Friday, August 2, 2019

It isn't "way too early" to think about who the Democratic running mate will be

People say it’s “way too early to be thinking about” [NYT link] who’ll be the vice-presidential nominee when we haven’t even started voting for the person who’ll make that decision. But wait, shouldn’t we think about what the ticket might be before choosing the nominee, while it could still inform our votes in the primaries? I don’t like the idea that we must follow a certain schedule about which questions to think about when, or that we can’t think more than one step into the future.

Those who say the choice of running mate doesn’t matter very much are wrong. It can matter a lot. A good running mate can smooth over some of the nominee’s weaknesses (that’s been true of at least the last 3 running mates to win, who all eased concerns about the future president’s experience and competence). A weak choice can raise serious questions about the nominee’s judgment (Sarah Palin, Dan Quayle); it’s our only chance to see what kind of person the president would hire for their administration before we cast our votes.

So, what are some of the plausible Democratic tickets for 2020? Any nominee will want a ticket with diversity. We can assume it won’t be two Straight White Men; it’s highly unlikely that the ticket will be, say, Biden/Bennet or Bernie/Beto.

If Elizabeth Warren is the nominee, I could see her choosing Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, or Julián Castro. Each would add a different and significant kind of diversity. All of them have been generally performing well in the debates. I can’t see any glaring, irreconcilable differences that would stop her from choosing them — they’re not Delaney, who Warren ridiculed as running for president just to say what he “won’t fight for.”

Buttigieg and Castro would love us to think they’d flip their states in the Electoral College (as unlikely as it might seem for Trump to lose his vice president’s state of Indiana or deep-red Texas). But a successful running mate generally isn’t picked as a tactic to win just one state. Obama didn’t choose Biden to win Delaware; same with Dick Cheney’s two states of Wyoming and Texas; Paul Ryan didn’t manage to win Wisconsin for Romney, etc. Warren surely knows all this.

The running mate could be someone who isn’t running now; for instance, Warren might choose Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio. But there are so many Democratic presidential candidates that it would be surprising if they all got passed over for VP.

If Pete Buttigieg wins the nomination, it’s easy to see him going for gender diversity by choosing Elizabeth Warren or Tulsi Gabbard, who were both outstanding debaters this week. Warren would excite progressive voters, but the last thing Buttigieg needs is more race-related concerns about his campaign, and he could count on Trump to make a big issue out of Warren’s past representations of being Native American. This couldn’t be dismissed just by calling out Trump’s crude word choice in bringing it up.

Buttigieg and Gabbard would be two young veterans who both speak compellingly about their military experience. Buttigieg might want to accentuate this side of his background, along the lines of Bill Clinton choosing Al Gore to emphasize that they’re a new kind of Democrat. Journalists would have their work cut out for them just listing all the ground Tulsi Gabbard could break as a 30-something, Hindu, American Samoan, vegetarian, surfing martial-arts instructor who took her congressional oath of office on the Bhagavad Gita instead of the Bible.

Buttigieg/Booker could also be appealing, but they’re both male. And unfortunately, Buttigieg has to worry about bias against him as a gay man, so even if this shouldn’t matter, he probably wants a running mate with a relatively traditional personal life; Booker has never been married and doesn’t have kids. Kamala Harris also doesn’t have kids, but more importantly, I don’t expect any nominee to choose Harris with all the questions about her record, in these days of increased interest in criminal justice reform.

I have a harder time speculating about who Joe Biden would choose, since he seems generally unpredictable and erratic. So I have no guess for him — and even if I did, I’d expect him to choose someone else!

That leaves 2 other candidates in the top 5, but I don’t expect them to be nominated so I’m less interested in guessing who their running mates would be. Kamala Harris’s image as a tough prosecutor is ill-suited to the current political moment, and her response to Gabbard’s attack last night wasn’t confidence-inspiring on that front. Self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders, who’d be in his 80s for most of his presidency, is even more of a long shot now than last time.

No one else seems likely to win the nomination, but that could change. Almost every presidential race gives us at least one huge surprise . . .