Saturday, June 13, 2020

Thinking In Time About Biden's Short List

A leak attributed to presumptive 2020 Democrat Presidential nominee Joe Biden (D-DE) revealed that six names had made the initial cut to be considered Vice Presidential running mates.  This list seems to adhere to Mr. Biden’s promise to pick a woman.  The list includes Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), Obama National Security Advisor and ex UN Ambassador Susan Rice, two term Congresswoman Val Demings (D-FL 10th), first term New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM), and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D-Atlanta).  

Notably, several persons who seem to have been campaigning to be Joe Biden’s right hand woman were absent.  Failed 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who had been openly speculating about her chances was not on the list.  Minnesota Senator Amy! Klobachar (D-MN) did not make the cut, despite the fact the she withdrew from the Democrat primaries quickly after placing third in New Hampshire thereby  clearing the way for Biden’s first Presidential primary win (ever) in South Carolina.  Also absent is freshman Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmar (D-MI), who made a name for herself in aggressively implementing a continued COVID-19 lockdown in the Great Lake State.   Surprisingly, Michelle Obama’s name was not teased on this list, even though candidate Biden has used nearly every opportunity to associate himself with the Obama legacy. And Hillary Clinton’s name was no-where to be found on this leaked list.

Naturally, Biden Campaign spokesman Andrew Bates, dismissed the speculation by cryptically saying: “Those who talk don’t know and those who know don’t talk”.  That may be true, as sometimes prospective nominees use the time between clinching the nomination and the convention to keep in the news as they supposedly vet candidates, but then they make an unexpected choice.  This campaign tactic garners earned media during a traditionally lean campaign funding time-period between the primaries and the general election.  Moreover it has the added bonus of recognizing inter-party influencers to unite the party and generate enthusiasm. 

(L) Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (D-NY 9th) and ex VP Walter Mondale (D-MN)
Take the parade of VEEPstakes candidates that 1984 Democrat nominee Walter Mondale interviewed for the job.  Mondale claimed that he wanted a running mate who could advise the President nationally, could act as an international envoy and who could help pass legislation on Capitol Hill.   Mondale was open to having a female VP, so he seriously considered Kentucky Governor Martha Layne Collins (D-KY), then San Francisco Mayor Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and ultimately his choice Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro (D-NY 9th), who was known for working for equality for women while representing a conservative Democrat district where Archie Bunker from “All in the Family” would have lived.

While Mr. Mondale offered high minded criteria in selecting a Vice Presidential running mate, there are often more base political concerns, encapsulated in the probing question “What does (s)he bring to the ticket?   Almost always, a campaign wants the selection to lock a state in the victory column.  Preferably an important swing state.  This might explain the major motivations that Hillary Clinton (D-NY) chose Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) to clinch Virginia in 2016.

A second quality that Presidential nominees usually seek in their VEEPstakes choice is the notion of balance.   In 1960, then Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy (D-MA) balanced his East Coast ticket by picking then Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson (D-TX).   In 1988, Governor Michael Dukakis (D-MA) chose Senator Lloyd Benson (D-TX).  This can be North/South or Coastal/Midwest (or more derisively-- “fly over country”).

That balance need not be geographical or electoral.  In 2000, then Governor George W. Bush (R-TX) chose former Wyoming Congressman Dick Cheney (R-WY) as his running mate.  Republicans rule Wyoming and it is only three electoral college votes, so clinching a swing state is not the answer.  Well, at the time, “W” was considered to be an intellectual lightweight and a Washington outsider.  Cheney, who had acted as President Ford’s Chief of Staff and President George Herbert Walker Bush’s Defense Secretary, quelled media concerns for “gravitas”, as well as selecting a rock rib Republican who had loyalty to the Bush family.   Opting for an experienced but loyal insider may well have been the motivation for then freshman Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) choosing 36 year senate veteran Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) in 1988.    

There are some instances in which the VEEPstakes is driven by reinforcing a value.  Take for example when then Governor Bill Clinton (D-AR) selected Senator Al Gore, Jr. (D-TN).  Both were baby boomers from mid South states, neither being signficant swing states or big electoral college values.  But they could be contrasted as a new era for politics, particularly contrasted with the last World War II President (Bush “41").  They also could be marketed as “New Democrats”.

(L) Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) and (R) Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) made a surprise choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) in 2008.  McCain fancied himself as a maverick who campaign would fight for you.  He chose a had a reputation for fighting corruption among her own party and offered inroads with the religious right.  It did not hurt that she provided an attractive generational balance for an aged Vietnam War veteran. This might have been a second choice for McCain, as he pined to pick his friend Senator Joe Liberman (D/I-CN) but this choice was allegedly rebuffed by GOP conservatives.

By thinking in time, it might shed some light into Biden’s Veepstakes. Aside from insinuating that his running mate must be female, candidate Biden has espoused:
"One, that they are younger than I am. No, I'm not being facetious, and number two that they are ready on Day One to be President of the United States of America."   

So Biden recognizes that he is older and needs to have a second who is ready to step in. 

(L) ex VP Joe Biden (D-DE) and (R) Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
If we take Biden’s statements about age and sex seriously, it is odd that Elizabeth Warren tops the leaked list.  Warren is almost 71 years old, so technically she’s younger than the top of the ticket but not a generational difference. However, based on many recent media appearences, Warren seems more mentally with it than Biden. Warren placed in third in her home state primary, so it’s hard to say she’d lock Massachusetts, and the Bay State is hardly a swing state. The ticket would not be geographically balanced.  Warren’s credentials as a “Native American” Harvard professor, bankruptcy lawyer and legislator does not lend credence to being a public administrator ready to step in.   Arguably, Warren’s name being circulated appeals to her supporters, is an attempted olive branch to Bernie Bros due to her socialist leaning campaign and might lead to party unity.

At the start of the 2020 Democrat primary campaign, Kamala Harris was considered to be in the top tier of candidates, as she was a youthful minority candidate from the largest electoral college vote state.  An 2007 iteration of Joe Biden, might crib his praise of Barack Obama unto Kamala as a storybook candidate <<who is an African American candidate articulate and bright, clean and good looking.>> Maybe not today.  

(L) Ex VP Joe Biden (D-DE) and Sen. Kamala Harris (R-CA) at Detroit debate
During the Democrat Presidential Detroit Debate of 2019, Kamala Harris came out of the box to insinuate that her Joe Biden, her fellow candidate for the Democrat Presidential nomination, was unintentionally a racist for being against school busing in the 1970s, which benefited her as a little girl. Yet this blatant play of the race card did not win her support among the predominantly African American Democrat electorate in South Carolina, which Biden easily carried (with the strong support of House Majority Whip Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC 6th).  Wonder why there is a disconnect between identity politics and Harris.  Consider the progressive paradigm of intersectionality.  While Harris is a Person of Color (sic), progressive voters have perseverated on the fact that Harris was perceived as being on the wrong side of history when she was California Attorney General as she was strong on punishment for minority malfeasors and that she punished cannabis criminals while privately enjoyed smoking it. 

Although Vice Presidential running mates are often encourage to be attack dogs for the top of the ticket, when she wasn’t spouting attacks planned in advance, Harris had a wooden stump style.  There is some evidence that Harris was associating herself with the Jesse Smollett controversy for political gain, but that did was not successful in being a positive lime light to dominate African American attitudes. 

Long time Democrat operative James Carville opined that personal chemistry may color Biden’s choice of a running mate.  When the cameras are away, it is hard to imagine that Harris would pass Biden’s smell test after accusing him of essentially being a racist.  Biden himself has asserted that his running mate must be intellectually simpatico.  Again, Harris does not seem to fit the bill. 

Although Biden easily carried the predominantly African American electorate voting in the South Carolina Democrat primary, with the strong support of House Majority Whip Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC 6th), Biden may have to bolster his black base after his bone headed blunder with  the Breakfast Club’s “Charlamagne the God” when he said: “If you don’t vote for me, you ain’t black”. 

It is hard to see how Harris could achieve that end.

(L) Sen. Amy Klobachar endorsing Joe Biden (R)
An ideal balance of identity politics, geography and loyalty would have been Biden’s 2020 competition Senator Amy! Klobachar (D-MN).  She is a woman, from a Midwest swing state and did Biden a big favor by dropping out when she did. Alas events and experience got in the way.  The George Floyd sparked riots in Minneapolis highlighted the fact that Klobachar was a Minnesota Attorney General who gave the bad cop a pass for brutality in 2006.  Oops.  Klobachar’s husband’s live was saved from Covid-19 by doses of hydroxocloroquine, which was championed by President Trump (to much ridicule by the mainstream media).

Rep. Val Demings (D-FL 10th) at Trump impeachment
Another quasi prominent African American woman in the news is Congresswoman Val Demings (D-FL 10th).  Her background includes being a Police Chief in Orlando. She rose to prominence as being one of the eight House Impeachment Managers for the failed Senate trial of President Donald Trump.  Aside from that, the second term Representative has no legislative achievements, and her time leading the Orlando police force is marred by unresolved excessive police brutality problems.  While Florida is a swing state with significant amount of electoral votes, it is difficult to think that her presence on the ticket clinches the victory.  In a short time span, she would have to be marketed as a minority icon, in a nation that twice elected a black President.

Two names that were on the list that seemed to be sop to identity politics are Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.  Both seem to be considered because of their identity rather than their experience as Administrators. Viscerally, it is hard to think that Bottoms would clinch Georgia.  Lujan Grisham might be enough to lock up the Land of Enchantment with its whopping five electoral votes.  But realistically, this would be more of a play to keep Hispanic votes in the Democrat camp.

The leaked name that is most intriguing is Susan Rice. Granted Rice has never held elective office (though she dreamed of being the first Senator from the District of Columbia) and DC’s three electoral votes are safely Democratic. So it’s not clinching a state or geographical balance that makes Democrat Rice (not to be confused with Condeleeza) interesting in Biden’s VEEPstakes. 

(L) ex VP Joe Biden (D-DE) and Susan Rice 
 Susan Rice is 27 years younger than the top of the ticket, has experience as UN Ambassador and being National Security Advisor, so she is “younger” and can be pitched as ready to step into the job when Biden can no longer do so.  But it is her connection to the inner circle of the Obama Administration and loyalty that makes it remarkable.  Susan Rice was the Obama Administration official that went on all five network public affairs shows immediately after the Bengazi fiasco in 2012 to spout the Administration line.  Susan Rice was part of the inner circle that has been implicated in the unmaskings of Trump campaign (and transition) staff.  So she worked with Biden, showed loyalty to Barack and doesn’t mind being the front person in contentious situations.   Along with identity politics, the Obama association, the loyalty and willness to be a pit bull, Susan Rice would be an interesting choice for Biden, albeit with some significant prospective liabilities. Besides, she has no office to lose and may earn a lucrative gig on MSNBC if things go south.

We can not be certain if the delayed 2020 Democrat National Convention will be held in Milwaukee, much less if Joe Biden will still be at the top of the ticket, so speculation on a Vice Presidential pick is a pre-mature parlor game.  Maybe Biden has binders of women which just haven't come to the forefront yet. But for political junkies anxious to not have to think about Antifa insurrection and COVID-19 contagiousness, it is a good exercise to keep regular order in shape.  Besides, it might give those of us who care about politics insight on evaluating Biden’s final answer.