Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is committed to choosing a female running mate, seeing the move as a surefire way to curry favor among a party obsessed with the imagery of “diversity.” It is a coherent strategy on Biden’s part, but the flip side of the equation has perhaps not been pored over as much. Is being Joe Biden’s 2020 sidekick a good career move for an ambitious Democratic female politician?
Liberty Nation’s Mark Angelides has kept a running tab on the various odds for 2020’s key races. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) is the current 7/4 favorite to secure the Biden vice presidential bid. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) at 9/2 and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) at 7/1 are right behind her, while Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is listed at 15/2. All seem well disposed to accepting the call from Biden if it should come.
Stepping Stone or Future Anvil?
But should they? Joe Biden is a historically unappealing candidate who managed to secure a stranglehold on his party’s nomination. This is primarily due to the Democratic old guard party machinery that hammered out a way to coalesce around Biden to prevent a declared socialist, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), as the party flag-bearer.
A fair comparison can be made to Walter Mondale’s disastrous 1984 run against a popular President Ronald Reagan and Biden’s standing today. While the man who represented Delaware may have a better shot at defeating President Trump than Mondale did against an untouchable Reagan, the female VP dynamic is somewhat similar. Did Geraldine Ferraro, the New York congresswoman chosen to be Mondale’s number two, really do herself a political service by accepting the vice-president spot alongside such a frail candidate? Ferraro was only 48 at the time, and while she drew a certain amount of credit as the “first female on a major party presidential ticket,” her career after Mondale’s crushing defeat was lackluster and forgettable.
There are, of course, other strong reasons for the rapid eclipse of Ferraro’s star, among them her husband’s fraudulent financial dealings that scuttled her plans to run for a U.S. Senate seat in 1986. But the fact is, the ambitious politician never got even remotely close to an enormous spike out of her VP candidacy that she had hoped.
The two younger female senators in the running today should keep this in mind before hurrying to link up with a shaky Biden campaign. Harris is 55, and Klobuchar is 59. Each potentially has many more active political years ahead of them. Will having the first paragraph of their political bios from 2021 read “she was the 2020 Democratic nominee for vice president on the Joe Biden ticket” serve as a significant drag on that future if the gaffe-riddled Biden goes on to lose in November?
Both Harris and Klobuchar no doubt entertain the notion that they will be able to outshine an often-forgetful Biden and make a big splash on the general election stage. The problem with that line of thinking is that they already had numerous opportunities during the long primary process to do this, and both demonstrably proved that they were not up to the task.
So why would it be different now? Harris and Klobuchar would dearly like to be Lloyd Bentsen to Joe Biden’s Michael Dukakis, but are they just female Tim Kaines: Nondescript. Dull. Careerists. Bentsen, a veteran senator from Texas, was 67 when he became the running mate of Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis in 1988, but that was at a time when 67 was considered much older than it is seen today. Bentsen was beginning to approach the end of his career, and his well-received (if overblown) performance on the Dukakis ticket became a feather in his cap. He went on to serve as Treasury Secretary in President Bill Clinton’s administration and positioned himself as something of a distinguished elder among Democrats until he died in 2006.
If any of the top female Dem VP candidates could hope to follow the Bentsen trajectory, it would perhaps be Elizabeth Warren. At age 70, her future options will be rapidly narrowing. As such, a vice-presidential nomination, even paired with Biden, might further boost her party standing. The most notable difference between the two is that Bentsen was viewed as a moderate — able to appeal to Democrats and independent voters — while Warren is a strident progressive who prefers to engage in a divisive brand of identity politics. Thus, she cannot seriously position herself as a force for unity.
This brings us to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The smartest thing a career Swamp figure like Biden could do would be to select a D.C. outsider who can be promoted as a young up-and-comer as his running mate. Biden has confirmed that the governor is on his shortlist. Still, Whitmer may have severely damaged her chances of late with a heavy-handed response to the Coronavirus pandemic in the Wolverine State.
In an April 4 editorial, The Detroit News, hardly a bastion of conservative thought, slammed Whitmer for opting to audition for the national spotlight instead of doing her job during a health crisis. “[S]he’s also assumed the role of designated Democratic attack dog in this crisis, appearing almost daily on cable news shows to criticize the administration’s handling of the virus response,” the newspaper opined. “That creates confusion about whether Whitmer is advocating for her Michigan constituents, or carrying out her duties as co-chair of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, or worse, serving her own ambition to be vice president.”
Like Ferraro in ’84, Whitmer is 48 and overly ambitious. She is eager to scale the heights of the national political scene. But by tying her kite to a potential Joe Biden lead balloon, is she more likely to crash and burn than ascend to the clouds?
It is a question that more than one Democratic female on this shortlist should be asking herself. Such as it is, these women may be better off eschewing the momentary prestige of a Biden VP nomination and focusing on bolstering their own resumes if they want to hew a power role for themselves in the Democratic party.
Read more from Joe Schaeffer.
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