When Joe Biden essentially captured the Democratic presidential nomination in March, the underlying, if largely unspoken, mantra guiding the beginning of his vice presidential selection process was “fix your problems.”
Biden didn’t have a smooth path to the nomination. The problems were many and obvious. His campaign’s premise wasn’t exactly inspiring. He ran as a safe, logical option for Democrats focused solely on beating President Trump in the general election. This approach ignored a huge chunk of the party that was moving further left and didn’t want just a return of the Obama years. They wanted something bolder, beginning with Medicare for All, something that Biden still hasn’t backed.
He wasn’t even that good at being the establishment option. He didn’t get the overwhelming endorsements that a former vice president typically gets and he was bad at fund-raising.
It was Bernie Sanders, not Biden, who basically tied or won outright the first three contests on the primary calendar. Paying tribute to the left had to be on Biden’s agenda.
Further, Biden, a 77-year-old heterosexual white man, was about to be the nominee of the youngest and most diverse Democratic Party in American history. This disconnect was a problem and Biden pledged that a woman would be his running mate.
There was another problem with his age: if he wins in November, he would be the oldest person ever elected to be President of the United States. Trump was already signaling that he would make Biden’s age an issue and call into question if he is mentally fit to do the job. Possibly as a result, Biden wound down the primary season with the statement — not exactly a pledge — that his vice presidential pick would serve as a bridge to the next generation.
After the “fix your problems” mantra came a new round of pressures for Biden and his pick. The death of George Floyd and nationwide Black Lives Matter protests created a fierce urgency for Biden to pick not just a woman but a Black woman as his running mate.
Soon, a new wave of reporting out of Biden’s inner circle had a shortlist of five or six potential vice presidential picks with Senator Elizabeth Warren as the only white woman discussed.
As we head into the final week of Biden’s self-designated deadline of early August there might be one overarching three-word phrase that will drive his final decision: Do no harm.
Consider where the race for president sits right now. Biden is leading some very credible polls by 15 percentage points. If you convert his leads in swing states to the Electoral College he has well over 300 votes, significantly more than the 270 he needs to win.
If Biden still has a problem with more progressive voters or another subgroup, it is not a problem he needs to fix right now, since he is on track to win anyway. In the past, vice presidential picks are used to help provide some balance, whether that be ideological (George H.W. Bush, Sarah Palin, Mike Pence) or geographical (Lloyd Bentsen, LBJ) or on experience (Dick Cheney, Biden). But this time, Biden is already winning on his own and his thinking could be to just pick someone who, while they may not excite anyone, also doesn’t mess anything up either.
Though that’s basically what Hillary Clinton did with Tim Kaine four years, and we saw how that turned out.