Axios’s Mike Allen, who broke the story Thursday, quoted a source close to Biden as saying the dramatic pick of an African American woman who is a rising star in the Democratic Party would show that the former vice president “isn’t just another old white guy.”
It is easy to see why Biden would find the idea appealing, presumptuous as it is. What is harder to understand is why Abrams would accept such an offer if Biden were to make it.
By virtue of his eight years at Barack Obama’s side, Biden would enter the contest as the front-runner, but that status would be a fragile one.
He is 76 years old, would be making his third try at the presidency and would be up against a young, wide and diverse field of fresh faces. The current count of some 15 declared or all-but-declared Democratic candidates includes six women and two African Americans.
Abrams, 45, was born 11 months after Biden first arrived in the U.S. Senate. After she lost a breathtakingly close race for Georgia governor last year, she emerged with such standing that she was handed the job of delivering the Democratic response to President Trump’s Feb. 5 State of the Union address.
The assignment can be a poisoned plum, one that often has done more to hurt than help the careers of those chosen for it. Abrams aced it, delivering a 10-minute rebuttal weaving her own inspirational biography with a biting critique of Trump and his policies.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has made no secret of how badly he wants Abrams to challenge Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) next year; she is by far Schumer’s best hope in a state that hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate in nearly two decades. Abrams is also said to have her eye on making another bid for governor in 2022.
If she joins Biden’s ticket, of course, there is always the possibility that she could make history in an even bigger way. But the gimmick is so transparent that it also carries the real risk of devaluing her own political brand.
What’s more, Abrams would spend the next year or more acting as Biden’s human shield, constantly called upon to answer for his past positions on issues that put him at odds with African American and female voters.
Among those previous Biden positions is the forceful stand he took against school busing in Delaware during the 1970s. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden was also one of the chief authors of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which established sentencing procedures that are now recognized as having put an inordinate number of black men behind bars.
In 1991, Biden caught a significant share of the blame for the Judiciary Committee’s callous treatment of Anita Hill after she stepped forward during Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearing and accused the Supreme Court nominee of sexual misconduct. It was not a good look for Biden, even before the #MeToo movement.
Biden, of course, did much over the course of his 44 years in federal office to advance the causes of women and minorities. But it should be his job to make the case for himself, including explaining how his views have evolved and what he would do differently.
Finally, history suggests that picking a running mate early isn’t all that much help to a struggling candidate.
Going into the 1976 GOP convention, Ronald Reagan tried to dislodge some Pennsylvania delegates by naming that state’s moderate senator, Richard S. Schweiker, as his running mate. All Reagan succeeded in doing was upsetting his own conservative supporters.
More recently, in 2016, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) sought to revive his fading campaign for the GOP presidential nomination by tapping his one-time rival Carly Fiorina as his running mate. Within a week, Cruz was out of the race.
Naming Abrams — or anyone else — as a running mate this early in the race might be seen as a bold move on Biden’s part. Or it might be read as a bright distress flare signaling his weakness.
Either way, for Abrams, it would be a gamble not worth taking. She has a bright path ahead of her. She can get where she’s going on her own.