the national interest

9 Reasons a Biden–Abrams Ticket Is a Brilliant Idea for Both Biden and Abrams

Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Yesterday, unconfirmed speculation circulated that Joe Biden might name Stacey Abrams as his vice-presidential selection at the start of his campaign. This morning, the New York Times and Mike Allen report that Biden’s advisers are actively debating the idea. Naturally, a procession of skeptics is stepping forward to explain why this would be a stupid idea for Biden, or Abrams, or both.

It’s not. The unconventional Biden–Abrams ticket makes tons of sense for both figures.

1. Most obviously, running with Abrams would help address Biden’s cringe-inducing and sometimes ghastly history of retrograde positions on segregation and criminal justice. As my colleague Ed Kilgore correctly noted, “Serving the protector of Biden’s racial flank, on the other hand, might get a little old and a little limiting” for Abrams.

But that would be the wrong way to construct her role. The addition of Abrams would visibly signal that Biden is a bridge to a different kind of Democratic Party that has moved left on racial issues. Biden can say he’s a different kind of politician with different policies than those he advocated in the 1970s and 1980s, but having Abrams as his partner and presumptive heir demonstrates the point.

2. Abrams would also obviously add an element of mobilization and inspiration to Biden’s comfort and familiarity with the base. “Balance” is an overrated trope in vice-presidential selection, but candidates do have different qualities and the degree to which Abrams’s complements Biden’s is very striking: old/young, white/black, male/female, North/South, experience/potential.

Candidates who have the ability to mobilize voters with inspirational appeals often lack national name recognition and credibility. (That’s Beto O’Rourke’s liability.) And candidates who begin with established credentials often have a longer record of compromises and feel like old news (Biden’s problem, and also to a smaller extent a liability for Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders). A pairing with Abrams gives both a chance to take on each other’s assets and cover their own liabilities.

3. The pairing would make Biden’s race feel more serious. Political reporters have approached a Biden race with the unstated assumption that his polling lead is an artifact of high name recognition. His best day will be his first, and he will slowly gaffe his way to irrelevance, as he has with every previous race. Paradoxically, he is a polling front-runner who needs to get the press corps to take him seriously.

From that standpoint, it’s odd to see “inevitability” treated as an argument against joining early with Abrams. “Naming an early running mate could help feed into an air of inevitability,” one senior Democrat who admires Biden tells CNN, which might be “problematic for his candidacy.” So the campaign would appear inevitable, like Hillary Clinton? Or Mitt Romney? Or George W. Bush? Or Al Gore? Or other candidates who were treated as prohibitive front-runners from the beginning of the race and then … won the primary? That’s bad?

4. Yes, by picking Abrams now, Biden would lock himself in very early. Matthew Yglesias argues that doing so would prevent him from having a more complete choice of running mates later in the process. And it’s true, by June of 2020, you can imagine a world where Biden would wish he could pick Warren or Kamala Harris or somebody else. But the thing is, the odds are that he’s not going to be in that position at all. Maximizing his odds of winning the nomination seems far more important, from Biden’s standpoint, than maximizing the potential for exploiting his vice-presidential selection.

5. The move would make just as much sense for Abrams. She currently finds herself in the frustrating position of having demonstrated strong political talent but lacking an obvious next step for her political ambitions. Abrams’s home state is trending purple but not quite there, and while she could run again in 2020, the political environment might not be much friendlier than it was in 2018, an anti-Trump wave election year.

Abrams has said she wants to be president. A vice-presidential spot would fast-track her for consideration — should a Biden–Abrams ticket prevail in November, Abrams would immediately become the prohibitive front-runner whenever Biden retires.

6. Some of the logic that argues for her to join with Biden would also suggest she join Bernie Sanders, another high-polling old white guy. But even if Sanders would consider such a move, a prospect no reporting has suggested, it makes less sense for her. Abrams is not a socialist, and has a distinctly different worldview, as Rebecca Traister’s profile points out, showing Abrams tell one crowd, “I’m not going to do class warfare; I want to be wealthy.”

Sanders has a different set of liabilities than Biden: chief among them, the Democratic Party elite thinks he would have trouble withstanding the attacks on his platform and his radical history that he would face in a general election (but which did not come up in the 2016 primary). Joining with Abrams wouldn’t do much to ameliorate that.

7. Joining the race early makes Abrams a much more attractive vice-presidential selection than she would be in June of next year. Like O’Rourke, her talents offset a résumé that’s well short of the traditional qualifications for president (Abrams’s highest elected office is state assembly). That’s a weakness that might prevent Abrams or O’Rourke from being nominated as a vice-president next summer — they would face questions about their qualifications and preparedness for office. Paradoxically, for a candidate with a borderline résumé, vice-president is more of a reach than president.

But it’s also a liability that can be addressed on the campaign trail, by demonstrating a command of policy to the media. Abrams, with her advanced degrees in both public policy and law, can answer any doubts.

8. Abrams doesn’t close any options by running with Biden. “Why in the world would Stacey Abrams lock herself into Biden’s fortunes when she would be a top-tier running-mate option for several of these candidates?” asks Republican operative Brendan Buck, who perhaps might not have Abrams’s best interests at heart.

But why would running with Biden prevent her from joining a different campaign if he loses? Presidential candidates pick politicians who who ran against them for president to join their ticket all the time. Why would the fact that she ran on a different ticket as a vice-president disqualify her?

9. The biggest single argument against naming Abrams at the beginning is that it just hasn’t been done before. The closest parallel is Ted Cruz’s last-minute desperation gambit to name Carly Fiorina as his running mate in the closing stages of the 2016 primary. The fact that the combined charisma of Cruz and Fiorina was not enough to overcome Trump’s big lead hardly proves it can’t work. If anything, the lateness of the maneuver gave it a whiff of desperation. If Biden does wait, and his polling lead starts to melt, naming Abrams will have the same pitfall. The Cruz example argues for joining with Abrams on Day One.

Sometimes there’s a new idea that has not been done before for no good reason. “Political brilliance” is not a phrase I would normally associate with Joe Biden. But running with Stacey Abrams seems to qualify.

9 Reasons a Biden-Abrams Ticket Is a Brilliant Idea for Both