The perils of a bipartisan presidential ticket

The perils of a bipartisan presidential ticket
© Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden campaign slams Trump's Rose Garden event as 'sad affair' New shutdowns add to Trump woes CNN cuts away from Trump's 'campaign-type' Rose Garden speech 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 ObamaThe four China strategies Trump or Biden will need to consider Largest Democratic PAC portrays Trump as strongman in bilingual Florida ad Larry Hogan's hopes 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 McCainKelly leads McSally by 9 points in Arizona McCain's reset: US-Vietnam relations going strong after 25 years Senate outlook slides for GOP 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 McConnellSara Gideon wins Democratic race to challenge Susan Collins Schumer pushes for elimination of SALT deduction cap in next coronavirus relief bill Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel 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 aspires to become America's auto-pen president Progressive Mondaire Jones wins NY primary to replace Nita Lowey OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden pledges carbon-free power by 2035 in T environment plan | Trump administration has been underestimating costs of carbon pollution, government watchdog finds | Trump to move forward with rollback of bedrock environmental law 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 FlakeCheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama GOP lawmakers stick to Trump amid new criticism MORE (R-Ariz.) is a harsh critic of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pitches Goya Foods products on Twitter Sessions defends recusal: 'I leave elected office with my integrity intact' Former White House physician Ronny Jackson wins Texas runoff 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 ClintonDemocrat Dana Balter to face Rep. John Katko in NY House rematch GOP lawmaker: Don't believe polls showing Trump behind Biden Kyle Van De Water wins New York GOP primary to challenge Rep. Antonio Delgado 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.