Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
Due to many mail-in votes it seems unlikely that there will be a U.S Presidential election winner on November 3rd. I’ll go one further; there probably won’t be a U.S Presidential election at all – and not in the way Donald Trump wants. Instead, what we are likely to see is a U.S Presidential referendum.
Referenda are designed to be about one issue – in this case, the character and fitness for office of Donald J Trump. They cut through ideology and party affiliation- in this case, Biden has been endorsed by groups as diverse as the Revolutionary Communist Party USA and Republican Voters Against Trump. The Lincoln Project have also backed Biden; running ads that Trump is ‘not a conservative’, and that voting for Biden is ‘a fundamentally conservative act”. Either through fluke or through design, Biden finds himself in the happy position where groups project what they want to see onto him.
And that makes his VP pick more important. Biden will most likely pick a woman or pick someone from a certain state or a minority. It seems obvious, but Biden must pick whoever has the best chance of helping him win.
So, what will help Biden win? The answer is probably not geography. The media has been shown to overemphasise this factor, with the VP home state advantage “essentially zero”. That probably rules out the swing-state trio of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, as well as Senators Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin) and Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona). The latter two would be the first (openly) LGBTQ candidates on a Presidential ticket, but counting against them is that Biden himself has, since 2012 at least, been a “step ahead” of most Democrats in advocating LGBTQ rights – LGBTQ rights are not a hole in his CV.
It also shouldn’t be an insider. 12 years ago, first term Senator from Illinois Barack Obama picked a VP candidate who plugged the holes in his own CV, namely experience. He went with Biden, who despite having now been out of Congress for 11 years, is hardly a candidate shaking up the establishment or someone in need of an insider to help put his agenda into action. Apologies to former National Security Advisor Susan Rice and establishment favourite Karen Bass; this just shouldn’t be your year.
That leaves a handful of candidates, of whom there has always been a frontrunner. The most popular choice amongst Democrats. The least offensive to Republican Never-Trumpers. The safe choice can often be uninspiring, but with Biden leading the polls in some swing states by double figures, it doesn’t need to be an inspired choice.
Kamala Harris is a heavyweight candidate with huge fundraising ability and a high-quality resume. She’s only halfway through her Senate term but she has eight years as the Attorney General of California behind her. She was a top-tier contender to take the Presidential nomination herself. Amy Klobuchar withdrew and stated a woman of colour should be chosen. Harris ticks that box. She’s experienced; Tammy Duckworth is an inspirational candidate who lost both her legs in Iraq and was the first Senator to give birth whilst in office. But Duckworth has also never run for national office or been scrutinised like Harris was in the Democratic primaries.
Her nearest challenger is Elisabeth Warren, yet whilst Warren is astute, thorough, and progressive, she is a bogeywoman to many on account of how progressive she is. In 1945, Democrats put Harry Truman on the ticket because Henry Wallace was seen as too progressive for another term as VP. Truman was President within months. History could repeat itself.
Biden will be the oldest president when/if elected and is expected to only serve for one term anyway. It is not unfeasible that Republicans who have backed Biden (in a way they would not have for Sanders) might withdraw their support if Warren were on the ticket. This election is not about increasing Democrat turnout- it’s about holding together a broad coalition who’s only commonality is its anti-Trump views.
This is a referendum where beating Trump is all that matters. Harris might not be the inspirational choice to help Biden win, but she is the safe choice to make sure he doesn’t lose.