Quick Hit Friday: Biden-Abrams Speculation…

It’s either a great idea or a terrible one. I keep vacillating. By the end of this Quick Hit, I hope to have settled on one.

Over the last few days, a couple big pieces of Biden-related news have leaked. First: he’s made up his mind. Biden now tells supporters and potential donors that he’ll enter the 2020 Democratic Primary. Second, and far more juicy, is that Biden and his inner circle are considering announcing a VP selection shortly after declaring his candidacy. Rumor suggests their pick is Stacey Abrams.[1]

It would be a shocking move. The precedent is thin. The only example in recent American history is a desperate Ted Cruz picking Carly Fiorina late in the 2016 process. His candidacy needed to win the Indiana Primary to have any chance of keeping Donald Trump from the nomination, and Cruz hoped a VP pick ahead of the contest would make him competitive. It didn’t. Before Cruz, I honestly can’t think of many examples where someone has publicly announced a running mate before having clinched a majority of a primary’s delegates.[2] Up until the mid-20th century, running mates were chosen at the convention after it determined the presidential nominee. Since then, presidential candidates wait until they’re certain to win the nomination through the primary process. Aside from Cruz, only two notable exceptions have occurred in the last half-century:

  • In the summer of 1976, with a tight delegate race heading into the Republican National Convention, conservative California Governor Ronald Reagan, who was trailing and needed a splash, announced Richard Schweiker, a liberal northeast Senator, would balance his ticket. President Ford held them off and secured the nomination.
  • In the spring of 1992, Jerry Brown announced he would consider Jesse Jackson as his running mate were he to win the nomination, but even that came as a late, desperate attempt to win over African Americans. Bill Clinton was on his way to victory, and Brown’s divisive choice backfired.

Ultimately, in all three cases — Cruz, Reagan, Brown — the VP gambles were late in the process, and none of them panned out.

So why would Biden do it? The reasoning is fairly obvious: Abrams shores up just about all his weaknesses.

  • Progressives are skeptical of him. She’s progressive.
  • Many worry about his age. She’s young.
  • Many worry about nominating a white guy in a party that’s about 40 percent minority and nearly 60 percent female. She’s a minority woman.
  • Related to his potential problem with minorities, his role in the Anita Hill case looms as a problem. Abrams’s presence would offer him cover.
  • He’s from the north. She’s from the south.
  • Biden worries he can’t raise funds like Sanders, O’Rourke, and Harris. Abrams could probably double his fundraising and then some.
  • In short, a lot of Democrats who had ruled out Biden would probably reconsider him if it meant Abrams would be an old ticker’s heartbeat away from the presidency.

It’s as if Abrams were created in a laboratory with the express purpose of complimenting his candidacy.[3]

And yet, though this move would seemingly give Biden’s car plenty of gas, there’s also a chance it could backfire. Let’s remember that he’s already up in national, Iowa, and New Hampshire polls. Navigating the uncharted waters of an out-of-the-gate VP pick can be seen as an ill-advised gamble for the front-runner. Consider the questions he might create for himself:

  • “Oh, you think you’re going to win before a single vote has been cast? How dare you!”
  • “What if you win the nomination but another candidate places a strong second? Shouldn’t you unite the party with that candidate?”
  • “If your candidacy is about superior experience, how can you justify being ticketed with someone who has never served as anything higher than a representative in Georgia’s State Assembly? Isn’t that even less experience than Governor Sarah Palin had when she was criticized as too inexperienced for the same position?”
  • “Isn’t a VP pick among the most important decisions a presidential candidate can make? And since it is, shouldn’t it be well thought out, extensively deliberated, and made with all possible choices on the table for as long as reasonable, and NOT as a rushed political choice to enhance popularity? In other words…”
  • “Isn’t this pandering, plain and simple?”

And then there’s general election considerations. Biden clearly makes sense as a strong general election candidate because he has the most straightforward path to victory. Whereas Sanders, Harris, O’Rourke, and Warren claim they can rally liberals to the polls, it’s a risky endeavor that might drive up blue-state margins but not necessarily flip Trump states as rural America pushes back like it did in 2016. Biden’s popularity is with the white working class in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, states Trump barely won but which decided the election. If he can win back Trump voters in those states, he wins the election. Again: it’s the most straightforward path to a Democratic White House.

Abrams has yet to be tested in such states, nor will she be in the primary season unless she runs as a candidate — which she won’t do if he names her his running mate. She already has a reputation as a sore loser in Republican circles, so he risks the center with a hasty pick that looks good in the moment. Biden might not want to be locked into his VP until it’s clear what the political conditions are in the spring and summer of 2020.

I’ve talked myself out of it. Bad idea, Mr. Vice President.

All that being said, I doubt he’ll roll the dice here. He’ll stay conventional. If he does attempt the gambit, I would be interested to see if other Democrats counter with tickets of their own. If Biden + Abrams gets him to, say, 35 percent of the Democratic electorate, and if he doesn’t relinquish that number by this summer’s debates, they might have no choice but to combine some forces. Harris/O’Rourke, perhaps? Klobuchar/Booker? Sanders/Warren? Perhaps Biden/Abrams is just the first of a series of tickets, not just for this primary, but in future ones as well. In an era where conventional political wisdom has been turned on its head, it’s not impossible.


FOOTNOTES:

[1]If she had recently been approached with the idea, it fits with last week’s big revelation that she’s all of a sudden considering getting involved in a national 2020 election.

[2]And I’m the guy who just reached deep into American history to find you ten examples of successful presidential candidates who beforehand had risen no higher than the House of Representatives.

[3]It makes so much sense, a bigger hang-up might be whether Abrams should accept the offer and tie her own fate to Biden’s, but a Quick Hit Friday doesn’t have time for that.

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