For all intents and purposes, the Democratic presidential primary is over, which is surely a drag for political pundits. The coronavirus has them trapped in their homes, and without tea leaves to read or campaign moments to pontificate about, they’re probably bored out of their minds. Addicted to the horse race, they’re getting their fix by obsessing over who Joe Biden will pick to be his running mate.
Biden’s options have been listed, ranked and analyzed in dozens of articles published in the past couple of weeks. This is a far cry from how the “veepstakes” was covered back in 2016, when the media was largely indifferent about who Hillary Clinton chose.
One reason is that Biden is pushing 80 and it’s likely that his №2 might have to step into the role during his first term. So to many, this is equivalent to a conversation about who will be the president. But that doesn’t entirely account for this fixation on Biden’s running mate.
It has as much to do with anxieties about his deficiencies as a candidate. Few are genuinely excited about Biden. He lacks voter enthusiasm as well as the confidence of party leaders. Barack Obama, who was instrumental in paving the way for Biden’s nomination, had on multiple occasions tried to convince him not to run.
In a breakdown of how the nomination process is ostensibly designed to work, the party lined up behind an objectively weak and risky candidate because he was best positioned to thwart the insurgency of Bernie Sanders.
A kind of buyer’s remorse psychology is now at play, as voters and pundits try to rationalize an expensive purchase that didn’t work as advertised.
Biden is a perfect storm of electoral liabilities — from family scandals and sexual assault allegations to his cozy relationship with the financial industry — but probably the greatest challenge to his electability is his visible cognitive decline, which becomes more and more apparent each time he’s on a TV screen. Most recently, he struggled to get through prepared remarks at a CNN digital town hall, as his co-panelist Sanjay Gupta winced uncomfortably.
There’s this delusion that the right running mate will somehow fix Biden. The New York Times ran an op-ed making the case for Georgia state lawmaker Stacey Abrams, arguing that she would help Biden overcome his enthusiasm problem while enhancing his appeal to young and Latino voters. In The Intercept, Medhi Hassan pitched Elizabeth Warren as the perfect “bridge” to progressives.
In both instances, there’s a disconnect from reality. Abrams is a rising star within the party, but she’s not magic. Biden has gone out of his way to alienate both young people and Latinos, from scoffing at the problems of millennials to telling off immigration and climate justice activists.
Before the primary season started, Warren had some credibility with the left. But her actions in the past few months — bogus sexism accusations against Sanders and his supporters, Super PAC hypocrisy, etc. — have left a bad taste in the mouths of many progressives, who view her with as much contempt as they do Biden.
These columns invariably include some polls showing this or that combination performs better, but historically the vice president has had almost no impact on the outcome of elections. Multiple studies have shown that the choice of running mate translates into an advantage of 1 percentage point at most.
And in the case of candidates like Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, whose selling point is ostensibly her ability to deliver a swing state, there’s really no evidence that home state advantage helps either.
At the end of the day, voters decide based on who’s at the top of the ticket. In 2016, 40 percent didn’t even know who the running mates were.
To win, Biden needs to stand on his own. If voters aren’t excited, he needs to excite them. If progressives are wary, he needs to win them over with actual policies, not by picking a running mate many of them can’t even stand.
And if he’s not up to the job, we need to get someone else who is while that’s still an option.