Joe Biden's choice for Vice-President is vital to defeating Donald Trump – Henry McLeish
Donald Trump is in deep trouble. Joe Biden, running a low-key campaign, is now 14 percentage points ahead in the presidential election race, according to a New York Times/Siena College US poll and is powering ahead in the key battleground states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, and Florida. Covid-19 could be the President’s nemesis.
The prospect of victory in November provides added significance to Biden’s pick as Vice-President, who will be confirmed in August by the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee.
As a US Senator of 36 years and Vice-President to Barack Obama for eight years, Biden has the baggage and blemishes of a long history in elected politics. The impact of the ideological divide within his own party, and the attacks on his son, health, age, and character by the ruthless Trump are proving difficult.
But Biden’s greatest electoral strength lies in the fact that he is the antithesis of Trump: a decent, empathetic, respectful, tolerant, compassionate human being and a sane, loyal, civilised patriot.
Human qualities will be Biden’s greatest asset in the November election and an opportunity for America’s majority to rescue their country from the dark, soulless, and increasingly dangerous Trump: a limited but necessary ambition for a country in crisis.
The forthcoming election is a rescue mission, with little scope for policy debates or agonising over the soul of the Democratic Party. If successful, Biden will be a transitional figure, unifying, healing, and refocussing America in troubled times, addressing the wreckage of the American dream in a country so bitterly divided, and signposting a new direction that avoids the civil war, or at least the civil strife, that Trump is stoking up.
Stopping the rot, anyone but Trump, draining the Trump swamp, and making America sane again may be unedifying campaign aims, but they do capture the urgency of the brutal predicament in which America finds itself.
‘Most ridiculed and most often ignored’
Facing this crisis, Biden’s choice of Vice-President will matter in determining the outcome of the election and shaping governance in the White House over the next four years.
US Senate archives describe the vice-presidency as “the least understood, most ridiculed and most often ignored constitutional office in the federal government”.
It was less generously described by Franklin D, Roosevelt’s Vice-President, John Nance Garner, as “a pitcher of warm p***” or “a warm bucket of spit”. Reporters allegedly changed the spelling of the last word for print purposes!
The Constitution’s framers created the vice-presidency almost as an afterthought in the Constitutional Convention of 1787, The vice-president is part of the legislative branch and president of the Senate who presides over deliberations but may not vote except to cast a tie-breaking vote. The constitutional duties remain limited.
Some VPs have been successful, a few have ended up in the top job and others have achieved significant notoriety.
Lyndon Johnson brought legislative experience to the younger John F Kennedy, helped win the state of Texas in the election and, as President, was responsible for the most important civic and voting rights legislation for African Americans since the abolition of slavery.
The VP who couldn’t spell ‘potato’
The VP to George W Bush, Dick Cheney, was a Washington insider, political enforcer and keeper of the neo-con flame. The suggestion is that he was “so downright scary and universally despised that he helped humanise George W”, who nicknamed him “Darth Vader”.
Assuming the presidency on the death of President William Henry Harrison in 1841, John Tyler was the first President to get the job because of the death of his predecessor. His nickname of “His Accidency”, says it all.
Dan Quayle, VP to President George H W Bush, was responsible for one of the most notorious political gaffes, when on a school visit, he could not spell potato, which he later described “as a defining moment of the worst imaginable kind”.
Joe Biden has a panel of experienced, talented, and impressive women to pick from. He has confirmed that his VP pick will be a woman and, if elected on the ticket, will be the first in US history.
Conscious of his age – he will be 78 a few days after the election – Biden has privately confided to his aides that if successful, it is likely that he will only serve one term.
A number of criteria will inform his choice: a candidate that could help win a battleground state such as Michigan, Florida or Wisconsin or raise the poll numbers in, for example, the southern states; the idea of a younger candidate who would be forward-looking, youthful and provide the energy; a person of colour, in particular an African American in view of the fact that the loss of black votes cost Clinton the election in 2016 and to respond the Black Lives Matter campaign and the death of George Floyd; someone who could straddle the ideological right-left divide in the Democratic Party but possibly be more left-leaning than Biden has ever been; or someone with more natural aggression and toughness to handle the vicious and virulent attacks of Trump in the campaign proper.
A woman to succeed Biden?
Five candidates stand out in a remarkable field. The bookmaker’s favourite is Senator Kamala Harris, a former Attorney General for California, although she has had her differences with Biden. Her mother was a scientist and civil rights activist originally from India, while her father was an economist from Jamaica.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, competing with Bernie Sanders for the support of the progressive left. Rising star Val Demings, from a key swing state, is an African American and former police chief in a major southern city, Orlando, Florida, and was elected to the US Congress in 2016.
A former colleague of Biden in the Obama White House, Susan Rice has serious foreign policy credentials, serving as National Security Adviser and US ambassador to the United Nations.
Stacey Abrams, a Yale graduate, a former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives and an African American, narrowly failed to win her bid for Governor in 2018. Her strength would be maximising the minority vote. Former presidential nominee Amy Klobuchar decided to opt out of the VP race, and favours an African American candidate.
This time, the VP pick will matter. The first woman VP in US history could enhance the prospect of the first woman in the White House in 2024. But first, Biden must rescue America.
This article previously stated incorrectly that Kamala Harris had Native American ancestry and has been edited to clarify her family background
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