Is VP Debate Really About Warren?

The "Biden must pick a black woman" plea may be masking a different agenda.

FiveThirtyEight’s Perry Bacon Jr. makes a cryptic argument in his post “The Debate Over Biden’s VP Pick Is Full Of Half-Truths And Misleading Arguments.” While the flow is rather circuitous, he contends:

  • The “it must be a black woman” argument is multi-faceted and complex. But, ultimately, it’s mostly a backdoor argument for not picking Elizabeth Warren and subtly an argument for Kamala Harris.
  • None of the electability arguments being advanced have much basis in fact but the notion that every black woman being mentioned is equally attractive politically is bizarre.
  • Harris is the only traditionally-qualified black woman in contention.
  • Any white moderate (we’re looking at you, Amy Klobuchar) advancing a generic “pick a black woman” argument is really lobbying against Warren, who would otherwise be the obvious choice.

Bacon doesn’t dismiss arguments for a black woman made on the basis of equity. Indeed, he thinks they have merit. He’s just skeptical of those made on the basis of electoral impact.

FILED UNDER: Amy Klobuchar, Campaign 2020, Elizabeth Warren, Gender Issues, Kamala Harris
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Jen says:

    Harris is the only traditionally-qualified black woman in contention.

    I genuinely do not understand what is being suggested here–what is “traditionally qualified”? He argues that it’s “being a sitting or former governor or U.S. senator.” Why is it necessary to limit to that? If we’re looking at individuals with statewide experience, it doesn’t need to be limited like that.

    Karen Bass is also apparently being vetted, so I think this argument is a bit ridiculous. She was speaker of the CA House, and has been a US Rep. for (I think?) 6+ years. Abrams also has statewide experience.

    The things Biden has to consider are: who can energize young voters, who brings a semblance of balance to the ticket, who can lead from Day 1 if necessary, and who can pick up the mantle at the end of his term and win nationally as the top of the ticket 2024 (I’d really rather not have a bloodbath of a primary in four years).

    5
  2. SKI says:

    @Jen:

    who can lead from Day 1 if necessary

    IMO, this is what Biden will ultimately prioritize given who he is and what he has done.

    10
  3. Sleeping Dog says:

    Regarding Biden’s VP choice, I believe his original sin was declaring it would be a woman. At the time, he probably believed that he had a pretty broad field choices, but events have narrowed his options as it has becoming necessary to select a minority. So looking at traditional backgrounds, only Harris qualifies, though there are a couple of Latina governors whose names aren’t seeming to come up any longer.

    Admittedly, I have a bias for candidates that are or have been governors and particularly a governor of a larger state. In truth, my bias is out dated, if it was ever operant, when you look at the backgrounds of who has become president. But I do question whether a Val Demmings or Stacy Abrams is qualified.

    My recommendation? Susan Rice, no public office background but she’s been in the room during some of the most momentous discussions that took place in the Obama admin. I know that the criticism of her is that her background duplicates Biden’s. Tiny is leaving both a foreign affairs and domestic mess. Biden must concentrate on the domestic, having a knowledgeable operator to assume the foreign affairs portfolio makes sense.

    7
  4. Scott says:

    As in all these speculative cases, there is a lot of people just talking without any credible information. To add my own expertise (which is none), I think Biden has to thread a needle here to avoid pissing people off. While I like a lot of the names, I have my own set of prejudices. Warren is too old. Harris is too controversial, coastal. Klobachar not a POC, etc. One person this article didn’t mention but I have seen mentioned elsewhere is Tammy Duckworth. Midwestern, POC, Senator, retired Lt Col, disabled vet. Ticks a lot of boxes as they say.

    6
  5. James Joyner says:

    @Jen:

    I genuinely do not understand what is being suggested here–what is “traditionally qualified”? He argues that it’s “being a sitting or former governor or U.S. senator.” Why is it necessary to limit to that? If we’re looking at individuals with statewide experience, it doesn’t need to be limited like that.

    Sure. And we’ve had VP picks that didn’t have the usual qualifications, like Geraldine Ferraro.

    Karen Bass is also apparently being vetted, so I think this argument is a bit ridiculous. She was speaker of the CA House, and has been a US Rep. for (I think?) 6+ years. Abrams also has statewide experience.

    I don’t think either of those resumes is qualifying for the presidency. (Yes, again, Trump got elected with zero experience. But how did that turn out?)

    Still, Governor, Senator, and VP are the traditional qualification for President. With the bizarre and instructive exception of Trump, we have not nominated (major party) or elected a candidate without one of those qualifications since Eisenhower. And you have to go a long way before Ike to find another.

    who can lead from Day 1 if necessary

    But the best way to know that is to pick someone who has actually led at a very high level. Governor is simply leaps and bounds ahead of state representive or leader of a state house.

    @Sleeping Dog:

    Regarding Biden’s VP choice, I believe his original sin was declaring it would be a woman.

    Agreed. I get why he did it. But it has wound up being extremely constraining.

    Susan Rice, no public office background but she’s been in the room during some of the most momentous discussions that took place in the Obama admin.

    She’s been a disaster as a national spokesman, although partly that was because she got set up unsuccessfully as the fall guy for the Benghazi crisis. But I’d personally be fine with the choice: she’s extremely experienced at high-level US policymaking. And the modern NSC is well beyond foreign policy, so she would have had a substantial role, for example, in the ebola crisis.

    4
  6. Teve says:

    Yeah, Rick Scott was governor of Florida for a while, and Obama was never a governor, so obviously Rick Scott would’ve been a better president than Barack Obama.

    EYE ROLL EMOJI

    6
  7. MarkedMan says:

    @SKI: Biden has publicly and repeatedly stated what he thinks is most important in a VP:
    1) He has to feel they are ready to take over as President on the first day (As you noted)
    2) He has to trust their judgement and level headedness to the point that they will be the last person he talks to on any tough issue and knows the relationship will not suffer if he goes against their advice.

    He’s recently added:
    3) Must be a woman

    Another, unspoken one:
    4) Must be able to pass a brutal background check

    Biden is not the type of guy who would BS about those things, so that’s how he will make the decision. The list of available candidates that meet all of those is very small, and only he knows the answer to the first two and the fourth is out of his hands.

    He will decide when he decides. It may be interesting to talk about the effect various choices will have on turnout, etc but at least to me there is no point in adding additional criterion.

    7
  8. Kurtz says:

    @Jen:

    I can’t tell if it’s the writing and editing or the arguments he constructs, but Bacon’s articles often strike me as off even if I agree with his conclusions for reasons he does not mention.

    1
  9. charon says:

    @SKI:

    Which is why I expect it to wind up Warren.

    1
  10. Modulo Myself says:

    I think Biden likes Kamala Harris and she likes him, and that’s the key for Biden. Warren is always going to be an outsider.

    Plus, Biden is running a campaign about doing nothing, and Warren has committed several unforced errors in the past couple years. The last thing Biden needs is somebody to blow up the current situation by going all-in on a DNA test to prove her Native American heritage.

    And oh yeah–the big fight is going to be about voting rights and access in the fall. I think Harris is maybe better at spearheading that than anybody else.

    6
  11. Kingdaddy says:

    I would look forward to a vice presidential debate with either Harris or Warren eviscerating Mike Pence. I know the debates are far less important than the electoral heft a VP candidate adds, or the assistance to the President that the VP provides, once in office. I also feel that we’ve all earned the one hour of gratification, seeing Race Bannon’s hypocritical, mendacious doppelganger get Verbally smacked around by one of those women he fears being in a room alone with.

    I also would be very happy never to see Tulsi Gabbard’s face again, in any context other than a rogues gallery of dangerous loons who made life harder during the last few years than it needed to be.

    12
  12. GW says:

    IMHO, the VP has basically two roles: 1) garner public support through the symbol he or she portrays, 2) wait for the president to die.

    I think Kamala Harris would be a good VP for the first role, and Elizabeth Warren for the second. The Biden people just have to decide which of the two roles is more likely to bring fruit.

  13. Michael Cain says:

    @James Joyner: The most notable pair of Presidents without prior elective experience in the last century have been and will be judged largely as a result of their unlucky timing. Hoover had the Great Depression land on him and Trump has had the coronavirus and resulting Depression-level economic disaster. Probably worth noting that if we didn’t still have many of the programs introduced in the Depression (and again in the mid-1960s) to reduce the impacts of unemployment, the only questions would be how big Trump’s loss would be and how big the Democrats’ Congressional majorities.

  14. Lounsbury says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    Rice is like picking Madame Clinton again. Appealing to the US Left intellectual class but rather an own-goal.
    @Teve:
    Childish misrepresentation and flimsy strawman. James wasn’t advancing the idea that any US governor ipso facto would be qualified (any more than any 30 odd year old or whatever your Constitutional minimum is), but that was a baseline.
    It certainly is the case that Governorship of a state has reasonable potential to train one in Exeuctive function of the sort that is the US presidency. Equally the Senate although legislative is more of a similar ground to the competencies of the Presidency than the lower house.

    3
  15. James Joyner says:

    @Teve:

    Yeah, Rick Scott was governor of Florida for a while, and Obama was never a governor, so obviously Rick Scott would’ve been a better president than Barack Obama.

    First off, Obama was a US Senator, so he checked the box. Second, I think Obama would have been a better President if he had been governor of Illinois or spent longer in the Senate. He made a whole lot of rookie mistakes. That he’s more capable than Rick Scott doesn’t obviate the argument that experience is hugely helpful.

    8
  16. Moosebreath says:

    CNN has an article on this topic today. The discussion above largely hits the list of people the Biden campaign is supposedly seriously vetting, other than the Mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms.

  17. Michael Reynolds says:

    Biden was right to say it’d be a woman. If he had not we’d now be in the midst of a raging debate over whether or not it was going to be a woman. Instead we’re just in a raging debate over what race of woman. I think Stacey Abrams stepped in it when she said it had to be a WOC, she came off as being all about herself which took her out of contention, while inadvertently boxing Biden into a Kamala or X choice. She’s a dynamic person with a future, but Abrams is still a relative amateur.

    12
  18. GW says:

    @James Joyner:

    Regarding “He (Obama) made a whole lot of rookie mistakes” being a political neophyte, I am curious to know what they may be. I’ve always thought that his presidency was hobbled by a senate that was dedicated to manufacturing his failure. Thanks.

    9
  19. Michael Reynolds says:

    Incidentally, Veep is not Warren’s best spot. She’s 71, will be 75 when she’d be up for the 2024 nom – if Biden passes on a second term – and 79 if Biden does two terms. Warren is about ideas and issues. She should be at Treasury. She’ll accomplish a lot more there.

    Biden should probably go with Kamala and task her with reforming policing.

    13
  20. Michael Reynolds says:

    @GW:
    Obama’s rookie mistake was imagining that the white supremacist GOP would ever co-operate on anything.

    20
  21. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Kingdaddy:

    I would look forward to a vice presidential debate with either Harris or Warren eviscerating Mike Pence.

    Me too.
    But Trump is in trouble. Big trouble. So, he’s going to do something crazy. I fully expect him to jettison Pence and bring Haley onto the ticket.

    3
  22. mattbernius says:

    @GW:

    “He (Obama) made a whole lot of rookie mistakes” being a political neophyte, I am curious to know what they may be. I’ve always thought that his presidency was hobbled by a senate that was dedicated to manufacturing his failure.

    It’s a long article, but this essay at Brookings looking at Obama’s first two years suggests that part of his issues were that he failed to transition quickly between a legislative-mindset and into an executive one. I do think there is something to that thesis (though I’m not necessarily sure more time in the Senate would have made that much of a difference in terms of Experience:

    https://www.brookings.edu/research/president-barack-obamas-first-two-years-policy-accomplishments-political-difficulties/

    2
  23. mattbernius says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    But Trump is in trouble. Big trouble. So, he’s going to do something crazy. I fully expect him to jettison Pence and bring Haley onto the ticket.

    I don’t see that happening — not without completely alienating the base.

    And, believe it or not, I wouldn’t see Pence going quietly into the night or letting a bus be driven over him.

    1
  24. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    And he kept doubling down on that for nearly 3 years.

    2
  25. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: @mattbernius:
    He can’t dump Pence IMO because only Pence is guaranteed to give Trump a pardon should Trump resign early.

    Trump is not a fighter, he’s like Brave Sir Robin, who when danger reared it’s ugly head,
    bravely turned his tail and fled. His ultimate concern, above anything else, is avoiding humiliation. The question is whether he can be convinced he’s going down. If he can be, he’ll quit and force Pence to pardon him.

    Trump will stay in til his convention in late August because he’ll want the cheering crowds. I predict if the average of polls after the convention show him in the 30’s he’ll bail, yelling some nonsense conspiracy theory. My choice for his overseas asylum is still the Philippines. Russia will be over him. Israel is too Jewish, too opinionated and in the end will be too contemptuous of him. Turkey too Muslim. But Philippines is fantastically corrupt and fascistic, plus he owns property there. Dark Horse: Slovenia, Melania’s native country.

    4
  26. wr says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: “I fully expect him to jettison Pence and bring Haley onto the ticket.”

    Pence knows where a lot of bodies are buried, though. And I can just hear his puppy dog sorrow as his sworn duty to Baby Jeebus forces him to tell a couple of stories about Trump…

    Nixon could rid of Agnew because Agnew was facing time in prison. Shoe’s on the other foot here…

    2
  27. Michael Reynolds says:

    @wr:
    Also I don’t think Nikki Haley is stupid enough to grab the last ticket on the Titanic. She’s the GOP’s great non-white hope and may have a decent shot four years from now.

    4
  28. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I think Stacey Abrams stepped in it when she said it had to be a WOC, she came off as being all about herself which took her out of contention

    If there is anyone who would be understanding of someone misspeaking or getting ahead of themselves, it’s Joe Biden. I don’t think reading too much into one statement or another is really going to help.

    If Abrams can convince Biden that her experience is relevant and sufficient — and do so in a way that they can sell it to the American people — then she has a chance.

    But in the end I expect it will be like every other hiring decision — identify a set of qualified and available people, and pick you like best and think you can work with.

    I do think it will be Harris, though, because she and Biden have been friends for ages. Reportedly during the primaries, after her attack on him, his staff and volunteers were angry and he was saying roughly “Oh, it’s just politics, she has to take her shot, don’t get worked up over it.”

    2
  29. An Interested Party says:

    If Abrams can convince Biden that her experience is relevant and sufficient — and do so in a way that they can sell it to the American people — then she has a chance.

    It’s been very interesting to observe the differences in how Abrams and Harris have responded to all of this…Abrams has been openly, and some say crassly, talking about how much she’d like to be VP while Harris has been quieter about it, pushing legislation and not really talking at all about the position…

    1
  30. mike shupp says:

    I LIKE Kamala Harris. She’s got a fair amount of political history, she’s got some executive experience as state attorney, she comes across as liberal but not too nutty about it, and she’s willing to throw a verbal brickbat at Joe Biden when he seems to deserve it — which is a huge selling point for her, if you think about it.

    OTOH, California ha 55 electoral votes which are almost certain to go Biden’s way no matter whom he picks as a running mate. But in Florida, Minnesota, Texas, Georgia, elsewhere … there’s probably some sizable states where local Democrats will simply yawn when Harris is mentioned but work avidly at getting out the vote for some other VP candidate. And in a close election this may be crucial.

    So, I suspect Biden will pass over Harris for VP, but maybe bring her into the Cabinet as his Attorney General. She’ll have four years to clean up after Bill Barr and there’ll probably be occasions when newspapers and TV journalists ask her for a few statements, so she’ll have some visibility. Come 2024, if Biden doesn’t chose to run again, she might be a very viable Presidential candidate despite her apparent lack of traditional experience.

    2
  31. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Biden needs to release a short list of Cabinet appointments and SC appointments as well. Draws a stark contrast between talented professionals and the yahoos Orange face has running things now.

    1
  32. Scott F. says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Biden should probably go with Kamala and task her with reforming policing.

    This.

    Or she could head a task force like the one Warren said her administration would form to go after all the criminal actions in the Trump administration.

    Biden himself has spoken around the edges of this idea, so I expect Biden to see his legacy move would be to set up his VP with some high profile opportunities to make their own name, then pass the baton after 1 term.

    2
  33. DrDaveT says:

    @Michael Cain:

    Hoover had the Great Depression land on him and Trump has had the coronavirus and resulting Depression-level economic disaster.

    Coronavirus is in the noise of Trump’s failures as a President. The only “unfortunate timing” he might justly complain of is being born at a time when God was fresh out of brains, hearts, and souls.

    1
  34. wr says:

    @Jim Brown 32: “Biden needs to release a short list of Cabinet appointments and SC appointments as well. ”

    Of course he doesn’t. You do that when you’re losing.

    If he wants to start rolling out names in September, long after the veep announcement, that could signal confidence and strength. Right now it would look like he was begging for support. It would be a sign of weakness and he is at the moment in a position of strength.