As the Democratic field narrows, who should be on the shortlist for V.P.?
Former Vice President Joe Biden shocked Democratic activists everywhere when he revealed he would consider a Republican to be his running mate. The statement unleashed a firestorm on Twitter, even though New York Times columnist David Leonhardt argued that the comment was just an easy way for Biden to show his openness to people of both political parties.
In reality, Biden has mentioned a laundry list of people he would consider as his running mate. The latest is reportedly Beto O’Rourke, although my guess is that this rumor was floated by Beto himself. He seems intent on doing anything to avoid running for Senate again.
Beto, of course, would be a horrible choice. I can only imagine the optics of two white privileged guys running as the Democratic ticket. So much for the Democratic party looking like America.
But never fear. People are getting frustrated with Biden’s unwillingness to commit to a V.P. candidate at this time, but that’s exactly the position he should be taking at this point. He can worry about his V.P. pick after he (or someone else) has won the primaries.
Biden’s flailing around on this question does point to two legitimate concerns with his candidacy, however. First, he is incredibly undisciplined as a candidate. He seems to say whatever comes into his mind at the time regardless of the potential ramifications. To some, that might seem like a positive trait. But then he says things that make his look stupid, as when he said that “poor kids” are just as bright as “white kids.” Trump might not be able to understand the implications of that statement, but the rest of us can.
That leads me to my second concern with Biden. When it comes to dealing with Republicans, he is still living in a fantasy world in which they are still honest participants in our government. Starting in the 1990s, the Republican party has become little more than a white supremacist cult worried about nothing more than keeping power at all costs. Thus their obsession with Trump, a racist who will do anything to get elected, legal or not. These are not people you can have an honest discussion with. They can only be defeated.
Nevertheless, given Biden’s flailing around, we shouldn’t read too much into his V.P. musings.
One thing is clear, however, it is not too early to start talking about what a Vice Presidential candidate should look like. After all, the Democratic field has transformed itself from a diverse group into a lilly-white field. Of course there is still Deval Patrick, but even I forget that he’s still running. Given recent polling, it appears that the candidates most likely to emerge from the early primary states are Biden, Sanders, Warren, and Buttitieg. Any one of them would be great — a vast improvement over the current administration — but none is a Person of Color.
That matters, even beyond the typical justice argument. In fact, there is substantial evidence that not having a person of color on the 2016 ticket was a fatal error for the Clinton campaign.
Consider the following. The only election in history where a racial group voted at as high a level of turnout as white people was 2012, when African-Americans turned out at a 66.6% rate. In 2008, black turnout matched white turnout. Clearly, this turnout had a critical impact upon the election results.
Evidence of the importance of turnout was the fact that Romney and his campaign thought they had won in 2012. The reason for this optimism is that they did not believe African-American turnout would be as high as it was in 2008. In fact, it was higher. A change in turnout can make a big difference in how you interpret your polling data, and that is what misled Romney.
Note that in 2016, black turnout fell by 6 points, with white turnout once again beating that of all other ethnic groups.
The lesson? African-Americans turn out when one of their own is on the ballot. And they turn out in sufficient numbers to make a difference. So in 2020, the lack of a person of color at the top of the Democratic ticket should be a real concern.
The good news is that there are lots of exceptional Black candidates who could serve as running mates. Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris would be great, as would former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick. Andrew Gillum, who nearly won the Florida Governorship in 2018 would be a strong choice, as would former Attorney General Eric Holder. If we reach a little bit more broadly among people of color, Julian Castro and Andrew Yang have shown themselves to be viable candidates. In other words, the bench is deep.
For me, however, the strongest choice is Stacey Abrams, the former Democratic candidate for Governor of Georgia. There are several reasons for this. First, Abrams is an energizing figure. Not only is she a great campaigner, but the impression that the 2018 election was stolen from her will be an additional motivator for Democrats.
Second, Black women have shown themselves to be the essential element of the Democratic base. They are the most highly-educated population in America right now, and as a result, they wield outsize influence in their communities. Third, they make up an enthusiastic and loyal group supporting the Democratic party, with 98 percent of them voting for Hillary Clinton.
This combination of loyalty, education and influence has made Black women a lethal asset for Democrats. Indeed, the unexpected election of Doug Jones in the 2017 Alabama Senate special election has been largely credited to the work of Black women. This is a group we need to engage in this election.
Aside from the fact that Abrams will help energize an important part of the Democratic coalition, she will help expand the electoral map in 2020. For the past few elections, Georgia has been trending increasingly Democratic. Having Abrams on the ticket will certainly accelerate that trend. What’s more is that Georgia has two senate races up for election in 2020. A boost in Democratic turnout might help us win one of those two seats, greatly improving the possibility of the Democrats taking the senate. No other state will have such an outsized influence on the partisan make-up of the new Senate.
Winning the Presidency is essential. That is how Trump can be stopped from further harming our country. But Democrats need the Senate if they are to undo some of the damage caused by Trump. With the likely loss of Doug Jones’s seat in Alabama, Democrats need to win in some unexpected places. A little help in Georgia just might make the difference there.