Veepstakes II: The Biden Choice

Obvious choices and high stakes

Picture of Biden next to an empty question mark.
Picture of Biden next to an empty question mark.

The qualifications for vice president

I have previously argued at length that the main qualifications for a running mate, especially for an older nominee, are that the running mate will be a good vice president. Politically strategic choices aimed at appeasing a rival political faction or winning a few extra votes in a key city, state, or region have little electoral impact and come with huge drawbacks.

No presidential candidate should aspire to end up like James Garfield (source).

What qualifies a vice president?

In the most general terms, a vice president has three duties:

  • Preside over the Senate. Recent vice presidents have been lax in performing this duty except on ceremonial occasions or when their tie-breaking vote might be decisive, but it is right there in the Constitution.
  • Advise the president and other members of the administration. This is not a formally required duty, but tends to be particularly important for presidents who arrive in the White House with less experience or expertise.

The weakness of other electoral arguments

I’ve seen many arguments for picking vice presidents based on other electoral characteristics (politically strategic rather than pragmatic). Most share the same basic flaw: Failing to consider both positive and negative effects. I’m not saying that voters only evaluate running mates as vice presidents, but responses will usually be mixed.

The pool of obvious possibilities

Presidential and vice presidential candidates usually have resumes that include having been a governor, member of the Cabinet or Congress, or a decorated general.

Rival presidential candidates

The 2020 Democratic field was of unprecedented size and scope, including a wide range of highly qualified candidates. Out of that field, there were five or six women who qualified as notable contenders for the Democratic nomination in 2020. However, only one or two of those candidates could make a credible proxy for Biden.

Amy Klobuchar (left, Minnesota) and Tulsi Gabbard (right, Hawaii) were the only two women to endorse Biden on the same day that they dropped out of the presidential race. (Images from here and here.)
“That little girl was me” T-shirts were sold by Kamala Harris’s campaign to raise money and promote her attack on Biden. Image from Kamala Harris’s Instagram.

Governors

Aside from the president and vice president, governors are the highest ranked elected executives in the country, making them uniquely well qualified to serve as president. There are six current or former Democratic women governors under the age of 70 who were born in the United States. One of those women, Maggie Hassan, is a sitting senator in a swing state with a Republican governor —meaning she is both amply qualified and indispensable.

The four current Democratic women governors. From left to right, Michelle Lujan Grisham, Gina Raimondo, Gretchen Whitmer, and Kate Brown.

Members of Congress

First things first: It’s worth noting there are many traditionally qualified women who have served in Congress as representatives — too many for me to talk about individually. While usually less prominent than senators (they are more numerous and have a shorter term in office), representatives have similarly valuable experience as federal legislators.

Graphic includes women previously discussed in this article as well as Barack Obama for contrast.
From left to right, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, and Jacky Rosen of Nevada. (Public domain images.)

Other possibilities & concluding notes

As a point of historical reference, there have only been six presidents who did not either serve in Congress or as governors. Four of those presidents had been generals at the highest levels of command in a major war — respectively, the Revolutionary War (Washington), the Mexican-American War (Taylor), the Civil War (Grant), and World War II (Eisenhower).

The two (out of forty-four) presidents who did not serve in Congress, as governors, or as top generals in a major war.

Biden’s choice

Biden needs to select someone who will be immediately ready for the presidency if the worst should happen. Pragmatically, this is likely. Between natural death, assassination, and other age-related incapacities (notably dementia), Biden has about a 1 in 3 chance of being unable to complete his first term in office.

From left to right, Senator Amy Klobuchar, rival presidential candidate; Governors Michelle Lujan Grisham, Gina Raimondo, Gretchen Whitmer, and Kate Brown; and Senators Tammy Duckworth, Catherine Cortez Masto, and Jacky Rosen.

Dr. Tomas McIntee is a mathematician and occasional social scientist with stray degrees in physics and philosophy.

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