Recently, I wrote about why Senator Tammy Duckworth would be a strong choice to join Joe Biden on the ticket for the presidency this Fall. I argued that, because “Biden’s best move is to position himself as the unity candidate in opposition to Trump,” Tammy Duckworth, who has a broadly unifying profile – a veteran, a woman, a person of color – she could bring together disparate wings of the democratic base. Of course, it has never been clear just how likely Biden is to pick Duckworth out of the range of half a dozen or so serious contenders. Indeed, the Democrats have taken to trotting out various VP picks according to which news cycles favored each choice most in an attempt to gauge the public’s interest. To that end, the Party floated Duckworth as a candidate during the week or so when Trump’s negligence regarding Putin’s payment of bounties for dead American soldiers dominated the news cycle. She effectively countered attacks from the right during that time, including from Tucker Carlson and President Trump himself. But was that enough to convince Democrats to choose her?
In many ways, Trump has been doing the work of unifying the Democratic Party for Biden. After a bruising primary season, Democrats have quickly moved on from Bernie Sanders’ extended intra-party feud and joined forces behind the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Trump’s continued fomenting of racial tensions across the country have convinced most leftists and even some right-wingers to vote for Biden, leaving Democrats with little need to choose a candidate like Duckworth. With such favorable conditions going into the final 100 days of the campaign season, choosing Duckworth, a relatively unknown politician who has not been vetted by the mainstream media and who’s policy positions and political profile are not widely understood by the electorate, would pose significant risks to the stability that Biden now enjoys in the polls. Duckworth would bring unknown dynamics to a race that is Biden’s to lose. If Biden were faltering and needed a Hail Mary, Duckworth could provide just that. As it stands, she might just be too risky.
In the midst of this developing situation, a photo was taken this past week of Biden holding talking points that clearly outline the arguments he might make after choosing Senator Kamala Harris for his running mate. The photo immediately fueled speculation that she would be Biden’s choice, which now seems like a foregone conclusion. After all, it would be strange and awkward for Biden to switch courses now, and he would have a lot of uncomfortable explaining to do to Harris’ followers if he chose someone else, like Duckworth. So it appears that the decision has been made behind the scenes, and the public must now simply wait for the decision to be made officially.
In retrospect, Senator Harris is the safe, if boring, choice for Biden’s running mate. For one thing, she is a Black woman, so she fits the demographic profile Biden is looking for. For another, she is a close friend of the Bidens, as close as politicians can be, and according to Biden’s notes, she has "campaigned with me & Jill." That means she could fit easily into Biden’s current campaign without bringing unknown energy and style to his ‘play it safe’ strategy. Harris has also been through the grinder that was the 2020 Democratic primary, so the electorate knows who she is and is familiar with her tough talk and devastating attack style. She would not bring anything new to the table, but that might be a good thing for Biden right now.
But perhaps the most important reason that Harris makes sense as the VP is that she has curried a lot of favor with wealthy donors to the Democratic Party. As I wrote last Fall, Harris is well known for fundraising trips to Wall Street and Silicon Valley. A New York Times article last year put Harris right up there with Biden and, for a time, Buttigieg as one of the 1%’s top picks for the nomination, writing that, “with millions of dollars on the line, top New York donors are already beginning to pick favorites, and three candidates are generating most of the buzz: former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Senator Kamala Harris of California and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind.”
The fact that Harris is so popular with the donor class of the Democratic Party helps explain why Biden will probably choose her over others, even other candidates who share similar credentials as Black women or women of color. In the wake of the George Floyd protests, which are ongoing, it is important for Democrats to see a Black woman inside the Oval Office next to the president. And if Biden were to die in office, Americans would potentially feel safe with her behind the tiller until the next election. But there are other similar candidates that do not seem to be catching Biden’s eye as much, politicians like Duckworth and the progressive Georgia Rep. Stacey Abrams. What Harris has on the other similar candidates is her closeness with the Bidens, her tough talk profile, her similar stances on policies, and the clincher: her popularity with donors. Choosing Harris would certainly bring a windfall of money into the Biden campaign and the DNC coffers.
Harris does have some weaknesses, however, and Biden’s notes hint at them. The first bullet point on his list reads: “Do not hold grudges.” That is likely an allusion to arguably Harris’ greatest moment on the campaign trail last year during an early debate when she launched a scathing attack on Biden’s record regarding controversial bussing programs designed to foster racial integration in schools. After that debate, Harris’ poll numbers briefly skyrocketed, putting her in the top three. But the momentum from her performance quickly dissipated as the grueling primary season rolled on, and Harris quickly retreated from her attack, acknowledging that she actually agreed with Biden on his position regarding bussing. She never enjoyed such high ratings again, and after many months of struggle, internal feuding within her mismanaged campaign eventually led her to drop out of the race. That attack on Biden, however, has stood out in Democrat’s minds, and anyone who watched it will not soon forget it. Biden will have to put some effort into smoothing out that wrinkle if he chooses her.
She is also perhaps a risky choice in the current moment when the George Floyd protests are leading to much-needed reforms of police departments and fueling a wider movement to reform the criminal justice system in general. After all, Harris is a former public prosecutor for the state of California and is responsible for putting hundreds if not thousands of black men and women in jail. Her experience in the courtroom is reflected in her devastating attack style, in which she displays a rare ability to connect with an audience (jury) emotionally while skewering an opponent (witness) both morally and via the facts at hand. Harris’ ability to crush her opponents during debates is legendary. But her career exemplifies much of what BLM abhors, and she is arguably the arch-nemesis of reform. That being said, Harris has put a lot of effort into changing her image and taking on the mantle of civil rights reform. If she can successfully make the transition from being part of the problem to being part of the solution in voter’s eyes, potentially by arguing that she has the knowledge of the system needed to actually achieve substantive reforms, then she might be able to turn this weakness into a strength for Biden’s candidacy.
Whether or not Biden will end up choosing Harris is anyone’s guess, but given the arguments in her favor and the recent leak of Biden’s talking points, Harris does seem to have an edge on other potential choices. Duckworth reportedly has not heard from the Biden campaign in weeks, and Senator Warren is no longer a serious contender for a litany of reasons too long to get into here. With the start of August finally here, we can expect Biden to make an announcement any day now. If he chooses Harris, unoriginal as she is, he would be making the safe choice. Given the lead he currently has in the polls, the safe choice is probably the correct choice.