Dear Mr. Vice President:
You don’t have to remain farklempt over whom to select as your running mate. Your choice is easier than your selection committee and other advisors, judging from news reports, are making it out to be. Only three of your finalists, Val Demings, Tammy Duckworth and Keisha Lance Bottoms, would add substantially to your ticket. Their pluses far outweigh their minuses. Kamala Harris would be a more neutral pick. The others have minuses likely giving you and you team concern, and they should.
Let’s go through the field of candidates to assess whether their respective baggage is surmountable. We’ll proceed from the candidates who can hurt your ticket to the candidates who are neutral, and finally to Bottoms, Duckworth and Demings as the candidates who can help you.
The only candidate who would hurt the ticket is Susan Rice. Mr. Vice President, if only we lived in a world where facts debunked partisan myths, including on Benghazi. Ten investigations cleared the Obama Administration of wrongdoing in not having known about the terrorist attacks on two American compounds in Benghazi, Libya in 2012. The investigations include one by the FBI; another by an independent commission at the behest of the State Department; two more by U.S. Senate committees; and a whopping six Republican investigations by U.S. House Committees when the Republicans controlled the chamber.
The verdict came in again and again: President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and Susan Rice did nothing wrong. Heck, Rice had not even been National Security Advisor in 2012; she was Ambassador to the U.N. in President Obama’s first term.
But Mr. Vice President, we don’t live in a world where facts consistently debunk partisan myths. Donald Trump and Twitter destroyed that world for now, and it will take your Presidency to usher in a new era of truth. But you have to get elected first. Trump is basing his entire fall campaign on your making unforced errors, including his hope that you will stumble during the Presidential debates. It’s all Trump has left.
Given his lack of traction against you so far, Trump would run against Susan Rice and debate her on stage as if she were actually there. Will it work? Perception is reality, and the Trump campaign would run hundreds of millions of dollars of television ads to make the Benghazi perception a false reality again. I don’t buy the argument that Trump will demolish whomever you choose to be your running mate, so you might as well choose Susan Rice. More than any of the others, she would provide ammunition to Trump on a silver platter.
Who needs that tsuris? – that headache – as my grandparents of blessed memory would have asked you in Yiddish. Rice a great governing choice, you might respond. You’ve worked with her closely in the White House and you know first-hand her foreign policy brilliance and skills under pressure.
But Mr. Vice President, the world will need you to rebuild our global alliances and extract our government from Trump’s entanglements with Putin and other dictators. Only you, the governing partner to a President the world loved so much, can do that. It is also your strength from having been Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. If you want a governing choice, choose a running mate who can help you reassemble a nation torn asunder by Trump’s COVID health and economic havoc.
Congresswoman Karen Bass, currently Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, may be the best governing choice among your finalists. As Speaker of the California Assembly before she came to Washington, she held one of the most consequential legislative jobs in America. She had more power to impact more lives than most members of the United States House or Senate. She is a pro’s pro, a consummately savvy leader who knows how to work the levers of government to get things done. Of all the people you’re considering, Karen Bass, along with Elizabeth Warren, would be the best equipped to step in as President on a moment’s notice.
So why is she a negative choice? The public vetting process has revealed her two mistakes that would kill your ticket this fall. She praised Fidel Castro, deadly in Florida; and at a wildly ill-advised visit to a Scientology center, she praised the organization in extended video remarks. Those are disqualifying events, period. Don’t overthink it.
The neutral candidate you’re considering is Kamala Harris. The hazing Senator Harris is enduring now is enough to enrage all of us who recognize that sexism and Russian interference kept Hillary Clinton from the White House in 2016. Last week, Politico reported that former Senator Chris Dodd and others whispering in Biden’s ear find Harris to be too ambitious. They’re afraid, apparently, that she’d be running for President the moment she was inaugurated as Vice President.
Wait a second: Didn’t someone named Joe Biden run for President in 1988 and 2008, the latter year against the man who selected him as his running mate? Did anyone caution Barack Obama against choosing you? Of course not. For a man, ambition is a virtue. As for her tough debate attack on you last year, you understand the rough and tumble of primary politics. As David Gergen said this weekend on CNN, “if she were a man, she’d have been forgiven by now.”
Senator Harris’ biggest problem, exposed for all the world to see, is that she ran a terrible campaign for President. She made mistakes on messaging – what exactly was her messaging? – that would have qualified her for the first season of SNL’s Not Ready for Prime-Time Players. Lost in the shuffle was that she was one of the most effective and courageous state Attorneys General in history, running a statewide office in California more impressive than the Governor’s offices of many states. Though she gets a rap for being a tough-cop prosecutor who should have been more progressive, Harris transformed her office with racial justice and other equality initiatives that get little attention. That, of course, was the precisely the messaging problem with her Presidential campaign. The problem is not her governance.
Will Harris buy you votes in swing states? I don’t see it. You, Mr. Vice President, won the Democratic Party’s base vote in the primaries that she didn’t. Will she cost you votes? Indications are she is a talent who learned from her Presidential campaign and will not make the same mistakes again.
Before we get to the candidates who can help the ticket, some words about Elizabeth Warren, with whom you have had a closer friendship than many Democrats have recognized. News reports said you would have chosen her to be your running mate had you run in 2016. By all accounts, she is now one of your closest economic advisors. That’s not surprising: The 2020 primaries, as primaries always do, exaggerated the differences between center-left and purely left candidates.
Look, I get that you two are personally and ideologically compatible. But a Biden-Warren victory in November would mean the Republican Governor of Massachusetts would appoint Warren’s replacement to serve the first 145 to 160 days of your presidency until a special election. The first months of a new Presidency are a honeymoon in which Presidents traditionally get things done. If the Democrats narrowly capture the U.S. Senator but for Elizabeth Warren’s vacating her Senate seat, you will regret it for your entire Presidency.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms would add to your ticket. The public vetting process for Vice-President, which has overlapped with COVID-19 pandemic, has thrust her into the national spotlight as the top adversary of Republican Governor Brian Kemp, a COVIDiot who led the way in red states’ reopening too soon. As Georgia’s Secretary of State who threw African-American voters off the rolls to engineer his own “victory” over Stacey Abrams, Kemp has gotten his deserved karma by helping to elevate both Abrams and Bottoms to the national spotlight.
It’s clear you’re not considering Abrams. Mayor Bottoms, then, could tip Georgia in your favor. You’re already running neck-and-neck there with Trump. She does not have national governing experience, and you value that during these perilous times. That would be a legitimate concern. But being a mayor of a world-class city thrust into an existential crisis of our time, the COVID-19 pandemic, is extraordinary governing experience.
Now let’s turns to your two best candidates. Except for Mayor Bottoms, no other candidate has fared as well during the public vetting process as Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois Not one negative story has emerged about her from the public vetting process. Tammy Duckworth best fit the rule for any running mate: First do no harm. True, she would not help carry you a state you wouldn’t otherwise carry. Illinois is bedrock blue, and voters in the other midwestern states are not going to say, “Joe Biden chose a Midwesterner as Vice President and that’s enough for me.” Regional balance does not go that far. You’re either from a swing state or not.
But Senator Duckworth’s story as an American hero who lost both her legs in the Iraq War would drive Donald Trump nuts. Picking Senator Duckworth would accelerate the erosion of his base among the remaining Republicans who still care about national security issues. She would also be a smart governing choice, with her experience in both houses of Congress and knowledge of the military.
Let there be no doubt that Trump, who grotesquely mocked a reporter with disabilities in the 2016 campaign, would mock Senator Duckworth and hasten his own demise as he didn’t four years ago before he destroyed the nation. The risk with Duckworth? Her speaking style can be flat and she could turn out to be forgotten like Tim Kaine was in 2016. I would bet not, given the barriers she would break as the first woman of color and the first person with disabilities to be nominated for national office.
That leaves one last option: Congresswoman Val Demings of Florida. Mr. Vice President, my gut tells me you are overthinking Demings. She is from the swing area, Orlando, in the state that has been the most swing Presidential state in America for the last 20 years. If you had to put geography into a computer for it to spit out the perfect choice, out would come Val Demings’ name. She already has a national following among all of us who followed her magnificent leadership as a House impeachment manager.
More than any other person you are considering, Demings has the “it” factor. She is an electrifying communicator who would wear increasingly well during the campaign. She would captivate the nation with excitement to complement your comforting reliability during these times that need it.
You’re hesitating, my gut tells me, because Congresswoman Demings was a police chief who has faced accusations of being insufficiently responsive to police behavior toward African-American constituents. Other the COVID-19, racial justice is the most important issue in America and cannot be downplayed. Demings is precisely the voice with the personal experience lead police reform in America and to help galvanize African-American support for those reforms. No one else on the national stage knows the problems with police as she does, and that’s exactly what she would communicate as your running mate.
Let’s say Trump does go after Demings were you to choose her. Play out the politics, and Trump would find himself playing on the visitors’ ballfield — the field of racial justice where he is vulnerable even among white Americans who, polls say, have had enough of his divisiveness. If he attacks Demings on law and order issues, he cannot have it both ways. He cannot attack her as being weak on police reform and weak on law-and-order at the same time. As she showed during House impeachment proceedings, Demings has the skills to eat Trump for lunch.
Mr. Vice President, with Tammy Duckworth and Keisha Lance Bottoms being terrific choices as well, your best choice is Val Demings. Please stop overthinking it. Your time to make that choice is now.