the whole thing again in November 2020. If you take a keen interest in presidential politics, right now you are begging — craving — for something interesting to talk about regarding the upcoming  “Most Important Election of our Lifetimes,” and for many people the most interesting topic seems to be which human could be subject to four years of speculation about a 2024 run while being vested with very little formal power. 

That is to say everyone wants to know whom presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden will pick as his running mate.

Now, a pandemic and a presidential campaign make particularly strange bedfellows, and that is really complicating the general strategy for Biden. After all, with many parts of the country on lockdown, townhalls in New Hampshire and “spontaneous” stops for coffee and an omelette at a central-Pennsylvania diner, aren’t exactly easy to coordinate. If it wasn’t clear before Donald Trump’s remarkable run to victory in the 2016 “Most Important Election of Our Lifetimes,” in a presidential campaign, airtime is oxygen. The President has tried his best to take advantage of the exposure his daily improv rehearsals provide, but if his reviews are to be trusted, the man really needs some work on his “Yes, and…” skills

On the other hand, Biden, confined to the makeshift TV studio in his Delaware basement, does not have the same ability to grab attention as the Commander-in-Chief. When a President seizes the opportunity to display their decisiveness and effective management skills while navigating the country through a once-in-a-lifetime crisis — and dominates the airwaves in the process –the opposing candidate is faced with an insurmountable challenge. But, to put it delicately, this is not that world

So far, Biden seems to have done a decent job of giving Trump enough political rope, but in the eyes of many politicos and Democratic strategists, this is an opportunity for Biden to suck up some of that precious oxygen and breathe a little. For those claiming his best shot at winning in November is to steal the newscycle, the answer seems clear: Announce your Vice President now.

Let’s calm down a bit.

Many of us may be eager for interesting developments to salve our boredom, but we won’t get an answer to this question for a while. In fact, in the past 50 years, the earliest any Vice Presidential running mate has ever been announced was July 6, 2004, when John Kerry announced he had tabbed a human $400 haircut to join him on the ticket. In 2008, Barack Obama didn’t announce Biden as his running mate until August 23. John McCain waited six more days to make his own announcement.

What I’m saying is, Biden is happy to toss out morsels of information to keep you paying attention, but any real announcement is likely two months off if not longer, and for good reason. After all, the constitution may have enshrined the Veep with little actual influence — Benjamin Franklin is famously said to have dubbed the position “His Superfluous Excellency” — but in the modern political sphere, most Vice Presidents are not just mascots tasked with rallying votes. They immediately top the list of Presidential contenders in future elections.

Rumors abound that Biden, who will turn 78 two weeks after the election, is only planning to hold office for one term should he win. That is probably not true, but it places a premium on selecting someone who could feasibly be viewed as a strong heir apparent. Biden has also already publicly stated that his nominee will be a woman. While there is extensive literature on the reasons women actually tend to make better leaders than men, America is now 0 for 3 in recognizing that virtue when it comes to high office. Breaking barriers means finding the “right” candidate in more ways than one.

So picking a Vice President isn’t like trying a new brand of cereal. It literally can change the course of history, which is to say that when the topic came up at our recent Oppy board meeting, I strenuously argued that we take our time before going through the potential candidates.

Well, I lost that argument, so here we are.

Before we start, let me be clear about one overarching parameter of this discussion that you need to understand: Predictions are silly. If you knew who Sarah Palin was in May of 2008, you are either from Alaska or more politically wired in than I am. As a result, Biden’s running mate may very well be someone who is not on this list. If that’s the case, well, cool. Like I said, it’s probably too early to have a serious discussion about this anyway.

Here we go:

Elizabeth Warren — If you’re a left-leaning college-educated white person like I am, odds are you probably wanted Warren to be on the top of this ticket. You also probably just can’t understand how the rest of America didn’t see that she was clearly the best-prepared candidate for the job. Well, many Democrats are still hoping Warren will get the VP nod, and she’s the preferred choice of one surprising pundit. Warren brings obvious appeal as a media-savvy, policy-wise politician, whose dedicated following would help Biden shore up the liberal wing of the party. Still, there are two big obstacles in her path. For one, she’s one of the most effective senators the Democratic party has, and her bulldog reputation in hearings may make her a more valuable asset if she remains in the legislative branch. The larger problem is that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker is a Republican, meaning he would almost certainly pick a conservative to fill Warren’s seat should she assume the Vice Presidency. Handing a senate seat over to the Republicans would likely cost the Democrats any shot at a majority, stopping a Biden agenda dead in its tracks. Democrats do currently hold a veto-proof majority in both chambers of the Massachusetts state legislature, meaning they could theoretically compel Baker to appoint a Democrat to fill Warren’s hypothetically-vacant seat, but is the Biden campaign willing to risk that they will?

Kamala Harris — Harris’ history as a prosecutor has given some voters pause, but she is a popular progressive voice and, similar to Warren, has quickly learned how to use televised hearings to effectively wield power in the senate. She also brings high appeal as someone who would not relent in the VP’s traditional role of attack dog. However, many VP candidates are chosen because they offer a constituency that broadens the party’s coalition, and I’m not sure I see how Harris does that. Biden is already extremely popular with African-American voters, and Harris’ home state of California is firmly in the Democrats’ column. In terms of policy, Harris doesn’t really claim ownership of a particular position that isn’t also shared by other options. A far more likely scenario is that Biden, who has said he would appoint a black woman to the Supreme Court, would tab Harris as Attorney General while she tops the list for a future vacancy if Ruth Bader-Ginsburg decides to retire.

Stacey Abrams — Ever since her narrow, and in the minds of some, questionable loss to Brian Kemp in the 2018 Georgia Governor’s race, Abrams has become a darling of the Democrats’ progressive flank. While her national political experience is limited, she is ambitious, brilliant, deft at managing the media, and actively spearheads efforts to expand voting rights in real, tangible ways. She is seen as a candidate who could inspire the youth vote that helped carry Obama into office, and she could also bring the dependably-red Peach State into the electoral equation after years of Georgia’s voting population trending closer to the center. Plus, she’s written romance novels. That is impressive versatility. Still, Abrams’ resume is light. To this point, the highest office she’s held has been Minority Leader for the Georgia State House of Representatives. As well, Abrams’ braggadocio has rubbed some the wrong way, as detractors deride her as openly campaigning for the gig. That seems like a curious criticism to me. I suspect most people when asked if they would be interested in the No. 2 job in their field would probably say yes.

Marianne Williamson — Williamson made a dramatic impression with voters early on in debate season, and since then, she has continued to build a groundswell of support with the significant “Oprah’s Book Club” bloc. I’m just checking to see if you’re still reading. Moving on.

Amy Klobuchar — Her candidacy never generated the same fervor as her opponents’ in primary season, but there are several factors that make Klobuchar an appealing choice. She is extremely popular in her home state of Minnesota, winning reelection in 2018 with a 24-point margin, dwarfing the 1.5-point margin Hillary Clinton carried the state with two years earlier. Klobuchar also has an impressive track record of pushing Democratic legislation through Congress and she has significant electoral potency in the upper Midwest states that Trump literally cannot win reelection without. She also never wilts in the spotlight, delivering multiple strong debate performances earlier this year and proving an unflappable foil to Supreme Court Justice Bill Kavanaugh during his 2018 confirmation hearings. Klobuchar’s biggest drawback is that she will not electrify the Democratic left in the same way a Warren or an Abrams would. But given her decade-plus in the Senate and strong favorables in a pivotal area of the country, if Biden’s camp is looking for the best option to shore up swing states and have a soldier that will use their relationships on both sides of the aisle to move the agenda, she could be it.

Gretchen Whitmer — Unknown to most casual political observers until the COVID-19 pandemic, Whitmer has quickly become a national figure after Trump referred to her as “The woman in Michigan,” following a combative phone call with several governors about the federal response. Having delivered the Democratic response to Trump’s State of the Union address earlier this year, Whitmer was already on the radar of party insiders before the current crisis. Now, her aggressive strategy with the virus has been controversial in her home state, raising the ire of conservatives and prompting highly-publicized protests, but it has also raised her national profile and earned plaudits from Democratic supporters. Her public discussion of surviving sexual assault has also made her a powerful voice on a significant issue. Similar to Klobuchar, Whitmer is not only fast becoming a household name, but could potentially help Biden carry a pivotal state. Still, Whitmer’s lack of national experience would loom large, having entered the Governor’s Mansion less than two years ago.

Selina Meyer — Egotistic, unpleasant, and generally willing to sell out her principles, the former Maryland senator and extremely-brief occupant of the Oval Office would be a curious choice for Biden. On the plus side, Meyer and Biden have traditionally had a strong relationship, and she happens to be, arguably, the most-gifted insult artist in the history of the English language, which could put Vice President Mike Pence on his heels during a hypothetical debate. Meyer’s track record in government has more flaws than highlights as rumors abound that she is unstable, while her staff was reputed to be among the most incompetent on the Hill. That she’s a fictional character doesn’t help matters either, but if the Veep is supposed to campaign tenaciously, Meyer is an intriguing dark horse.

The Pick — Look, I have no idea. Joe Biden’s inner circle probably only has some idea, so we’re going to go with Meyer since a vain caricature of the modern politician sending up our quirky system is as reasonable a prediction as any at this point. If you’re desperate for a living human being, uh, let’s say Klobuchar.


Photo credit: https://www.indiewire.com/2014/07/the-subversive-hotness-of-veeps-selina-meyer-126252/

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