We have arrived at the point in the vice-presidential selection process when rumors swirl, candidates are said to “rise” or “fall” and oppo-research dumps abound. This time, the stench of sexism hangs in the air.

Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) is too “ambitious” (as opposed to Pete Buttigieg who ran for president as mayor of South Bend, Ind.?) and had the temerity to attack former vice president Joe Biden in the debates. (For anyone not keeping track, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the debates accused Biden and others who opposed Medicare-for-all of running in the wrong party’s primary.) Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) is recommended because everyone in the party likes her — sending the message that women who are sweet, cheery and nonconfrontational will be rewarded. These reactions aired in the media perpetuate the notion that only a certain type of woman who does not offend men can be welcomed in the top rungs of power.

The Biden camp has done itself no favors by declining to dump former senator Chris Dodd, a member of the campaign’s vetting committee, after he reportedly said to donors that he opposed Harris as a running mate because she didn’t have enough “remorse” for her swipes at Biden. (The closest response came from campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon, who defended “ambitious” women but did not mention Dodd by name.) Blabbing to donors and badmouthing someone who may be the pick suggests Dodd is untrustworthy and lacks judgment, so why is he still with the team? The pace of the selection process allows the coverage to churn, thereby airing the same misogynistic platitudes. This does not benefit the presumptive presidential nominee nor any of the possible picks for vice president.

Ironically, the candidate who may have fared the best through all this — Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) — is not mentioned as one of the top three or four candidates for the position. That’s a shame because Biden needs to remember the single-most important factor: someone who can step into the presidency if need be. That means Biden’s pick must be someone with experience on the national stage and solid foreign policy credentials. And let’s not forget that the most important day for the vice-presidential pick after announcement day is the vice presidents’ debate. Both Duckworth and Harris have shown they can throw a punch. This is why you would want an ambitious, bold woman on your side.

It seems the old White men telling Biden who can be trusted have forgotten one of the principal functions of the vice-presidential pick in a campaign: attacking and distracting the other side. Clearheaded advisers should see Harris’s debate tangle with Biden as evidence of her ability to attack effectively. Her interrogations of Attorney General William P. Barr and now-Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh remind us that no one under consideration is more adept than Harris at shredding the president, who resorts to calling women who ably attack him “nasty.”

If the result of the sexist chatter is the selection of a nice but unprepared candidate who is vulnerable to attack and unvetted on the national stage, Biden and his team will have fumbled their first presidential-level decision. Let’s hope they are smarter and more confident in the top of the ticket’s willingness to surround himself with strong personalities.

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