Earlier this week, I made the case that Joe Biden should immediately pick Elizabeth Warren as his running mate. The post got quite a response from commenters here and on social media, both positive and negative. The critiques deserve answers, which I attempt to provide below. But let me first sum up my argument.
I had been thinking for some time that Warren would be the best choice for Biden’s VP. Her policy smarts and determination to rewrite the rules of the market would be a necessary compliment to his more cautious approach, creating a balanced ticket that both younger/left-leaning and older/moderate-leaning Democratic voters can get behind.
Warren’s impressive Twitter thread from Tuesday convinced me that Biden should do so right away. She laid out a series of conditions that should be attached to any industry bailouts Congress is contemplating—from requirements that companies pay employees a minimum wage of $15 an hour to prohibitions on engaging in the kind of stock buybacks that have left corporations bereft of cash and hence needing bailouts in the first place. “The moment to impose needed reforms on American industries is precisely when a crisis hits and they’re coming hat in hand to Washington asking for bailouts,” I wrote, adding that if he puts Warren on the ticket right away
[I]t would make Biden a power player in the immensely significant decisions that are going to be made in Washington in the coming weeks and months. Presuming he and Warren can come to terms—that is, he would have to agree to follow her lead on policy ideas but she’d have to agree that he’s the boss and not to go too far beyond what he’s comfortable with—her pronouncements on the Senate floor would be seen as the word of the presumptive Democratic nominee. As such, other Democratic lawmakers would be more inclined to support her positions. That would help unify the Democrats behind an aggressive set of demands they’d place before Mitch McConnell and, ultimately, Donald Trump, on the terms of any stimulus/bailout package. Every time Trump gives into a Democratic congressional demand, he would in essence be conceding to Joe Biden—months before the November elections.
The potential for Biden and Warren, together with congressional Democrats, to use this moment of crisis—which Republicans themselves seem increasingly willing to spend trillions of dollars to address—to restructure the rules of the economy in a profoundly progressive direction, and to do so in a way that requires the sitting president to publicly make major concessions to his Democratic rival, all before the November elections, is something I’m not sure most people have gotten their heads around.
Still, commenters raised several reasonable arguments for not picking Warren, so let me address those one by one.
First is the question of her age: Warren will be 71 in June. That’s actually not much older than Biden was when he assumed the vice presidency, nor Nelson Rockefeller: both were 66. I don’t remember anyone complaining about their ages. And women outlive men! To be sure, Warren paired with Biden, who turns 78 in November, does not exactly make a youthful tableau. But compared to what? In November, Donald Trump and Mike Pence will be 74 and 61 respectively. Younger, yes, but so much so that significant numbers of voters will make that the deciding factor? I doubt it.
Second is the argument that Biden ought to choose a vice president who is a person of color. In an ideal world, he definitely should, for reasons of both justice and political advantage. But as a practical matter, it’s hard to argue that any of the commonly floated names is a better choice than Warren. Of the minority candidates who ran in the current presidential race—Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Andrew Yang, Deval Patrick—none won a single delegate (Warren won 72) and most dropped out before Iowa. Most minority voters, like most Democratic voters generally, seem to be choosing electability over identity, at least in this cycle. That fact also argues against Biden taking the risk of tapping a less known, less experienced, less vetted candidate—Stacey Abrams, say, or Michelle Lujan Grisham.
A third concern is that Warren is too far left and that choosing her means losing the chance to win over large numbers of independents and Republicans disgusted with Trump and the GOP. I am deeply sympathetic to this argument—all the more so because in Amy Klobuchar the Democrats have a quality potential VP candidate who ought to make the ticket attractive to Never Trumpers, especially in the all-important Upper Midwest. The problem is that if Biden were to choose Klobuchar, he would be effectively dissing the entire left half of the Democratic base. It’s a judgement call, I know, and I don’t know that anyone has, or even can, do the math. But it seems to me that there is a bigger potential net upside to Biden picking a candidate who is at least acceptable, and perhaps highly attractive, to loyal Democratic voters on the left than one who might bring in voters on the center-right who are not traditional Democrats
Finally, there’s the worry that if Warren were to become vice president, Massachusetts’ Governor Charlie Baker would replace her with a fellow Republican. Obviously, this is no small concern, since the senate is up for grabs in 2020 and whichever party controls it will control, among other things, the future makeup of the courts. But the threat here is less than meets the eye. Baker’s replacement would only serve for five months—less if Warren were to resign from the senate earlier, after the November elections but before inauguration—at which point a special election would need to be held that Democrats are likely to win. Massachusetts Democrats can avoid even that risk by using their veto proof majority in the state legislature to pass a law saying any senator appointed by the governor has to be from the same party as the previous senator—a law already on the books in a number of states. Boom, problem solved.