To his credit, Senator Bernie Sanders recognised the reality that had engulfed his campaign – he could not win – and last week conceded the nomination to Joe Biden with a grace that was never proffered to Hillary Clinton four years ago.
And on Monday, Sanders made it crystal clear in a joint live stream with Biden:
“Today I am asking all Americans. I’m asking every Democrat, I’m asking every independent, I’m asking a lot of Republicans to come together in this campaign to support your candidacy, which I endorse, to make certain that we defeat somebody who I believe, and I’m speaking just for myself now, is the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country.”
For Biden and victory in November, the issue is: Will Sanders indeed take his army across to the Biden camp? And will he campaign vigorously for Biden when it really counts in September and October?
The first depends in part on how far Biden goes to extending genuine support for Sanders ideals – and Biden is already moving that way through new policy proposals on free education and health care. Sanders, the good socialist apparatchik that he is, will exert as much muscle at the Democratic Convention as possible through his delegate strength to tie down as many of his priorities as he can wrangle into the party platform. This is all legit and is part of the bread and butter of convention politics.
We will know the real answer to these questions if we see Sanders campaigning in Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania to bring those states into the Biden column. If the true priority is to beat Trump, then genuine war-waging depends on Sanders being on the battlefield in those crucial industrial, blue collar states the Hillary lost in 2016.
The wind at Biden’s back got stronger with Barack Obama’s endorsement of Biden and with warm words for Sanders and his values – and the stakes involved this year. “Our country’s future hangs on this election … Now is the time to fight for what we believe in.”
For Biden, there is a more immediate strategic decision to make: the choice of a vice president.
In his selection of a vice president, there are two overriding considerations. Most importantly, given Biden’s age – he will be 78 on voting day in November and, if elected, will be the oldest person to take the office – is his choice instantly seen as capable of discharging the office should Biden not be able to complete his term? Out of the pool of women said to be under consideration, this skews the decision away from Stacey Abrams of Georgia (who served for 10 years in the Georgia General Assembly) and towards those substantially more experienced such as Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Senator Kamala Harris of California (also previously California Attorney General). It also makes the selection of a sitting governor on the front lines of the war on coronavirus – such as Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan – a more clouded possibility: can Whitmer really leave her citizens (in a must-win state) in their hour of urgent need because of her ambition to be vice president?
Should Biden and his vice president win, that woman has strong prospects to eventually become president in her own right, as have one-third of the vice presidents since World War II (Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, George HW Bush). So Biden’s choice could shape the Democratic Party for the next dozen years.
The second major factor is to have a vice president who can take on Trump – tellingly and with great effect. This would place the choice for vice president in an historically conventional context: Nixon being the attack dog for Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and ‘56, and Spiro Agnew being Nixon’s attack dog against Hubert Humphrey in 1968. The Trump camp is already making huge noise about taking Biden down for being soft on China. Biden needs someone who can call out Trump’s lies and failings long before the president stalks Biden on the debate stage in October. Hillary really needed a swordsman against Trump four years ago, and then-vice presidential candidate Senator Tim Kaine (remember him?) was not that person at all: capable, nice, and way too vanilla. Again, this suggests, by virtue of their track record in this campaign, that Senators Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren have the right stuff.
Biden’s selection of his vice president will be huge news, and the candidate will get inordinate media bandwidth during the campaign. Everything she says will land with bigger impact than Kaine in 2016 or Biden (for Obama) in 2008 and 2012. If the team chemistry really gels, this could be huge tactical asset in the effort to weaken Trump in the swing states he must carry – and equally important, get Democratic voters to the polls, from African Americans and Hispanics to Bernie’s young army. A game-changing choice for vice president can help do that.
An anecdote: In 2016, I spoke with good friends on team Hillary about who she would choose. I was advocating Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a very popular Senator wedded to working people and labor, a man of compassion and judgment. “Yes,” I was told, “He’d be great, but if we choose him, then the Republican Governor of Ohio appoints his replacement in the Senate, and we could lose any chance of holding the Senate.” “Well,” I said, “do you want to carry Ohio and for sure win the White House or just the Senate?” Of course, no one thought Trump would win the election. Which he did in large part by carrying Ohio. And Republicans took the Senate too.