By Kent R. Kroeger (March 10, 2020)
President Harry Truman said of the vice presidency, “Look at all the Vice Presidents in history. Where are they? They were about as useful as a cow’s fifth teat.”
Perhaps no one has summarized the vice president’s job as succinctly as Joe Biden: “It’s easy to be vice president — you don’t have to do anything.”
Of course, that is not exactly true. There are lots of funerals to attend. And if you are a really unlucky vice president, you get stuck leading a task force charged with stopping a seemingly unstoppable infectious disease.
In other words, vice presidents, when they do get to do something, get the sh*t work.
Nonetheless, ambitious politicians still want the job, and for good reason: 14 out of 48 vice presidents have gone on to become president (almost 30 percent).
It can be the stepping stone to political immortality, or, you’re Dan Quayle.
As I sit here on the morning of the Democratic Party’s Michigan primary, the betting consensus is that former Vice President Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee in the 2020 presidential race.
Working on that assumption, the next task for Biden is to pick his running mate. Various lists have already been offered, but I will give you the name of the person most likely to get the VP nod.
But, first, let us look at the pros and cons of the likely choices, as well as a couple of long shot candidates.
Using the PredictIt.com futures market to rank order this list, we begin with…
California U.S. Senator Kamala Harris
Pros: The junior senator from California offers a number qualities ideal for a Democratic Party vice presidential nominee: She is a mixed-race woman already tested on the national stage during the Democratic nomination race (though she backed out long before the first caucus and primary contests). When prepared, she is also a formidable debater — which is important should there be VP debates during the general election. Harris’ recent campaign appearance with Biden in Michigan also suggests Harris wants the VP slot and helping Biden get over the nomination finish line can only raise her stock in that regard.
Harris has also demonstrated her intellectual heft and charisma during U.S. Senate hearings on the nomination of Gina Haspel to Director of the CIA. Her verbal body slam of then CIA Director nominee, Gina Haspel, over the use of torture remains one of my favorite political moments of the last 10 years:
When prepared, Harris, a former prosecutor, is as intimidating as any prominent politician today.
Cons: Unfortunately, Harris has a number of flaws — the biggest being her shameless attempt to smear Biden as a racist (or, at least, for being complicit with racists). In last year’s second Democratic Party nomination debate, she accused Biden of being at worst a latent racist, and at best an enabler to racists. Sadly, Democrats use personal smears in their political arguments as often as the rest of us use adjectives. To some extent, that fact might mitigate any damage Harris’ smear will have on Biden’s VP decision. The past offers mounds of evidence that things said in the heat of battle do not affect the VP selection process. George H.W. Bush calling Ronald Reagan’s economic policies ‘voodoo economics,’ a trope that followed Reagan throughout his presidency, did not stop Reagan from picking the Bush as his running mate.
Harris also revealed another deep flaw in her political game during the nomination race. She was not nearly as charismatic on the campaign trail as she has been during U.S. Senate hearings. Like most politicians, she can’t do comedy and that became brutally apparent at campaign events in Iowa and New Hampshire.
But Harris’ biggest negative is that she offers no help to Biden in the Electoral College. California is already a solid blue state and Harris has shown no ability to attract constituencies outside of her home state. I can’t see one state Biden wins because Harris was on the ticket.
PredictIt probability of being Biden VP choice: 27% (My guess: 20%)
Minnesota U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar
Pros: The Democratic Party establishment loves Klobuchar. Why? The obvious answer is that she’s a woman that looks like the daughter Hillary Clinton would have designed had she the power to do so.
The lifelong Minnesotan also doesn’t tip over any of the Democratic Party’s sacred cows (except among those Democrats who think the U.S. should have a health care system as good as any other in the developed world). The Democratic Party’s mega-donors have nothing to fear in Klobuchar, who proudly supports the interests of the banking, health insurance, military industrial complex, big tech and pharmaceuticals companies — all while claiming this makes her attractive to voters from both parties.
She may be right about her “centrist” credentials, but that is not why Biden might select her. Her stock is high in the Biden campaign given her demonstrable appeal to Midwest voters in Minnesota and Iowa (she finished 5th in the 2020 Iowa Caucuses at 12.3%, but higher than many expected) and likely attractiveness to voters in Wisconsin and Michigan. Three of those four states went to Donald Trump in 2016 (and Minnesota was close). If Biden carries those four states, he just needs six more electoral votes for the presidency.
Yes, Klobuchar is painfully bland, but that may be an additional asset to Biden — who is frequently (though unintentionally) too entertaining on the campaign stump. Add that quality to her possible help with the Electoral College and Klobuchar can’t be ignored.
Cons: It cannot be emphasized enough — Klobuchar is dull and tedious when she speaks, and while she doesn’t beat you down with word volume the way Mayor Pete Buttigieg does, she makes up for it with the deafening banality of her thoughts.
From her candidacy announcement speech:
“We start in this place where about a mile downriver, on a beautiful summer day, a big bridge collapsed into this river. I said on that day, that a bridge just shouldn’t fall down in the middle of America. Not one of the busiest bridges in our state. Not a bridge just a few blocks from our house that John and Abigail and I drove over nearly every day. But it happened.”
Who’s not inspired by a candidate that wants to stop big bridges from falling on beautiful summer days? She must have gone to the See Spot Run School of Political Speechwriting.
During her stint in the Democratic nomination race, I can’t remember one thing Klobuchar as ever said, policy-related or otherwise. Her Midwest Protestantism is not likely to be inspiring to undecided voters outside of her regional base. She’s just forgettable — which might be acceptable to Biden, as long as she can help tilt the balance in favor of the Democrats in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin.
PredictIt probability of being Biden VP choice: 24% (My guess: 30%)
Former Georgia Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams
Pros: Abrams is a Black woman who almost won a statewide race in a red state. At the risk of being too glib, that is pretty much her qualification as Biden’s running mate.
To be fair, she has a good television presence — far better than other potential VPs such as Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren — and doesn’t seem intimidated by the national spotlight thrust upon her after he close (and arguably controversial) lose to Republican Brian Kemp in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race.
Still, her main qualification for VP is her identity, not her concrete policy achievements— which is not unusual in the era of hyper-partisanship, divided government, and meager legislative accomplishments.
Cons: While Georgia is politically competitive, the Republicans still control the governor’s seat and both houses of the General Assembly. Furthermore, Trump holds an eight point lead over Biden in a University of Georgia poll conducted in the state this month and there is no reason to think that will change in the next few months before the Democratic National Convention.
Finally, Abrams appeal as a VP candidate is further muted by having never held a national political office.
PredictIt probability of being Biden VP choice: 11% (My guess: 20%)
Massachusetts U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren
Pros: Do you remember when Warren was the front runner among the 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls? It happened, sort of. In the first weeks of October 2019, Warren was neck-and-neck with Biden as the most popular Democratic candidate. She was the candidate with ‘a plan’ and the media loved her for that brief moment in time. However, the Warren-surge ended around mid-November when she released her plan on financing Medicare-for-All, which was either a testament to sound economic rationality or clever subterfuge. Regardless of the facts, her support among progressives started to crater after that and she never recovered.
Yet, I can’t help but wonder if the woman many consider to be the smartest person running for president isn’t the perfect counter-balance to Biden, a man not generally regarded for his intellectual prowess. It is not likely that Bernie Sanders-progressives will ever embrace Warren; but for the average Democrat progressive, Warren still has some appeal and picking her as the VP is not the craziest idea. To the contrary, she is the best hope Biden has for appealing to progressives.
Biden will lose to Trump if a meaningful percentage of Sanders-progressives decide not to vote or go for a third-party candidate. To ignore them is certain defeat. Warren offers at least some attempt, no matter how imperfect, to keep them in the fold.
Cons: Warren generated some of the worst visuals I’ve ever witnessed in a presidential campaign. Her pandering to LGBTQ interests in a rainbow feather boa during the 2018 Boston Pride Parade stands out:
To see this former Republican prance around in such an unpresidential manner does not instill confidence in me that she will help Biden win in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Warren is smarter than all of us. I don’t doubt that. But as my father taught me many years ago, being right is not enough. You must engage your skeptics on common ground, void of prejudice. Warren demonstrates no ability to do that.
PredictIt probability of being Biden VP choice: 8% (My guess: 15%)
The best of the rest (Hillary Clinton, Tammy Duckworth, Pete Buttigieg)
These remaining VP possibilities are interesting but mostly propelled by media-generated wishfulness. The dictionary definition of damaged goods is Hillary Clinton. Pete Buttigieg couldn’t win a statewide race in his home state. And Tammy Duckworth, the most interesting of the rest-of-field VP candidates, shows no interest in the VP position.
If I had to pick a long-shot for the Democratic VP nod, I’d take a close look at popular Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. She’s an energetic campaigner and former prosecutor who doesn’t wilt under media scrutiny. Her selection would guarantee Michigan for Biden, which is not a small consideration.
PredictIt probability of Rest-of-Field: 5% or less (My guess: 5% or less)
In the final analysis, however, I believe the Electoral College calculus will dominate Biden’s VP decision. If that is the case, Amy Klobuchar will be Biden’s VP selection.
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