Normally, the idea of a candidate picking a running mate before winning the nomination would be unheard of. Indeed, prior to Ted Cruz choosing Carly Fiorina in 2016, it had never been done before, to the best of my knowledge. But, hey, let’s be honest here, these are hardly what you would call normal times. When the book is written about this period in American history, the last four years will make one helluva chapter.
As of this moment, Joe Biden and Mike Bloomberg are getting the lion’s share of the moderate vote, with Biden getting just over 50 percent of it, depending on what state you’re looking at. Bernie Sanders has about 80 – 85 percent of the progressive vote. Yes, Elizabeth Warren got a bump after her last two debate performances. She’s currently in second place in California according to RCP. However, in most of the other states, she’s struggling to get any traction. She’s even trailing Sanders in her home state of Massachusetts. Talk about a tough pill to swallow. Despite all the claims to the contrary, if she doesn’t win any contests on Super Tuesday, I expect her to drop out of the race. And even if she doesn’t, it won’t matter. She has no path to the nomination.
But getting back to Biden. If he does go on to become the nominee, he’s going to have to find a way to unite both wings of the Democratic Party. You can fully expect Sanders and his supporters to scream bloody murder if he is denied the nomination. I’m currently working on a piece that lays out just that very scenario. Suffice to say that whoever emerges as the winner in Milwaukee this summer will have their hands full trying to piece everything back together again.
So, assuming it’s Biden, whom should he pick as his running mate? Well for starters, I believe there are two requirements for any potential running mate: 1. They must do no harm; 2. They must shore up a deficiency at the head of the ticket. Anything after that is gravy.
With that in mind, I do not think Kamala Harris would be a good fit. True, she fulfills the first requirement in that she does no harm. But as qualified as she may be, there’s nothing she brings to the table that Biden doesn’t already have. For instance, Biden already has a majority of the African American vote locked up; he doesn’t need to choose one as his running mate. I have written at great length about the puzzling campaign Harris ran last year that never got off the ground. My fear is that, far from being a plus, she would be a drag on the ticket and a non-factor in the general. And as far as being a uniter, she’s hardly what you would call a darling of the Left.
No, there’s only one person I can think of that checks both boxes and that’s Elizabeth Warren. She does no wrong and she can unite both wings of the party at the convention. The latter is far more important. I’ll explain.
Unlike Sanders, Warren is a true progressive in the grand tradition of Lyndon Johnson and Franklin Rosevelt. While some of her ideas are still out of the mainstream, she is far more liked and respected among her peers than Sanders. To put it another way: Bernie is very much the left-wing equivalent of Barry Goldwater. Indeed, the parallels between the two men are striking. Goldwater’s unwillingness to compromise even a little on some of his positions led to his epic loss to Johnson in 1964, and I have no doubt that Sanders, were he to be the nominee, would suffer a similar fate against Trump this November.
If, like me, you were scratching your head wondering why Warren didn’t go after Sanders in the last two debates and instead chose to focus her laser beams on Bloomberg, you’re not alone. Many pundits were wondering the same thing. Attacking Bloomberg may have gotten her a few applause lines and a few more campaign contributions, but it did little to improve her political fortunes. If anything, Warren’s attacks on Bloomberg may have inadvertently helped Biden. Since that last debate, Bloomberg’s numbers have gone south while Biden’s have shot up. Uncle Joe should send her a dozen roses.
So why didn’t Warren go after Sanders? Some have suggested it’s because she’s afraid of facing a backlash from progressives when she runs for reelection in 2024. There may be some truth to that. After all, most of the “experts” believed Ayanna Pressley had no chance against Michael Capuano in the Massachusetts 7th primary. Pressley not only beat him convincingly, she’s now the odds-on favorite to win a second term in Congress this year.
There’s also the possibility that Warren could be grooming herself as a potential running mate for Sanders and didn’t want to screw things up by pissing him off. In case you haven’t noticed, it doesn’t take much for old grumpy pants to get his dander up. The only person who holds a grudge longer than Sanders is the current occupant in the Oval Office.
But whatever the reason, it doesn’t alter the fact that Biden needs Warren as his running mate if he has any hope of beating Trump in the general. Left unsaid in all the angst over Sanders driving away moderate voters in the fall, is the very real possibility of progressives sitting out the entire election if he isn’t the nominee. If that happens, Trump will waltz his way to a second term. While it’s true that no progressive can win the White House without moderates, it’s equally true that no moderate can do the same without progressives. Like it or not, they come as a package.
When I look back at the 2016 election, I sometimes wonder what would’ve happened if, instead of choosing Tim Kaine to be her running mate, Hillary Clinton had chosen Warren. I remember all the handwringing from pundits who were concerned that Warren might scare away moderate voters, so Hillary went the safe route by picking someone who, for all intents and purposes, was a doppelgänger of herself. Imagine two scoops of vanilla ice-cream with whipped cream on top. That was the ticket of Clinton / Kaine. About as exciting as a weather forecast from San Diego in June.
The bold play, in retrospect, would’ve been Warren. Her presence on the ticket would’ve excited the base and likely resulted in more of them showing up at the polls. It also would’ve taken some of the sting out of the resentment that Bernie’s supporters harbored over him not getting the nomination. To this day, most of them still insist he got screwed by the DNC. For the record, he didn’t. Hillary just got more delegates. Period.
But that’s all water under the bridge now. What Biden can’t do is repeat Clinton’s mistake. He can’t afford to play it safe. If he gets the nomination, he needs to pick someone as his running mate who will appeal to progressives in a way that will motivate them to vote this November. Contrary to what I wrote previously, a Biden / Buttigieg ticket won’t cut it. For one reason or another, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, despite being only 38 years old and to the left of Barack Obama policy wise, is not very popular with millennials or progressives. Go figure. By the way, if you’re thinking Biden / Klobuchar, forget it. That would literally be Clinton / Kaine, part deux. Twice wrong is still wrong.
So why would Warren agree to be Biden’s running mate? To put it succinctly, it gets her that much closer to the presidency. Let’s face it: Biden is 78 and Warren is 70, so we’re not exactly talking the king and the queen of the prom here. Biden’s not even sure he wants to run for a second term; at least he hasn’t committed to it yet. So if he were to win in November and decide not to seek reelection, whoever happens to be his VP would find him or herself in a very enviable position. Not all vice presidents win the White House – just ask Al Gore – but they do have a distinct advantage over their political rivals.
To get Warren to say yes, Biden could promise her that at some point during his term in office he will propose a Medicare for All plan with a phase in period similar to the plan she rolled out last fall. He could also go halfway with her on raising revenues, forgoing the wealth tax – which I still maintain is unconstitutional – for a substantial hike in the marginal rates for millionaires and billionaires. Instead of wiping out all student loan debt, Biden could agree to free tuition for two-year college degrees. He could even adopt some, but not all, of the Green New Deal. It’ll be a delicate balancing act, but one I’m sure the two of them can handle.
Look, Kennedy needed Johnson, Reagan needed Bush and Obama needed Biden. Guess what? Biden needs Warren. It’s really not that complicated. A Biden / Warren ticket would ostensibly kill two birds with one stone. It would unite the Left and the Center; but more than that, it would put an end to one of the darkest chapters in American history.
Who could be against that?