The Case for Klobuchar
The news broke last week that the Biden campaign has asked Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar to undergo vetting as a possible 2020 vice-presidential running mate.
This in itself is not really news. It was clear that Klobuchar was likely to be considered for the role. What is news is that it was announced to the press, which we can take as a kind of trial balloon, an attempt to gauge how the choice would go over, to see who is excited and who objects.
We can also take this as a sign that the veepstakes are now well and truly under way—and the Biden campaign is on the right track in looking at Klobuchar.
There will be an especially intense focus on Joe Biden’s choice for his vice-president.
This is partly because of Biden’s age. He would be 78 on his inauguration, so there is an actuarially greater than normal chance that he might not be able to serve out a full term in office—much less run for a second.
But it’s also because of things like the “you ain’t black” gaffe. Some people are trying to make this out as proof that age has caught up with Biden and made him mentally infirm. But as far as I can recall, Joe Biden has always been like this: a gabbling gaffe machine.
This would be a powerful argument against Biden as president—if he weren’t running against President Tweety, who has the same problem, only to a much greater degree. But for Biden, his gaffe problem means that he should probably be paired with someone who has greater self-discipline. Frankly, America is considering Biden as a transitional president, as someone who paves the way for a successor. And the presumed successor would be his vice president.
To his credit, Biden knows this. He has described himself as a “bridge” to a new generation of Democrats and “not as anything else.” The bridge starts with his choice of running mate.
There are a number of options I could recommend if Biden had not limited himself to nominating a woman. Colorado’s Jared Polis, for example, seems to be the Democratic governor who has managed the coronavirus crisis most successfully, free of disastrous early decisions and preening self-regard (Andrew Cuomo), heavy-handed overreach (Gretchen Whitmer), or hypocrisy (Ralph Northam).
But in today’s Democratic party, with its race and gender obsessions, Biden clearly feels the need to counterbalance his old-white-maleness with a partner who would, by implication, be the future first female president.
The challenge is that Biden shouldn’t just pick someone to excite the ideological activists. After the battle with the progressive side of the party, there may be a temptation to try to shore up his support on the left. This would be a mistake.
Just about everybody on the left has a strong incentive to vote for Biden simply because he’s not Donald Trump. The number of progressives who hate a moderate Democrat enough to stay home is small. Biden can afford to lose the votes of a couple hundred communists in Brooklyn, in order to gain thousands of swing voters in the Upper Midwest and Sunbelt.
Am I projecting onto the electorate what appeals to a #NeverTrump former Republican like myself? Well, sure—but that’s actually a pretty good guide in this particular election.
In 2016, people who didn’t like either party or candidate broke for Trump. Now they are overwhelmingly breaking for Biden. That’s what it looks like when you’re winning the swing vote and it’s the sort of thing that will win this election. Biden will have a better chance of winning if he avoids connecting himself to a running mate who repels those voters.
Which means: Not Kamala Harris, who manages to be both too far to the left and too much of a cop at the same time. Not the uncharismatic Elizabeth Warren, who in any case is too old to represent the new generation. Not Stacey Abrams, since winning elections is a much better credential than losing and complaining that the election was rigged.
Biden needs someone who is not just the kind of hot-house plant that only prospers in the warm glow of sympathetic media coverage. More to the point, he needs someone with a track record of being able to get votes outside of the reliable “blue” enclaves.
That’s where Amy Klobuchar comes in. In 2016, Hillary Clinton only narrowly won Minnesota (with 46.4 percent). Two years later, Senator Klobuchar won re-election in the state with 60 percent of the vote.
She has done this by taking relatively moderate positions. She was most notable in this year’s presidential primaries as the only candidate at a Democratic debate to raise her hand and go on record opposing socialism. Despite a caustic streak that Pete Buttigieg seems to bring out, she has also presented her views in a moderate, “Minnesota Nice” manner. And gosh darn it, she just seems like a regular person, which in and of itself adds a lot of diversity to this year’s national contest.
As a progressive activist told the New York Times, Klobuchar is “a perfectly fine Democrat, but if we’re looking for a transformational leader and someone who’s going to elevate big, bold ideas and systemic change, others like Elizabeth Warren seem to fit the bill a little bit more head on.”
This sums up perfectly why Klobuchar is so appealing. She is someone who neither promises nor threatens to attempt a radical transformation of our lives. Progressive activists see this as a bug. Actual voters tend to regard it as a feature.
That’s particularly important in this cycle because our lives have already been radically transformed by the coronavirus pandemic.
This is not the election for the kind of politician who campaigns on the notion that normal life is horrible, and we have nothing to lose, so we should send him to Washington to break things.
That was basically the sales pitch for Donald Trump in 2016. It has been the sales pitch for Bernie Sanders for forever. But now everything is broken and the experience turned out to be not much fun. I suspect that a majority of voters are going to want someone who promises to put things back together—someone who represents a yearning to return to normal.
This does not mean that I particularly approve of Amy Klobuchar’s agenda. She is, after all, a Democrat, and I disagree profoundly with her on issues such as gun control and global warming—just as I do with Biden. But we’re living in an era of lowered expectations.
I am not looking for someone who could be a great president. That seems like too much to ask for, and we literally do not deserve it. But under the current circumstances, I would be thrilled to have a president—or at least a president-in-waiting—who is normal and is promising a return to normal.
“Normal” wasn’t exactly a utopia, but it looks a whole lot better when you haven’t been there for a while.
That’s what Joe Biden has been running on up to now, and picking Amy Klobuchar as his running mate—and as the future direction of his party—would seal the deal.
Correction May 28, 2020 8:30 a.m.: The article originally stated that Donald Trump won Minnesota in 2016. Hillary Clinton won Minnesota with 46.4 percent of the vote. The article has been changed accordingly.