I can’t decide if this is innocuous bipartisan pandering which no one takes seriously or if it’s a meaningful mistake because it seems to confirm the left’s worst suspicions about him even though it’s obviously innocuous bipartisan pandering.
Joe Biden says he's open to having a Republican VP if he's chosen as the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, but can't 'think of one now' pic.twitter.com/LnRC9hP5vn
— Reuters (@Reuters) December 31, 2019
Realistically, what’s he supposed to say when asked if he’d consider a fusion ticket? His shtick for the past eight months has been that he’s a Democrat whom Republicans in Congress can and will do business with. He’s not a wild-eyed radical like Bernie Sanders whose programs are DOA so long as the filibuster exists. He’s Grandpa Joe, the gladhanding centrist who spent a thousand years in the Senate building friendships with the otherwise obstructionist GOP. And voters like that about him! In any poll, when asked whether the two parties should cooperate more or dig in and fight for their respective positions, voters on balance will say that they prefer cooperation. That’s what Joe’s offering them.
And he’s not offering much more. Biden’s running on two things, electability and ending America’s long-running political civil war. His overt bipartisan outreach is an answer to the obvious question, “Okay, let’s say he beats Trump. Then what?” Answer: As president, he’ll supposedly achieve what no president since Clinton has achieved in any meaningful way, bipartisan compromise on big-ticket legislation. Flirting with naming a Republican VP makes sense in that context.
Seems harmless enough. But if you were a lefty who already distrusted Biden as a centrist corporate sellout, how would it make you feel to hear him wheezing about putting a Republican on the ticket, even knowing that he’d certainly stick with a Democrat once the time came to actually nominate someone? It’d be a bit like if John Kasich, say, had floated the idea of a Democratic VP in 2016. Of course a RINO would want a lib on the ticket when he could have named any Republican to the seat, we’d sneer. Biden’s case is worse than the Kasich hypothetical, though, since he’s the frontrunner, not a marginal candidate whose squishy tendencies can be safely ignored. And he’s old enough that the prospect of him being succeeded in office by his Republican VP would be realistic. Biden’s pander is a smart one *if* his core problem next fall is winning over centrist swing voters, but I don’t think it is. If he’s the nominee, his core problem will be getting disaffected lefties alienated by Bernie Sanders’s defeat to show up for him instead of concluding that there’s no meaningful difference between four years of Biden and four more years of Trump.
The fact that both Biden and Trump are open to having a Republican as VP seems like not a great way to sharpen the distinction.
Lefty Ed Kilgore makes a fair point too in noting the second part of what Biden says in the clip:
But as the 2020 Democratic front-runner and the candidate whose vision of the future is most dependent on imaginary Republican friends, Biden has a special responsibility to explain how the GOP is going to be transformed and how quickly. It is very much the elephant in the corner in any discussion of a Biden presidency. If he thinks a Republican running mate in 2020 might be a good idea but literally cannot think of anyone who could play that role, it might be a good indication that he needs a Republican-free plan of action as president. Team Biden, moreover, needs to reflect on the possibility that pandering to swing-voter preferences for bipartisanship could have the unfortunate side effect of convincing those same swing voters that there’s no really compelling case for ejecting the GOP from power and substituting Democrats. If it takes two to tango, does it ultimately matter who takes the lead?
Right. Biden’s vision of a quiescent, cooperative GOP is a fantasy, particularly given the likelihood that he’d only serve one term and would enter office effectively a lame duck. He got a taste recently of how little cross-party friendships matter to politics in 2019 when his buddy Lindsey Graham decided to start looking into the Bidens’ business with Burisma after all. The most prominent centrist Republican in America right now is probably Mitt Romney, a guy whom tens of millions of Democrats opposed as too right-wing in 2012 and who’ll probably end up voting against removing Trump in the upcoming impeachment trial. It’s not a coincidence that the most outspoken GOP centrists, the people most likely to please Democrats, are either out of office (Kasich) or occupy state offices that allow them to fly under the radar of grassroots media (Charlie Baker, Larry Hogan). Republicans who hold federal office simply will not work with President Biden even if they want to for fear of being primaried. Which is probably why Joe blanked on whom he might name as VP: It’s Republican members of Congress who would naturally spring to mind in response to a question like that and there are *obviously* none of those who’d make the cut for a Democratic-led fusion ticket.
But let’s face it, Kasich, Baker, and Hogan wouldn’t make the cut either. Why would Biden, the supposedly electable centrist, need to go even further right in his VP pick by naming a Republican when there are perfectly good centrist Dems he could name? If anyone would need a liberal Republican like Hogan to balance the ticket, you would think it’d be Bernie or Elizabeth Warren, to reassure skittish voters that they’re not as radical as they seem.
Except … they are as radical as they seem, so they’d never take the chance of dying in office and bequeathing the fate of the progressive agenda to a GOP squish.
Kilgore makes another good point in Biden’s defense: His idea of a Republican VP is no more delusional than Bernie suggesting that his ascension to the presidency will ignite a political revolution in America that’ll pave the way for full communism or whatever. Democratic candidates are selling a lot of delusions this year, from big-picture structural change like Court-packing to the pricetags for their policy agenda to the extent of job disruption that their programs might potentially cause. Biden was guilty of that yesterday too, in fact, blithely assuring an audience that miners will be fine once he puts the coal industry out of business because they’ll just learn how to code instead, a remark not unlike one of Hillary’s more infamous lines from the 2016 campaign. That’s not the first time he’s said something like that recently either. For an “electable” candidate, he sure is chill about telling some blue-collar workers that they had better prepare to change careers whether they want to or not.
BIDEN: “Anybody who can go down 300-3,000 feet in a mine sure as Hell can learn how to program as well’
“Anybody who can throw coal into furnace can learn how to program for God’s sake”pic.twitter.com/2ulvCEGRv3
— Benny (@bennyjohnson) December 31, 2019