The perils of a bipartisan presidential ticket

The perils of a bipartisan presidential ticket
© Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenMore than 300 military family members endorse Biden Five takeaways from the final Trump-Biden debate Biden: 'I would transition from the oil industry' MORE caused a stir recently when he said that he was open to having a Republican running mate if he becomes the Democratic nominee for president.

The idea is fraught with peril, but it is consistent with Biden’s approach to politics.

The former vice president has a strong record of liberal achievement. As a senator he played a key role in the successful fight to ban automatic rifles and to enact the Violence Against Women Act. As Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama says he voted by mail: 'It's not as tough as a lot of folks think' Clean energy opportunities in a time of crisis MSNBC host cuts off interview with Trump campaign spokesman after clash on alleged voter fraud MORE’s vice president, he was instrumental in a major expansion of national health care under the Affordable Care Act and pushing President Obama to support gay marriage.


Anytime Biden has fought for progressive programs, he has reached out to Republicans to grease the skids to get what he wants. As a senator, Biden worked across the aisle with GOP senators. He was a friend of the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMore than 300 military family members endorse Biden Jennifer Lawrence says until Trump she was 'a little Republican' Senate is leaning to the Democrats, big time, with a wave MORE (R-Ariz.) and even spoke at his funeral.

As Obama’s vice president, Biden often served as a backchannel between the White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell says 'no concerns' after questions about health Overnight Health Care: Trump says he hopes Supreme Court strikes down ObamaCare | FDA approves remdesivir as COVID-19 treatment | Dems threaten to subpoena HHS over allegations of political interference at CDC The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump, Biden face off for last time on the debate stage MORE (R-Ky.). In fact, Obama staffers often referred to Biden as the president’s “McConnell whisperer.”

But a bipartisan ticket would run into a wall of practical problems and political perils.

The biggest problem would be finding a GOP running mate who would be compatible with Biden. These days a moderate anti-Trump Republican is harder to find than a Democrat who thinks the current president is doing a great job — which is to say it’s really hard. Biden’s exact words were “I would consider it, but I can’t think of one.”

The most prominent anti-Trump Republican is John Kasich, who is an outspoken Trump critic. Kasich is the former governor of Ohio, which will be an important battleground state in the 2020 Electoral College sweepstakes.


But Kasich’s problems with Trump also make him incompatible with Biden. Kasich is an economic conservative who faults the Republican president for his indifference to and contempt for orthodox Republican principles such as a balanced federal budget. While Kasich may share Biden’s disdain for Trump’s hateful racist rhetoric, it’s difficult to see how the former governor could support or even countenance Biden’s support for a major expansion of ObamaCare or the need for tax increases on wealthy Americans. 

A Biden/Kasich ticket might help win the votes of some independents in the industrial Midwest but would be an obstacle in the former vice president’s pursuit of the Democratic nomination. A potential pairing with Kasich would provoke intense opposition from progressive Democrats and union members who vote in Democratic primaries and will serve as delegates to the Democratic National Convention. 

But Kasich was an ardent foe of labor unions while he was governor of Ohio. Many of Biden’s supporters are union members and labor leaders who would go off the rails if Biden picked Kasich as his running mate.

One of the challenges facing the former vice president if he wins the nomination will be to come to an accommodation with the supporters of Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden defends his health plan from Trump attacks Progressives blast Biden plan to form panel on Supreme Court reform Sanders: Progressives will work to 'rally the American people' if Biden wins MORE (I-Vt.). Sanders responded quickly to Biden’s comment about a GOP running mate and stated clearly that he would not consider a bipartisan ticket. If he becomes the nominee, Biden will need the support of progressive Sanders supporters in November, and a bipartisan ticket would make it even more difficult for Biden to keep Berniecrats in the fold.

There are a few prominent Republicans besides Kasich whom Biden could consider if he really wants a “unity ticket.” Former Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeOne of life's great mysteries: Why would any conservative vote for Biden? Trump excoriates Sasse over leaked audio Biden holds 8-point lead over Trump in Arizona: poll MORE (R-Ariz.) is a harsh critic of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMore than 300 military family members endorse Biden Five takeaways from the final Trump-Biden debate Biden: 'I would transition from the oil industry' MORE. Flake, like Kasich, is a native of a state that might be an electoral vote pickup opportunity for the Democratic presidential nominee. But any anti-Trump critic who might run with Biden would present the former vice president with the same practical and political problems as a pairing with Kasich.

Being open to the idea of a Republican running mate is not the same as seriously considering the idea. Biden on more than one occasion has mentioned Stacey Abrams, the former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, as a possible running mate. Even before the former vice president officially announced his candidacy, there were discussions within the Biden campaign of running with Abrams as a ticket in the presidential primary.

The choice of Abrams would be a good first step for Biden or any of the Democratic presidential contenders.

She came close to winning the race for governor of Georgia in 2018. She ran an aggressive and dynamic campaign and almost won despite Republicans’ success in disenfranchising thousands of black voters who might have propelled her to victory. The Peach State has been a secure part of the GOP “Solid South” for decades, but it is trending Democratic and could be an Electoral College target for the Democratic nominee this fall. Now Abrams is running a national Democratic effort to guarantee voting rights.

If Biden is the Democratic standard-bearer, he will be under a great deal of pressure within the party to pick a woman or African American running mate. 

After nominating Barack Obama for president in 2008 and 2012 and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFive takeaways from the final Trump-Biden debate Trump, Biden tangle over Wall Street ties, fundraising The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump, Biden face off for last time on the debate stage MORE in 2016, there will be problems in Milwaukee if there isn’t an African American or woman on the ticket in 2020.

Black women are more supportive of Democratic candidates than any other demographic group in the electorate. About 60 percent of this year’s Democratic primary voters will be female, and about of quarter of the primary electorate will be black.

Picking a running mate will be nominee's first major challenge. The choice of a vice presidential nominee will send a signal about the kind of general election campaign the Democratic nominee will run. For Biden, it would indicate whether his priority will be to motivate the Democratic base or reach out to independent voters during the long fall of 2020.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Deadline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter @BradBannon.