In the strangest of election years, the vetting process and eventual choice of Joe Biden’s running mate might have been the strangest such process ever.
This wasn’t because of how it was being conducted or the result it produced. Yes, the fact that Biden limited his choices to women during the last Democratic primary debate was certainly an eye-opener, and it quickly became apparent that cultural stresses mandated that woman also be a “person of color,” as the phrasing goes.
Even without these strictures, however, California Sen. Kamala Harris had long been an odds-on choice to be Biden’s running mate. Harris wouldn’t just passively wallpaper over Biden’s problematic history on race, it would actively show some self-flagellation on Biden’s part, given Harris’ attack on Biden’s busing record during the Democratic presidential debates.
The peculiar nature of the proceedings came from the suspicion Joe Biden wasn’t just picking someone he hoped– if the political deities shined their favor upon him — would be taking over for him in four or possibly eight years. Instead, Biden was picking someone who might be taking over for him much sooner than that.
In fact, one of CNN’s top political analysts believes the choice was made because Biden might want to “step aside” in order to let Harris take over.
This isn’t one of CNN’s token Republicans, either. (Try even finding one of those.) Chris Cillizza isn’t quite the Washington insider — in fact, his analysis is often chided for its boneheaded simplicity — but he known to tilt toward the left. His take on the pick was pretty much everyone’s take: It was Biden’s safest harbor under the circumstances.
Here was his thinking in his Tuesday column: Harris has been vetted — not just by the Biden team but through the early part of the primary process. She’s from a different generation of Democrat, she’s been “an outspoken voice on race — and the need for police reform — following the death of George Floyd in May and the subsequent protests it sparked around the country,” and, of course, there’s the fact she’s the first black and South Asian woman on a major party ticket.
“There was no one else on Biden’s VP shortlist that checked so many boxes,” Cillizza wrote.
Most of Cillizza’s analysis is that Harris was a “safe” pick — more evidence that, on some April Fool’s Day, Cillizza should file his column under the byline “Captain Obvious.”
“See, if you are Joe Biden, making your third run for president and ahead in virtually every swing state and nationally over President Donald Trump, every day between now and November 3 you want to do nothing that threatens to change the underlying dynamics of the race,” he wrote.
“And those underlying dynamics are that this election is a referendum on Trump’s first term in office and, more specifically, the deeply haphazard and erratic way in which he has handled the coronavirus pandemic in the country.”
Aside from the self-evident stuff, there were also the usual Cillizza-isms that show he doesn’t venture as far outside the CNN newsroom bubble as he likes to think he does. (For instance, he says Harris “had no obvious weakness that the Trump campaign would exploit,” a statement almost adorable in its blinkered naïveté.)
There is one thing I’ll give Cillizza, however: Even though he’s a man who’s paid to state the obvious, sometimes that’s illuminating when everyone else is trying to avoid stating the obvious.
“What Biden did is make the pick that maximized his chances of continuing to make the race a straight referendum on Trump while also selecting someone, in Harris, whose resume suggests will be ready to step in if and when Biden decides to step aside,” Cillizza wrote.
“This is the VP choice of a confident candidate, and campaign, who believe they are winning. And who believe that, as long they execute the basics of the campaign between now and November 3, Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president on January 20, 2021.”
Yes, Biden is a “confident candidate” who wanted to pick a running mate who would be able to “step in if and when Biden decides to step aside.” Let that marinate for a second.
Cillizza is right here — and these aren’t contradictory statements. From all appearances, Joe Biden and those around him believe as long as the election is a referendum on President Donald Trump and not about Biden, Biden will win. However, when picking a running mate for him, they also wanted someone who could “step in” for him like a relief pitcher.
In the modern political era, I can’t remember any candidates running for president that didn’t want the race to be about them. I also don’t remember any candidates so mentally or physically unsteady that there were already questions as they sought their first term about when they’d be stepping aside to make room for an heir apparent — in this case, Kamala Harris.
Joe Biden is a man who’s shown obvious evidence of being unequal to the task he’s set himself to. Biden may never have been the most verbally felicitous man in the world, but you could never fault him for a lack of energy. Biden was vigorous both on the campaign trail and in the Senate chambers. That isn’t the candidate we’re looking at now, and at 78 on Inauguration Day, Biden would be the oldest president in history the moment he took the oath of office.
The former vice president looks like a man sapped of his once-considerable resources — desperate to secure a legacy for himself by defeating President Trump, and then desperate for a long nap. No one has seriously challenged the consensus that Biden has been glad to hide in his basement in Wilmington, Delaware, socially distancing himself from anything resembling a campaign.
Part of this is because Biden’s gaffes are no longer just gaffes but part of a growing body of evidence this isn’t a man ready for the exigencies of the office. It isn’t a conspiracy theory to ask if Biden is suffering from some sort of cognitive decline. In fact, this is openly talked about openly pretty much everywhere — including CNN.
If Biden takes office as the 46th president, Harris doesn’t just become the favorite to become president number 47. She becomes president number 46b. Everything about that odd arrangement — and those involved in it — deserves a much closer look.
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