The presumptive Democratic nominee for President, Joe Biden, has run a novel campaign that departs from precedent in several key respects. Perhaps foremost among them is the salience of his choice for Vice President, which looms larger now than in any campaign in recent memory. Biden’s eventual selection, expected later this month, will exercise outsize influence on his administration and the Democratic Party’s future trajectory.
Mr. Biden has all but secured the Democratic nomination for President, having won a sufficient number of delegates in early June. However, concerns about his health have continued to nip at the Senator’s heels. Although this is partially ascribable to circumstances beyond the Senator’s control — at 77, Biden is the oldest major party nominee to run for President — it has been exacerbated by persistent gaffes and mediocre performances in Democratic primary debates.
Indeed, Biden himself has reportedly acknowledged that his advanced age might force him to run for only one term, repeatedly signaling to his aides that he is unlikely to run for reelection. As one prominent adviser to the campaign put it, “If Biden is elected he’s going to be 82 years old in four years and he won’t be running for reelection.” In public, Biden has been more careful to preserve an ambiguous posture, responding to a question about a one-term commitment by saying, “I feel good and all I can say is, watch me, you’ll see. It doesn’t mean I would run a second term. I’m not going to make that judgment at this moment.”
Given the dominant sway exercised by modern Presidents over their parties, and the commanding position that a sitting Vice President typically enjoys in primary elections when seeking their party’s nomination, Joe Biden is, in effect, faced with the task of selecting the Democratic party’s next Presidential nominee and titular leader of the party. Unsurprisingly, this has produced a large pool of candidates eagerly seeking the nod, with the only common denominator being that all — per Biden’s March 15 pledge — are women.
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Who, then, is likeliest to get the nod? By most accounts, Biden is currently leaning towards selecting Senator Kamala Harris of California as his running mate. Demographically, Harris brings relative youth and racial diversity to the ticket, hailing from biracial African-American and Indian-American descent, and has won a degree of national prominence unusual for freshman senators. Ever since the outbreak of Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, demand for an African American on the ticket has risen sharply among the Democratic activists. Moreover, as a recent candidate for the party’s nomination, Biden’s staff is confident she has weathered sufficient scrutiny to ensure no future scandals are in the offing.
Nevertheless, Harris’s early primary attacks on Biden — accusing him of “racial insensitivity” — have left several of Biden’s key advisers reluctant to nominate Harris. Former Senator Chris Dodd, who is reportedly playing a key role in shaping Biden’s deliberations, interviewed Harris and was unimpressed. “She had no remorse,” he said of the exchange.
That leaves a second tier of choices, each with her own mix of advantages and disadvantages. Biden’s camp tends to see both Senator Elizabeth Warren and former National Security Advisor Susan Rice as capable of assuming the duties of the Presidency should Biden’s health deteriorate. But Warren’s presidential campaign underperformed and she herself is over 70. Perhaps equally problematic, she adds no racial diversity to the ticket. Rice, an African-American woman, would add such diversity, and moreover cultivated a personal relationship with Biden during their time together in the Obama administration. She has never held elective office, however, and is mostly known for having attracted heavy criticism from the Right during the Benghazi affair.
Whichever course Biden ultimately charts, the ramifications for the Democratic Party and American foreign policy will likely be profound. Whomever he selects is all but sure to lead one of Washington’s main camps for years to come.