Biden Has Little to Gain From His Veep Choice

The Briefing, Vol. VIII, No. 31 This week:

  • Trump team thinks his race is tightening
  • Biden veep choice can only weaken him
  • The establishment strikes back — Republican primaries in Tennessee and Kansas

President 2020

Closing the gap? Columnist Jim Antle observes that President Trump is getting closer to even with Joe Biden in the RealClear polling average. But is he really closing the gap, or is it just an artifact of the numbers? Is there any consolation for Republicans in the fact that Biden’s leads are generally slimmer now than they were before?

And more to the point, is there any hope this year for Republicans down-ticket, amid the woke-pocalypse that seems to be giving Democrats intractable coronavirus-inspired polling leads as large or larger than what they had previously been?

One key point seems to override everything else here, simply based on the true experience of the Trump candidacy and presidency since 2015: no one has ever gotten rich betting against Trump or writing him off, the way nearly everyone did in 2016. The degree of certainty that he would lose and destroy the GOP was so great at that time. Yet it was completely wrong. It was enough to make one stop believing anything the experts say.

Still, Trump trails both nationally and in key states he must win. The threat to his re-election is real and cannot be taken lightly.

Biden veep choice: Meanwhile, Joe Biden faces a choice that can only weaken his “basement candidacy.” Biden’s blandness and lack of engagement has proven to be important factor in making the case both for and against Trump in 2020.

On one hand, Biden is a less offensive and mendacious candidate than Hillary Clinton — a fact that gives him an immediate leg up on Clinton’s 2016 performance. Yet his preemptively naked appeal to race-based voters with his upcoming vice presidential choice has severely limited what sort of boost the choice can give him.

Biden once had his choice of nominees for vice president. Then everyone got so woke that he could not keep it to himself. He was gradually pressured into announcing that he would pick a woman, then into committing to picking a non-white woman. The smarter choice of Sen. Amy Klobuchar took herself out of the running, insisting that Biden choose a woman who was black. Now, it’s hard to say which non-white woman he should pick, out of the small number of Democratic officeholders who meet all the other standard criteria. But none is especially exciting or well-known (Val Demings is not exactly a household name), and some have genuine drawbacks that could damage Biden’s candidacy.

Biden got himself into this mess. He could have asserted that race wouldn’t matter in his choice, then chosen a black woman. But because he committed in advance to picking one of a small handful of non-white women, his choice will be both unimpressive and tokenistic when he makes it.

What’s more, his choice of any individual person from this small group will speak poorly of the others.

Biden is probably wise not to provoke the mob by picking a white man. It is, after all, his party’s mob. He has the option of going with someone less controversial, such as Susan Rice, who will be less overtly pro-China, but she also lied on national television about Benghazi in 2012. He would do well to stay away from Sen. Kamala Harris, whose prosecutorial career is both genuinely offensive to the spirit of this anti-police age and an affront to conservatives, whom she actively worked to criminalize in California.  

Still, given the concessions he had already made before deciding on a vice presidential nominee, there are real limits to what Biden can do with his veep pick. In some sense, his acceptance of an affirmative action test serves as an implicit insult for the person he chooses. Harris, for example, may not be the most qualified person for the job, but maybe she is the most qualified black woman. Thanks to Biden’s commitment in advance, that’s the best she’ll ever be.

No matter whom he picks, the former vice president is probably not going to enjoy a broadly beneficial celebration of his vice presidential pick. In fact, by now, each individual candidate has downsides that will probably slightly hurt him. This is the price Biden pays as the early frontrunner in the general election against Trump, that his vice presidential choice can only hurt his chances at his point. Biden is not necessarily in a bad place, but there aren’t many scenarios in which his choice actually brings him a net benefit.

Senate 2020

Kansas: Rep. Roger Marshall, R, reassured Republican regulars with his solid victory last Tuesday over immigration hawk and 2018 gubernatorial loser Kris Kobach. Marshall is believed to have a much better chance of holding the seat that Sen. Pat Roberts, R, is leaving behind. Democrats were trying near the end to give a boost to Kobach, whose 2018 campaign represented the most disastrous combination of laziness and incompetence. His poor finish of just 26 percent (to Marshall’s 40 percent) suggests he was abandoned en masse even by staunch Trump supporters, who fear that Trump’s presidency could be stymied or essentially reversed if Democrats take the U.S. Senate.

Republicans are polling so badly right now across the board that Marshall still has his work cut out for him. But as the representative for the western four-fifths of the state and a member of the Agriculture Committee, Marshall has the opportunity to run up the score in the rural areas where he can and pull even where he must — the same path Sen. Jerry Moran took to cross over to the northern side of the Capitol. 

The Democratic nominee, state Sen. Barbara Bollier, polls relatively well in two recent Democratic-leaning polls, but we’ve seen this one before in Kansas. She will face a serious uphill battle to overcome the coattails that Trump will have in the state on Election Day.

Tennessee: Republican voters seem to favor Trump-type Republicans over Romney-type Republicans. But what happens when Trump intervenes on behalf of the Romney side of the party? That’s basically what happened in Thursday’s Senate primary, in which Manny Sethi came from nowhere to put on a spirited but ultimately losing effort (51% to 39%) against an establishment candidate who has raised significant money for Trump. 

Bill Hagerty, whom Trump endorsed (and remember, Trump won over 96% of this state’s presidential primary vote), will go on as the heavy favorite in this November’s U.S. Senate race. But Sethi, an orthopedic surgeon and an outspokenly conservative candidate of Indian extraction, surely has a future as well. Even as Republicans resist identity politics in the age of the woke, the party could use some more outspokenly conservative candidates from non-white racial backgrounds in order to illustrate the absurdity of race-based voting and to appeal to non-white voters themselves. 

This is already part of the Trump campaign’s strategy, after all.

House 2020

Kansas-2: Rep. Steve Watkins lost his renomination bid after charges that he had registered to vote from an illegal address. He maintained that this had been an innocent mistake, and that the prosecution on this point was being brought against him by an ally of primary opponent.

This highly controversial race saw state Treasurer Jake LaTurner earn his place on the November ballot by defeating Watkins by 14,000 votes, a convincing 15 points. LaTurner becomes a strong favorite for the race this fall.

Missouri-1: William ‘Lacy’ Clay was never the smartest or the most effective man in Congress. But his ouster in a Democratic primary after 20 years in office signifies the end of an era in which lawmakers with black-caucus credentials could simply bank on being re-elected in their primaries, no matter what. 

Clay had won 80% of the overall general election vote in 2018 — hardly a sign of discontent with the incumbent. Yet progressive up-and-comer Cori Bush defeated him last week, 49% to 46%, evincing an appetite among the urban primary electorate to throw out members who have long been fixtures — perhaps useless ones, but fixtures all the same — for the Democratic Party. 

Clay’s ouster is another milestone for the era of wokeness, at least in terms of its effects on Democratic primaries.