FOR MOST OF 2019, right up until Kamala Harris suspended her campaign in December, I cautioned against selecting Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee. This was, I believed, pure folly. In the first presidential election after Hillary Clinton’s ambitions were thwarted by the troika of Russian interference, New York Times journalistic malpractice, and Comey CYA correspondence, the 2020 candidate had to be a woman, I insisted—not yet another old white guy.
In August 2019, in a wide-ranging essay about the patriarchy called “The Bottom Line: Investigating Jeffrey Epstein, Money Trumps Sex,”—which begins by pointing out the unpleasant fact that “since at least the dawn of the silent film era, the United States has been remarkably chill about rich, powerful, famous men getting it on with teenagers”—I offered this take on Biden:
The Democrats, with their finger on the pulse as usual, have put forward as one of the three viable candidates for president one Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing, who presided over the testimony of Thomas’s accuser Anita Hill. Saturday Night Live has already begun to poke fun at Biden for his handsiness with women. His early lead in the polls reflects the widespread belief — or, more accurately, the misguided resignation — that, just as the best defense against a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, the surest way to beat an old white man is with another old white man….
Women are angry. How can they not be? One of the two political parties has all but declared war on them — and “centrist” candidates like Biden have pledged to put differences aside and work with their colleagues in the rape-apology party. For all her woo-woo, Marianne Williamson is right about one thing: love, not fear, is the way to unite the Democrats and defeat the President. Joe Biden is a panic nominee — and if this is an election about fear, Trump will prevail.
But politics, especially in the 21st century, is all about timing. What was Gospel and verse last summer is no longer valid. Back then, I was terrified that we would “panic-nominate” Biden, and the Republicans would respond by replacing Donald John Trump on the ticket with Nikki Haley. Voters would then have to choose between an old white “good guy,” and a bad guy who was a Gen X woman of color. Now, it appears that Trump is in it for the long haul, soiled Depends and all. Not only that, but Kamala Harris dropped out of the race, while the Bernie Sanders insurgency threatened to hand Trump a second term. Jeffrey Epstein is burning in hell. The impeachment inquiry came and went, and the mendacious GOP Senate acquitted the egregiously guilty president. The stock market was still blazing like a mighty comet across the portfolios of the one percent. COVID-19 was still a science fiction movie. So much has changed in half a year. In the current climate, Biden is without a doubt the best choice.
In 2016, moderate Republicans failed to coalesce around a single candidate. Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and the other hopefuls stayed in the race for too long, allowing Donald John Trump to become the nominee. In 2020, Bernie Sanders threatened to do the same. The Democrats, to their great credit, did not make the same mistake. Black voters once again came to the rescue, turning out in great numbers in South Carolina and on Super Tuesday to vote for Biden. In the space of a week, Tom Steyer, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Mike Bloomberg, and Elizabeth Warren all exited the race, with all but Warren endorsing Joe. (Bernie blames this on “the establishment,” but it was actually smart, selfless, patriotic politics—three qualities he does not himself possess). On Sunday morning, Kamala Harris, long assumed to be the Biden VP choice, came out for Joe as well:
Almost immediately, supporters of both Trump and Sanders—the only two candidates who have not released their full medical reports; go figure—began to attack Biden’s “cognitive decline.” Never mind that Trump can barely read or speak, or that Bernie’s ejection fraction is such a red flag that his camp refuses to share it, or that Biden has always been prone to gaffes, owing to his childhood stuttering problem. This is the narrative MAGA and the Bros have pursued.
Indeed, selecting an elderly man as the nominee carries some risks. Biden would be older when he took office than Ronald Reagan was when he left it (so would Bernie, but the Bros have never been good at math). And we are heading into the spring facing a likely pandemic. In the interest of public health, we are supposed to stop shaking hands, we’re told to avoid large crowds—but both of those things are the bread and butter of political campaigning. Biden and Trump and Sanders are already more at risk for COVID-19 because of their advanced age. Running a regular campaign, at this moment, seems risky to the point of negligence—look at the infection rate in Iran among politicians.
All of which makes Biden’s choice of vice president so critical. The actuarial chances that the VP will ascend to the White House in the next four years are much higher than usual. Historically, the VP has to be someone who could take over as Chief Executive if the unthinkable happened. In 2020, thanks to the coronavirus, there is a not-insignificant chance that the VP might have to take over as the candidate…BEFORE Election Day.
Thus, the usual metrics—Electoral College math, ticket balance, so-and-so is from the South, and so on—must be cast aside. Joe cannot pick a nebbish like Tim Kaine, a tyro like Sarah Palin, a polarizing figure like Mike Pence. He has to choose someone who everyone knows, and likes (or, rather, doesn’t hate), and trusts to do the job. Someone who will energize the Democratic base but not alienate swing voters. So: national profile, high Q rating, rock-solid bona fides.
Stacey Abrams doesn’t have a high enough profile. Mayor Pete is too green. Beto O’Rourke would help in Texas, sure, but can we really have two dudes on the ticket? Hillary Clinton would never do it, and she’s as polarizing as it gets (despite being by far the most qualified human that Biden could pick). Elizabeth Warren has legions of fervent admirers, but not enough to move the needle in any meaningful way, especially among Black voters; she’s also a polarizing figure with a lot of baggage (which is why, I think, her primary numbers were so disappointing).
That leaves two choices, both of them solid. First, Amy Klobuchar. She ran a great campaign, she has a history of getting shit done in the Senate, and she won’t scare off moderate voters. Henry Olsen had a nice op-ed in the Washington Post extolling the virtues of this pick:
Klobuchar would do for Biden what [Al] Gore did for [Bill] Clinton. Like Biden, she is a traditional center-left Democrat who builds bridges rather than walls. She is comfortable campaigning in moderate tones while being unafraid to dust it up with Republicans and highlight their differences. As she often said when she was a presidential candidate, she’s carried red and blue areas of her home state with ease in three straight elections. Blue-collar former Democrats won’t be scared by her, and she would reinforce Biden’s message of national healing.
She brings another advantage to Biden that Gore could not bring to Clinton. As a woman, she would have distinct appeal to blue-collar women, who are likelier to switch back from Trump than blue-collar men. She also has appeal for educated suburban women, another key Democratic constituency, as a successful lawyer and professional. Keeping those demographics in line is essential to Democratic victory in the fall, and Klobuchar adds to Biden’s underlying appeal for them.
Klobuchar’s relative youth and clear competence will also be strong assets for the septuagenarian Biden. His age and frequent verbal missteps will inevitably raise concerns that he might not be up to the job, or even that he might die or become incapacitated in office. The 59-year-old Klobuchar is of prime presidential age, and even her detractors will admit she knows the details of government inside and out. Unlike other possible picks, she could indisputably step into the Oval Office on day one.
I like Amy a lot, and I would be perfectly fine with her as the VP, or in the Oval. With Klobuchar involved, we could sleep soundly at night, knowing the country was in good hands.
But the best choice for VP, it says here, is Kamala Harris. She’s the one who systematically destroyed Jeff Sessions, Brett Kavanaugh, and Bill Barr—three of the Trump Administration’s more reviled villains. She draws enthusiastic crowds wherever she goes. The “K-Hive”—more or less dormant since December, but quietly lined up behind Biden—remains at the ready, and is a powerful social media force. Harris is a flashier candidate than Klobuchar, which means more excitement, and, maybe, more turnout. On the flip side, she is more polarizing than Amy, more likely to give a swing state swing voter pause—but are doubts about her really enough to make people stay home, or go MAGA?
Harris was the candidate in the debates who best brought the subject back to Trump. As the VP candidate, she would be the attack dog; ask Barr, Kavanaugh, and Sessions if she’s good at that. Actually, Joe doesn’t have to; he has first-hand knowledge of her skill in this area. As I wrote at the time:
Kamala Harris kneecapped Biden in the first debate. Confused Democrats reacted in either horror (“That was so mean!”) or jubilation (“Hell yeah! A Democrat is actually going on the offensive!”) at this unanticipated demonstration of badassery. The Democratic Party has been the GOP’s piñata for so long, its rank and file don’t know what it looks like when one of their own picks up the baseball bat and has at it.
Kamala will also keep the focus on the president, making the election a referendum on Trump—what the political strategist Rick Wilson has long insisted is the best plan for victory.
I began writing about Trump/Russia in late 2016. As I see it, Trump’s ties to Russia—both to Vladimir Putin’s Russian government and to Semion Mogilevich’s Russian mafiya—represent the gravest threat to our republic since the Civil War. The two candidates in the Democratic primary that Russia has bothered to aggressively go after—that is, that Moscow views as a threat to its well-being—are, you guessed it, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. That duo is, not surprisingly, the ticket best equipped to take on Trump, Putin, Mogilevich, and the transnational crime syndicate—those enemies of progress, of fairness, of truth, justice, and the American way.
Joe Biden is not the ideal candidate, but at this moment in history, he’s the best candidate. He should pick a running mate who is both the ideal and the best VP: Kamala Harris.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore. U.S. Senator Kamala Harris speaking with attendees at the 2019 National Forum on Wages and Working People hosted by the Center for the American Progress Action Fund and the SEIU at the Enclave in Las Vegas, Nevada.