Saturday, August 22, 2015

Is Biden/Warren a Good Idea?

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) with Vice President Joe Biden (D-DE)
Recent reports from CNN about a meeting between Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren have stirred up thoughts not just on social media that the Vice President is getting ever-closer to running for the White House, but also now that he may try to convince Sen. Warren to be his running mate.  This would be a huge break in tradition for a major candidate such as Biden, as it's highly atypical and against generally-accepted political practice to announce your running mate this far out from the convention.  Indeed, recent announcements from the likes of Barack Obama and John McCain were made to much fanfare just a few days before the primary.  The only recent decision by a presidential candidate to announce considerably earlier than the primary was Sen. John Kerry in 2004, who did it four weeks prior to winning the nomination.  This isn't even remotely comparable, however, to what Biden might be doing.  While Biden may just be trying to gain Warren's endorsement (an extremely smart strategy), the amount of press that clearly was leaked from one or both of their camps (it's front page on CNN for a reason here, people), has to imply some credit to them running together.  I look below as to why this may or not be a good idea.

One of the few critical, major moves that a presidential candidate does have in their race is the choice of their running mate.  While there is much press over whether or not a VP pick matters (by-and-large, it doesn't), it is in fact a way to distract the press, re-energize your campaign, and create buzz heading into a convention.  Looking at some of the past picks, you can see that Gov. Sarah Palin, for example, was a huge draw for John McCain, initially in the way that he was hoping (McCain definitely gained in the polls initially from his announcement).  By announcing so early you are eliminating that buzz, and all of that press.  Yes, Biden would get an insane amount of press from Warren and would have a chief advocate for him on the campaign trail, but the reality is that it would cost him in the long run, particularly if the leading Republicans didn't match suit, and he was going to get an insane amount of press when he announced regardless.  By the time next summer roles around, all eyes would be on who a Trump or Rubio or Bush would be picking, and little would be discussed about the choice of Warren in the press.

It's also worth noting that the Republicans would gain a tactical advantage from this decision that the GOP doesn't have.  As the incumbent party, the Democrats get to go second in the conventions (this is a relatively unknown tradition in politics, and one that hasn't been disrupted in the current hyper-partisan era).  As a result, the Democrats have the ability to know the Republican Party's nominee before they officially announce their own.  This could be critically-important if the election is particularly close.  Look again at 2008-when Barack Obama didn't pick Hillary Clinton as his running mate in 2008, McCain thought that he could potentially sway more moderate Clinton supporters over to his side by playing the gender card.  As a result, McCain took a political risk in his calculations, discarding more likely candidates like Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty, and instead going with Gov. Palin.  Admittedly this didn't work the way he hoped, but imagine if he'd chosen a Kay Bailey Hutchison or Lisa Murkowski or a candidate that had a hold on the issues-the idea was not bad.  Campaigns frequently try and counter the incumbent, particularly in terms of age (look at John Edwards/Dick Cheney or Paul Ryan/Joe Biden, or most famously, Lloyd Bentsen/Dan Quayle).  Giving up that tactical advantage is not something to be taken lightly.

Would Biden/Klobuchar be a better decision a year from now?
This is also because Joe Biden may well have a better option down-the-road than Elizabeth Warren.  At this point, the reason he would be picking Warren would be to entice as many Bernie Sanders voters as possible over to his team, which if it would work would probably be worth it (winning the nomination is 90% of the job of becoming president), but he's waited too long for that-not all Sanders voters are going with him because he was their second choice when Warren said no anymore (some just have Berniementum).  Without that guarantee, Elizabeth Warren becomes just a major headliner but not one that could be as valuable in the general elections.  Eleven months from now, a theoretical candidate Biden may need to shore up support from the Latino or African-American communities (making Julian Castro or Cory Booker a better option), or need to find more avenues on the electoral map (making Virginia senators like Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, or New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan far more appetizing), or could simply need someone who can go toe-to-toe with a world-class debater like Rob Portman (here you're better off with a particularly renowned former attorney like Amy Klobuchar, Claire McCaskill, or Kirsten Gillibrand).  The reality is that if you don't have to play this card, you shouldn't.

It's also worth noting that Warren has been particularly critical of the Obama administration.  It's difficult to imagine Vice President Biden throwing the Obama administration under the bus on the Trans-Pacific Partnership even if Biden's ties to labor are perhaps more pronounced than his boss's (it's foolishness to think Presidents and VP's agree on everything, but publicly they kind of have to).  As a result, will Warren fall-in-line behind Biden on such issues or will she strike up on her own?  Because the former makes her look a bit like a hack while the latter makes her look too renegade.  And fairly or unfairly, a renegade female VP candidate is going to echo comparisons to Sarah Palin pretty damn fast. If the Democrats are in the lead in August of 2016 that may not matter, but with a year's worth of press out there, this is something that should be kept in mind.

However, it's worth noting that this is only good advice unless it isn't.  Conventional wisdom is just that-wisdom based on convention.  The reality is that even if Biden and Warren aren't friends, as I stated above, you do whatever it takes to become president.  Campaigns involve major sacrifices.  Presidential candidates throughout history have picked a prudent running mate rather than the one they wanted.  John McCain wanted Joe Lieberman in 2008, John Kerry wanted Dick Gephardt in 2004, George McGovern wanted Kevin White in 1972, and John Kennedy wanted Scoop Jackson in 1960.  None of them got the candidate they first preferred due to political pragmatism, as candidates who made more sense were selected.  Biden almost surely would prefer someone he served with in his days in the Senate as his running mate, but if Warren helps him win it will be worth it.  However, if it helps him win and that's clear late this fall, it may spur other Democrats to make the same decision, particularly Hillary Clinton.  Clinton could pick a bold choice like Castro or Booker, but like I stated above that might not be what she needs a year from now.  The same could be said for a struggling Republican nominee, but there the stakes are even higher as several of the leading candidates may want to choose each other as running mates should they have the option.  Jeb Bush may decide he needs to shore up conservatives with a Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio may decide he wants a swing state/experience balance in John Kasich.  All of this is destroyed if you have to choose your running mate early on in the cycle, and this process limits candidates' options, never a good thing when you're waging an election that could be decided by one correctly tossed Hail Mary.

So I don't believe this is a good idea-Biden's campaign won't gain a lot of votes from an Elizabeth Warren candidacy, and he has too much to lose.  That being said, politics is filled with unusual ideas that seemed idiotic until they sealed the deal (the all-Southern ticket of 1992,  the Bush redux ticket of 2000, the Hillary-less ticket of 2008), so we won't know for several more months or perhaps even a year if this was genius or idiocy.  But I'd still advise against it from this vantage.

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