I’m Going to Get in Trouble for This One

I wasn’t planning on delving back into the realm of politics anytime soon, but I’m tired of hearing about COVID-19. The disease is going to do what it will do. The government is going to do what it will do. And I am going to do what I will do, which is follow the government’s guidance to the best of my ability, hoping (notice I didn’t say trusting) in as non-judgmental a way possible that the government is doing the right thing. I am going to deal with the coming recession and possible depression caused by the politicians’ response to COVID-19 in the best way that I can and again hope (not trust) that the result will be worth the cost. There’s nothing more I can do so it doesn’t bear worry, nor in my mind does it bear further discussion. Politics on the other hand is ripe to be revisited.

The 2020 Presidential election is starting to get real now that the field has narrowed, and I have been thinking of something the past few weeks that I wanted to share. Just to repeat my standard disclaimer…I am neither Republican nor Democrat. I think both parties suck these days. I consider myself Independent and most closely identify with the Libertarian and Constitutionalist parties, but I find enough to dislike about both that I can’t fully embrace either. I also mean no personal offense with any of my positions. I know some of you may agree with me, some may disagree, both with great passion. Not to be indelicate but this particular article isn’t about soliciting other opinions. I read them every day and they do inform my thinking. This is about expressing mine. Read or scroll on by as you wish. With that disclaimer…let’s talk politics shall we?

The question I have been pondering of late is who should represent the Democratic Party as Vice President? After giving the subject a great deal of thought, I have reached a solid conclusion. I’ll share it with you, but first some background is in order. And don’t take my recommendation as an endorsement. This is the sort of academic analysis I go through when I don’t want to think about depressing things like…say, COVID-19. I am still waiting for the right candidate for President to step up much less VP, but you have to play the hand you are are dealt, and with that in mind, here is how I would play it.

Ever since Super Tuesday I take it as a given that Joe Biden, short of an unexpected health crisis, will be the Democratic Party’s nominee…sorry Bernie fans. Mini-Super Tuesday and this week’s elections have further reinforced that conclusion. In fact, I fully expect Bernie to fold his hand in the coming days. If he is true to his word, he will give Biden his full support in an effort to get the progressive block of the party out to vote.

With Biden as the Presidential candidate settled in my mind, I turned my thoughts to who would make the best running mate. That has been a very interesting mental exercise because my first conclusion is that Biden’s candidacy makes this election like no other before it. If elected, Biden will be 78 years old and the oldest President to be inaugurated. Trump being the opponent also makes this election like no other, because as both President and candidate he is like no other.

Typically, the most important consideration for someone to serve as a Vice Presidential candidate is how many voters from Independent and disaffected opposing parties they can attract to the ticket from battleground states that the Presidential candidate can’t get on his or her own. The VP candidate’s ability to step up and serve as President if needed is generally a distant afterthought (think Dan Quayle or Dick Cheney). In this election like no other, the ability of the running mate to step up and serve as President is as important, and possibly more so, than her ability to deliver votes.

Yes, I said her. Even before Biden announced at the debate this week that he would select a woman for his running mate I had already ruled out the boys (Buttigieg, O’Rourke, Yang et al). Not because of gender, nor because I think the VP candidate should be a woman. I think it should be the person best qualified for the peculiar needs of this election cycle. That just happens to be a woman this time around, and there are several in the mix.

I have pondered ever since Super Tuesday what a Biden presidency would look like. After much thought I came to the conclusion that Biden will be a single term president. Not might be…will be. Oh, he may not think so…but the toll his first term will take on his octogenarian body and mind, the party elite, and the electorate will all make sure that is the case. Of course, they will pretend he has two terms in him lest his first and only term become one big filibuster. And make no mistake, regardless of what happens in the House, the dynamics of the Senate seats that are in play are such that McConnell is virtually assured of remaining majority leader so you can ignore all the wishful thinking chatter you’ll hear on the liberal news channels in the run-up to the election and on election night. For better or worse depending on your political leanings, Mitch and the Republican majority in the Senate aren’t going anywhere.

So aside from bringing in Independent and disaffected opposing party voters in battleground states that might otherwise just stay home, Biden’s VP selectee needs to demonstrate two additional, co-equally important qualities. For the first time in a long time, the Vice Presidential candidate needs to be someone who can step up if needed from day 1 and actually serve as President. There will be no on the job training with this candidate. And the electorate needs to be convinced of that because they all know Biden isn’t getting any younger.

The other qualification is that it has to be someone who can compete in Trump’s arena during the campaign, but without stooping to his level. Biden, as much as possible, needs to stay distant from Trump’s taunting. He loses every time he tries to engage, and Trump knows that. No…Biden’s Vice Presidential candidate needs to act as his surrogate when Trump tries to bait him. The person best suited to fill that aspect of the role will be intelligent, articulate, and capable of being blunt while at the same time nuanced. That is one tough set of qualifications to meet. Fortunately for Biden, there are three people who came to my mind who meet those qualifications…Amy Klobuchar, Stacey Abrams and Kamala Harris. And I came up with them well before Clyburn made his public recommendation.

Rep James Clyburn (D-S.C.) endorsed Biden for the South Carolina primary and campaigned hard for him. While Biden would have won South Carolina even without Clyburn’s campaigning, it propelled Biden to an unexpectedly decisive win, which in turn spring boarded him into his success on Super Tuesday. Rep Clyburn recently recommended that Biden select a black woman as a running mate, and he listed six possibilities.

From the outset, let me just say I was disappointed in Clyburn for that comment. It was unnecessary and places an unfortunate stigma on Biden’s selectee. It gives people an excuse to discount her and say that the only reasons she was on the ticket were gender and race. I don’t know what he was thinking to make such a statement public. Perhaps he worried that Biden was thinking of selecting one of the boys. That would have been a huge mistake on Biden’s part, but if he was concerned about it he should have had the conversation with Biden in private and made his argument, done the arm twisting, reminded the man you got him where he is and he owes you, whatever it takes. Just don’t make it public. Too late for that now.

Before getting into Clyburn’s recommendations, let me rule out a name that keeps coming up that Clyburn didn’t mention. Elizabeth Warren. Give me a break. The reason Biden has been increasingly leaning progressive is so he doesn’t have to select Warren as his VP candidate to attract progressive voters. If he selects Warren, the prospect that she would have to step in as President is so scary to even many dems that Trump would be assured of a landslide. I’m not sure why there are some in the press that think Warren as a running mate is a good idea, but hopefully Biden doesn’t listen to them. At least not if he wants to actually win.

Now let’s deal with Clyburn’s recommendations along with mine. In my view, four of the six names Clyburn presented to Joe are unviable and he has to know that. Including them on his list was probably driven by a desire to raise their public profile for some future office candidacy more than any thought that Biden would seriously consider putting one of them on the ticket. First off, none of them are viable standard bearers for the 2024 election, and none would give non-party voters the confidence they will be seeking that Biden’s VP could step up should something happen to him. I also don’t see any of these four potential candidates bringing the Independent and opposing party voters out to vote for Biden in the critical battleground states.

One is the Mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms. She barely won the mayoral race, winning a plurality (26%) on election day and having to go through a run-off. She has never held a national office and has been a vocal opponent of ICE and immigration control. That makes it tough for her to attract disaffected Republicans for sure, and even many Independents who favor immigration reform. I don’t see her bringing votes to the ticket, and she completely lacks the experience necessary to step up as President should it be necessary during Biden’s term. She also would not be the party’s first choice as standard bearer for 2024 should Biden make it through his first term. She is a solid no for me.

Three of the women do have experience governing at the national level in the legislative branch as current members of the House: Reps Marsha Fudge, Karen Bass, and Val Demmings. I did consider them, but in my view they too fail to bring to the ticket what Biden and the party needs. None of them have served on a committee of any import during their time in the House, they lack broad national level name recognition, and though Reps Fudge and Demmings are from battleground states (Ohio and Florida respectively) their appeal is limited to the base. Biden needs someone who will bring in votes from outside of the base. Rep Bass (California) won’t add anything to the ticket since California went for Hillary in 2016 and will go for whomever the democrats put up in 2020.

That leaves us with Kamala Harris and Stacy Abrams from both Clyburn’s list as well as my own, and I would add Amy Klobuchar. I believe all three would bring different strengths to the ticket, but not without accompanying weaknesses. They are nationally known and have broad appeal to Independent and disaffected opposing party voters in multiple battleground states. Having either of them on the ticket will make several of those states competitive and will satisfy what traditionally was the main criterion for selecting a VP candidate. They may even give Biden a chance at flipping a state Trump carried in 2016.

Abrams biggest problem is that she lacks experience both in an executive position and governing at the national level, though her performance in Georgia’s legislative branch was impressive. She proved that she does her homework, and is capable of persuading, and sometimes cajoling, her opponents to seeing her side of an argument. During the 2018 Gubernatorial election which she lost by a whisker amidst accusations of voter tampering against the eventual Republican winner, she won coveted endorsements from Bernie Sanders and Barak Obama. You can expect both to carry over to the Presidential election were she to be selected as the candidate. Her positions on important issues are liberal but not progressive. There is enough room under her tent for a host of Independents and disaffected opposing party members looking for a reason to come out and vote.

Abrams was chosen to give the Democratic response to the State of the Union address in 2019 and I personally found her commentary flat and unimpressive. It was a wasted opportunity. In her battles with her gubernatorial opponent Brian Kemp, Abrams has demonstrated she can hold her own no matter how down and dirty the politics can get, and in that she would be a great wing woman for Biden. Perhaps too good…sometimes she goes a bit too far into the dirt…tilts when she should withdraw. Ordinarily that would be a good thing but with Trump it could be disastrous.

Kamala Harris is at best a mixed bag. She is intelligent, articulate, and can get down and dirty with Trump but without lowering herself to his level. Her political positions have evolved and are less appealing to moderates than Abrams’ and she is a bit of a party hack. She has been relatively consistent in most of her key positions, pro-abortion, anti-death penalty, pro sanctuary city, and yet on key issues as California’s Attorney General she took very nuanced positions, demonstrating her willingness, and ability, to seek and find the middle ground. It shows promise that she could step outside of the party’s talking points and engage the other side of the aisle on issues of real import in as close to a bi-partisan manner as politicians can muster these days.

Harris has a couple of issues that she will have to battle during the campaign, the most significant being the accusation that she benefited from an affair with former Mayor of San Francisco Willie Brown. Both Harris and Brown admitted to the relationship, Harris was unmarried at the time and Brown was separated from his wife, taking a great deal of wind out of the sails of the issue. The most damaging aspect of the accusation is that Harris used it to jump start her political career, but she successfully put the issue behind her. It will come up again, but I have no doubt she will deal with it quickly and deftly.

Another issue she will be faced with are prior accusations of campaign finance violations during her first campaign for Attorney General of California. She addressed the violations and put the issue behind her, just as she did with the Willie Brown affair accusations, but both will be resurrected during a campaign were she to be the Vice Presidential selectee. Even so, as in her past campaigns, if and when the issues come up I expect Harris will deal with them deftly, and I don’t see them harming Biden’s run for Presidency.

The final issue Harris will have to address is actually one of the reasons I like her so much as Biden’s running mate. She took heavy criticism from Sens John McCain and Richard Burr for her combative, prosecutorial style of questioning during the testimony of Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions at hearings looking into Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey. I watched the hearings, including her questioning, and if I am being honest I have to say her performance pissed me off. It was the theater of the absurd all for a few sound bites. But that is the very aspect of her that will make her so effective at doing battle with Trump.

Harris will be able to do battle with Trump verbally without stooping to his level, or taking the bait when he taunts either her or Biden. The very prosecutorial style that she was criticized for by McCain and Burr will be a strength when it comes to dealing with Trump throughout the campaign. She can dance rhetorical circles around just about anyone and in a battle of words she will leave Trump (figuratively speaking of course) bloodied, bruised and knockout out cold on the mat and yet when he comes to, he’ll think he won the fight when everyone else knows better. It will be a thing of beauty to watch.

Of all the names under consideration for Biden’s running mate, Harris brings the most gravitas to the position of Vice President and would be the best qualified to take over as President should that become necessary. As an early leading candidate in the 2020 Presidential Democratic Primary, Harris is clearly someone the party can support as their standard bearer in 2024. There would be no baker’s dozen of candidates in the primary were she to be the Vice President..she would be able to jump start her campaign with the wind in her sails.

Personally, I don’t care much for Harris as a politician. I don’t support many of her positions. I think her combative style is an elevated form of bullying and I don’t care for it. Yet I can’t help but think she would bring votes to Biden, and I would love to see her go toe to toe with Trump. As to the Vice Presidential debate(s) she will run rings around Mike Pence. He is a nice guy…she isn’t so nice, but will use that to great effect.

The question comes down to who I like for Biden’s running mate, and who I think he will pick. I think he will pick Stacey Abrams. He likes her, the party likes her, and her position on issues is inclusive enough to appeal to the voters in battleground states Biden will need to win. She also might be able to flip Georgia to voting for Biden…that’s a bit of a stretch but stranger things have happened. Her biggest weaknesses are her lack of experience in executive and national level positions. I put a great deal of stock in Biden’s VP’s ability to step in for him should it be needed during his term, and that is where Abrams is weakest. But what I think doesn’t matter….it is what Biden and the electorate thinks that will make the difference and I doubt many of them will put the mental cycles into this that I have. As for Harris, as much a I think she would make a great selection, Biden just plain doesn’t like her. Nor does Biden’s wife…both have made it clear in private circles. I known in politics you often do things you would rather not in the interests of getting elected, but I don’t see Biden selecting Harris as his running mate.

As to who I like, and who I think would give Biden the best chance at beating Trump, it would have to be Amy Klobuchar. She is about as moderate a democratic as there was in the primaries, which provides a needed counterbalance to Biden’s increasingly progressively leaning positions. Personally, I don’t think Biden is truly moving any further left than he has been for years, which is to say just left of center. I think he is just pandering to the progressive wing of the party in hopes of getting them out to vote. Because he knows he’ll need them. Klobuchar’s moderate positions give Biden a reasonable chance of flipping some of the rust belt states that went for Trump in 2016 and with the economy going to the crapper because of COVID-19, many of those voters will be looking for a change. Klobuchar speaks their language and I believe she could deliver the goods in a way Abrams and Harris can’t She is also very presidential and I would have no concern about her ability to step up at any point during Biden’s term should it be needed. Her sole weakness as compared with Abrams and Harris is that she is almost too nice. She can land some blows when she takes the gloves off, but I worry that she won’t be an effective shield for Biden against Trump’s attack. Of course since that is not traditionally a role the VP candidate plays, perhaps it is of no consequence.

Biden won’t announce his running mate prior to the convention…assuming COVID-19 allows the convention to go forward…so we’ll have plenty of time to contemplate and try to read into every speech and comment he makes. And once he gets the nomination and makes his VP announcement, the gloves come off and this race gets real. I said I wasn’t going to talk about COVID-19 but I have to say one thing…it will be the wild card in this election. How successful the administration is in adopting policies that are effective at managing the virus while at the same time balancing the needs of the economically impacted against the long-term economic cost to the country will be a game changer, for better or worse. I’ll let you read into that where ever your personal politics take you.

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