While some of those candidates are reportedly still in the mix, a highly unconventional choice has entered the top tier. Susan E. Rice, who served as Barack Obama’s national security adviser and his ambassador to the United Nations — has confirmed that Biden is considering her for the vice presidential slot.
Rice has never pursued elected office, so it would be unusual for her to jump directly into the second most visible political job in the country. But Rice — who works well with Biden personally, reinforces his key campaign message and fills in some of his demographic gaps — would be a smart choice for this moment.
Rice’s biggest advantage in the veepstakes is her long relationship with Biden. Biden has emphasized that he needs to have a good working relationship with his vice president. He wants to delegate major policy problems to her, trusting that she’ll run with the ball and craft her own initiatives.
Rice fits that bill better than anyone else on the shortlist: Biden knows her well from the Obama administration, where she would brief him on national security issues and work closely on foreign policy. During the Obama years, Biden and Rice disagreed on issues such as how to handle pro-democracy protests in Egypt, but they built up a strong professional relationship and a personal friendship. If Biden wants to re-create the energy of the Obama era, it would make sense to hire another person from his administration.
Rice would also reinforce the perception that Biden is running for an Obama third term. Building on Obama’s legacy is a good strategy for Biden: According to a May survey by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, Obama would beat President Trump in a hypothetical matchup 54 percent to 43 percent, and YouGov recently found that 45 percent of Americans said Obama was “great” or “near great” while only 30 percent said the same of Trump. As others have pointed out, it’s intuitive that Biden could double down on these favorable numbers by picking a key Obama official such as Rice.
Rice also fills in some of Biden’s demographic weaknesses on the ticket. At 55 years old, she’s 22 years younger than Biden, but old enough to be a well-established professional rather than a rising star, which makes the juxtaposition between them less jarring. Nobody will be worried about her age or health. Rice would also make history as the first Black woman on a presidential ticket for a major party — which would be especially compelling in a time of widespread anti-racism protests.
There are obvious objections to Rice, but none are dealbreakers.
Rice hasn’t run for office before, so there’s no way to know how she’d handle big arena rallies, glad-handing (from a safe social distance), the constant barrage of media questions or the other trials of the campaign trail. But in the middle of a pandemic, Rice might not need to do any of that. She could, like Biden, spend much of her time in the basement and still run a winning race.
And picking Rice would also revitalize conservative obsessions with how the Obama administration handled an Islamist militant attack on the U.S. consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi.
Republicans alleged that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others ignored warnings about an attack and later attempted to cover up their mistakes. Investigations disproved those specific claims but did say the administration could have done more to prepare for attacks on U.S. outposts in Libya.
If Biden picked Rice, they’d have to re-litigate this episode. In the aftermath of the attack, Rice appeared on multiple news networks and said that the attack was a response to an Internet video. Rice was repeating the CIA’s talking points, but her statements fed the controversy. If she joined the ticket, Trump would try to use Benghazi to reinvigorate his base and deflect attention away from his mishandling of the pandemic.
But complicated calculations about Benghazi shouldn’t prevent Rice from joining the ticket. Ultimately, this election will be about competence: whether Trump is handling his presidency well and whether Biden would do a better job. Rice, unlike her more conventionally qualified competitors, would help Biden win this race and govern effectively on day one. In that way, Rice’s unorthodox background actually makes her Biden’s smartest pick for a running mate.