My vice-presidential argument has always been grounded on one overriding concern: Who gives us the best chance to win. Nothing else matters. Hillary Clinton picked Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate in 2016, arguing that he was best prepared to govern if something happened to her. But no one is governing if you don’t win in the first place. Winning always comes first.
Earlier in the cycle, there was a danger of a 2016 repeat—with a “centrist,” not-too-exciting nominee failing to rally the progressive activist base. Warren solved that problem, providing progressive bona fides to the top of the ticket. To this day, Biden’s top fundraising partner has been Warren, and he has already adopted several of her plans. Why not just make it official and place her on the ticket? It would unite the party and dramatically increase the enthusiasm factor.
But then the world turned upside down. A global mass death event swept through America, and has already killed over 140,000. A racial justice movement then swept through the country (and the world), further turning the nation’s politics upside down.
In practical terms, impeached president Donald Trump’s poll numbers have cratered—both his job approvals and his head-to-head numbers against Biden, including in key battleground states. In fact, what were originally just seven battlegrounds (Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) have expanded dramatically, as Alaska, Iowa, Montana, Ohio, and Texas are now also in play.
Trump is flailing, unable to do what he needs to do to turn things around, and he’s bringing down the entire GOP with him. Democrats are poised to retake the Senate and gain seats in the House, as well as log big gains further down the ballot in critical state legislative races.
This is the new political landscape, and it’s much different than what we were looking at in March.
So once again, the question is: Who gives us the best chance to win?
Black voters made a bet when they overwhelmingly backed Biden in the early-state primaries—that the old white guy would be the best bet to win in an America seeping with racism and sexism. I disagreed with the argument, but the results are self-evident: The strategy was a raging success. Trump has been utterly unable to land a single blow on Biden. Sleepy Joe! Creepy Joe! Tool of the racial left Joe! All that is laughably lame and none of it is landing, and it’s not landing for one big reason: Trump’s best work comes when he is being racist or sexist. It’s what personally motivates him the most, and it’s what best motivates his base.
In other words, he just doesn’t hate Biden as viscerally as he hates Elizabeth Warren, or LeBron James, or Maxine Waters. (The only white people he hates as deeply are turncoat Republicans.)
As a result, Trump’s campaign is moribund, listless, low-energy. He just can’t seem to get excited about reelection to a job he clearly hates.
Furthermore—and this is important—the better Biden runs, the better our chances in critical down-ballot races. Biden doesn’t need Alaska or Montana. But we sure want those Senate seats in those states, and our candidates have a better chance of winning if Trump wins by 2-3 points, as opposed to 15-20. Same in South Carolina, another state where Trump’s falling numbers threaten to make the state competitive. Does Biden need it? No. But imagine if Democratic Senate candidate Jamie Harrison defeated Trump kiss-ass Sen. Lindsey Graham?
So the question no longer becomes “which vice-presidential candidate gives Joe Biden the best chance of winning,” but which one gives our party the best chance all the way down the ballot.
And as painful as it is to write this, that candidate is not Elizabeth Warren.
If she were picked, as excited as I would be, and as justifiable as it would be on its merits, the fact is that the election would suddenly pivot around “Pocahontas.” Trump would find his footing, reviving his favorite racist target. His supporters would respond to that energy, breathing new life into what is a big mass of meh. And what would Warren bring to the ticket? The ticket is already united against Trump. And yes, she would be “ready to govern on day one,” but that was the same kind of narrow thinking that got us stuck with Tim Kaine in 2016. Electorally, Warren would no longer bring anything to the ticket that would help expand our victories.
So who would?
The time is certainly right for a Black woman, but California Sen. Kamala Harris would end up mired in a debate over her tenure as her state’s attorney general. Florida Rep. Val Demings was a sheriff. Susan Rice was central in the GOP’s Benghazi conspiracy theory. All three would be amazing, but again, the goal is winning more votes. None of those would help in that regard, as each of them would give either Republicans an easy avenue of attack, or would rile up some progressive activists.
My choice is California Rep. Karen Bass, the current chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and former speaker of the California Assembly, and a bona fide, unimpeachable progressive. The Los Angeles-area congresswoman checks off all boxes ideologically, and would be a capable leader if something happened to Biden.
And most importantly, Donald Trump has no idea who she is.
Remember, the more Trump flails, the more we win. If you give him a known target, he can build off existing attack narratives, giving the right-wing media machine easy ways to rile up and motivate their racist base.
But you give them someone who is as unknown as Bass, what do they do? They don’t have time to create entire narratives about her. They’ll just call her a “liberal extremist” and move on. But as we’ve seen, that’s not an attack line with any real salience outside their deplorable base. They’ll claim she’s one of the “squad” or other such nonsense, but again, it won’t land. They might attack her for being from California or Hollywood, but who cares.
Fact is, they don’t have the time to find anything real on her, not when Biden is running away with the map and Trump is shooting himself in the face every single day.
Call this the “do no harm” approach, or maybe Napoleon’s “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake” strategy. Either way, Biden picks someone who doesn’t give Trump and his base new life; lets the progressive activist base know that he has their back; honors this social-justice moment; and honors the very voters who gave him the nomination.
Karen Bass for VP.