Does Biden's running mate really matter?
Thank heaven baseball is back and almost recognizable. College football will be here in less than a month, with the notable exception of the University of Connecticut Huskies (1-20 record against FBS opponents in the last two seasons). The only question is whether fans will be allowed.
One socially distanced sport that has been with us for months and has survived without pointless rule changes or limits on the number of spectators is trying to guess who will be Joe Biden’s running mate this fall. Less than two weeks from the Democratic National Convention all we really have to go on are certain universally agreed-upon parameters, namely that the candidate will be a woman and likely non-white.
This is why some big names from a few months ago are no longer considered in the running. Amy Klobuchar will remain in the Senate, probably wishing that she had waited for another election to introduce America to her aww-shucks Minnesota version of centrism. "That woman from Michigan" will stay where she is for two more years before joining the staff of CNN (or taking over the DNC). Stacey Abrams was never going to happen. The one I wish people would start speculating about is John Kasich: pundits are the only living Americans who like the idea of these schmaltzy-sounding unity ticket scenarios, but, man, do they love them. The former Republican governor of Ohio turned professional #NeverTrumper joining forces with Uncle Joe against the powers of darkness would be the schamaltziest, most unifying unity ticket ever. I can already see the YouTube clip of their celebrity-filled cover of a reworked "We Are the World."
Here on Planet Earth, alas, serious opinion is now split between four more or less plausible choices: Kamala Harris, Susan Rice, Elizabeth Warren, and Karen Bass. The last of these is the latest example of what looks suspiciously like the would-be veep mounting her own campaign for the job (albeit with significant help from activists), but the Biden campaign is never going to settle on a congressional backbencher with a history of bizarre utterances about Fidel Castro and Scientology. Warren, no matter how flexible she appears to be, is still far away from Biden on the issues. That leaves a choice between months of gotchas about Harris' acrimonious exchanges with her former primary competitor on the subject of race or the relitigation of Benghazi. Sign me up.
My question is whether it really matters, though. In every election cycle we tend to overstate the importance of the number-two spot on the ticket. The truth is that it rarely matters; most voters have made up their minds long before such announcements are made, and even seemingly commonsensical gambits like choosing senators or governors from crucial swing states rarely has a discernible impact on the outcome of elections.
This was certainly true in 2016. (Find me the voter who said, "You know, I was pretty sold on this Trump character until the former secretary of state he called 'Crooked Hillary' chose a Playmobil caricature of a business-friendly centrist Dem from a formerly purple state to solidify the ticket. Changed my mind in an instant.") It will almost certainly be the case in 2020, when perhaps the single most divisive incumbent president in American history faces a former vice president. Voters have had more than enough time to make up their minds about these people. No one who was prepared to vote for Biden will re-evaluate because he chose a rising liberal senator instead of a fellow veteran of the Obama administration or vice versa.
This is not to suggest that Biden's campaign could choose anybody. But the choices that might actually make a difference — an ally of Bernie Sanders or even the man himself, a political amateur like Abrams — are outside the realm of plausibility. Biden is not going to select a principled progressive or anyone else who would be unacceptable to his party's establishment in the top job (his age makes this an important consideration).
The Joe Biden veepstakes is not a very interesting sport. It will be over soon, just in time for the real ones.