It’s back. The media’s veepstakes frenzy is once again upon us. Pundits are pontificating. Reporters are speculating. Predictions are being made. And Chuck Todd – the Joe Buck of political anchors (that’s not a compliment) – is listening to himself talk.
This quadrennial parlor game gives a sugar high to political junkies but is a useless exercise.
Like every presidential-nominee-to-be, Joe Biden is weighing his options. By all accounts, he is considering former rivals Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, along with former national security advisor Susan Rice, Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth, Florida Representative Val Demings, and California Representative Karen Bass. Depending on the source, governors Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, and Rhode Island’s Gina Raimondo may also be in the running.
These are the names the Biden campaign wants out in circulation.
In the end, Biden has to consider matters of trust, personal rapport, potential working relationships, and, most importantly, who can help him win. If he is like other past nominees from both parties, he’ll probably go with his gut. For this reason, don’t be surprised if Biden surprises. In the modern history of the vice presidency surprise running-mate selections are the rule rather than the exception.
In 1980, pundits discounted the chances Ronald Reagan would pick his main rival for the Republican nomination, George H.W. Bush. Their contest had been too acrimonious, experts said. Nancy Reagan held a grudge against Bush, sources reported. Reagan’s campaign was keen on former president Gerald Ford. But having once played starting quarterback, Ford was unwilling to play back up. Thus, Reagan confounded the pundits by placing a call to Bush and, inadvertently, impacted the next 28 years of American politics.
Then-Tennessee senator Al Gore was not on many pundits’ lists for Bill Clinton’s pick in 1992. But from the start of his search process, Clinton privately expressed interest in and kept coming back to Gore in discussions with his selection team. The chattering class said there could not be two moderate southern baby boomers on the ticket. Like Reagan, Clinton turned conventional wisdom on its ear. When Clinton and Gore stepped out with their wives and children, the picture conveyed one compelling and winning message: Generational change.
Dick Cheney was not on any media lists in 2000. After all, he was leading the search for George W. Bush’s running-mate. Republicans Dan Quayle in 1988, Jack Kemp in 1996, and Sarah Palin in 2008 were last minute – and for Quayle and Palin – confounding surprises.
Very often the running-mate turns out to be someone the media reported was no longer under consideration. “They’ve seen their stock decrease in recent weeks” is commonly heard this time every four years. Such was said of Joe Biden himself in 2008 and Republican Paul Ryan four years later.
Regardless of who is on Biden’s list, his calculus is far different from that of any Democrat in recent years. The pandemic changes everything. The federal government’s dysfunction, the disastrously botched national effort at combating Coronavirus, the severe economic fallout, and charged social climate highlights the need for calm and competent governance. The turmoil of the last four years makes a pallet cleanser necessary.
Thus, Biden is making his choice in an environment where a recent Economist/YouGov poll found 72 percent of respondents think the country is on the wrong track. According to this week’s Reuters/Ipos poll, only 38 percent approve of President Trump’s job performance. An average of recent national polls gives Biden a nine-percentage point lead over Trump. Current battleground state polls show Biden leading in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, Arizona and competitive in Ohio, Iowa, Georgia, and Texas.
There’s a big difference between picking a running-mate when one is up by nine points versus selecting a partner when down by 10 points. And the present crisis, along with Biden’s age, will shape the way voters longing for a return to normalcy and sanity will view his pick.
Despite leaks from ‘campaign insiders,’ the loquacious Biden has been tight-lipped about his thinking other than saying he wants a partner who compliments his strengths, makes up for his weaknesses, and can be president on “day one.”
Who fits that bill is known only to Biden. It may very well be one of the names already listed above. But here’s some advice if you are a betting person. In the coming days listen for the name that follows this line: “There appears to be a new name in the veepstakes.”
Then bet on her.