Why Biden Has to Pick Governor Gretchen Whitmer as Vice-President in Order to Win the White House


            Picking the vice-presidential candidate is the most important decision made by any candidate for president because it is the only governmental executive decision she or he makes before taking the Oath of Office.


            Joe Biden, the prospective Democratic Party nominee for president, has promised to pick a woman for Vice-President, which is a challenge. Given the advanced ages of both Trump and Biden, the vice-president needs to be assessed in terms of executive ability and experience should that person become president.


States Pick the President


            There are only two centers of power in the American system, the federal government, and the states. Presidents are picked by the Electoral College, a device designed to keep the power to select the president in the hands of the states. In effect, a presidential election is a collection of 50 individual state election contests plus the District of Columbia.


            The Constitution was a compact of the states to create a central government to correct the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation. Wary of the absolute power of monarchs, the states sought to ensure a central government that would not take their powers away. So, the 10th Amendment,  "Rights Reserved to the States and People," says: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."


            In other words, the states ratified the Constitution with the understanding that if the powers were not expressly given to the federal government, or specifically denied to the states, then those powers belonged to the states or the people.


            One way the states and people kept power over the federal government was by reserving to themselves the right to pick the chief executive.


The Governors

            In modern times, voters have favored for the presidency Governors or persons with clear executive experience and competence. Of the 22 presidents since 1892, ten have been elected Governor. William H. Taft was appointed civilian Governor of the Philippines. Herbert Hoover was the food administrator during World War I and organized the relief effort for Europe after the war. Dwight Eisenhower was commanding general of the American forces in Europe during World War II, not to mention being responsible for governing the liberated zones in Africa, Italy and Germany. Thirteen of the 22 presidents in the past 128 years had clear executive ability. Fourteen if you include Trump.


            Of Senators who became president, on the other hand, Harry Truman took us into the Korean War. Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon brought us into Vietnam. Vice-President Nixon lost his bid for Governor of California. It's clear that voters look for executive competence in their presidents, so they are partial to governors, the second most powerful political office.


         Biden currently has four governors under active consideration for the Vice-Presidency.


            Michelle Lujan Grisham, the Governor of New Mexico, is a Latina and member of a powerful political family. Her grandfather was a judge of the Supreme Court of New Mexico. New Mexico went handily for Clinton in 2016.


            Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island, a venture capitalist, Harvard graduate, Rhodes Scholar, and Yale Law graduate, is a strong candidate, but for her coming from the Northeast. Hillary carried Rhode Island by over 15%, and Rhode Island is a small state, like Delaware, from where Biden comes.


            Maggie Hansen, the Senator from New Hampshire, formerly served as Governor. That is an attractive combination except that she is from a small Northeast state, like Delaware, Biden's home state.


            Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer from a state Hillary narrowly lost, but which Biden must win to succeed. Like Michelle Grisham, Whitmer is Governor from a border state, which gives the candidate a whiff of foreign policy experience and credentials. Whitmer has an additional bonus. If she is elected Vice-President, Garlin Gilchrist II, a 38-year-old engineer, would become the fifth African-American governor in history and the fourth in modern times. That should satisfy the lobby that is urging Biden to make a woman of color his running mate, a kind of consolation prize. With Whitmer, Biden can kill two birds with one stone.


            Of the 36 candidates for governor in 2018, Whitmer did better than 14 while Grisham did better than 22, given that 28 of the races were won by incumbents or party member of the previous governor, both did relatively well. So, while Grisham's credentials are stronger on paper, the difference is that New Mexico is a Democratic state with five electoral votes, while Michigan is a toss-up Biden needs to win with 16 electoral votes.


            The New Mexico Governor's race had 700,000 votes, and Michigan's had 4 million. So, even if Grisham is marginally more popular in her state, Whitmer has been vetted by far more people. Just to give a sense of what we're talking about here, Grisham got 396,603 votes to win the governorship of New Mexico, while Whitmer's 403,920  margin of victory over her opponent in Michigan was more than Grisham's entire vote total. 


The Black Running Mate


            There is now a big push afoot for Biden to name a black running-mate. Because Biden is so uninspiring, the theory is that people might get excited by the vice-presidential candidate. People do not open their wallets and work their tails off for a vice-presidential candidate. Furthermore, this kind of affirmative action will sink Biden's campaign like a stone, or rather like a George McGovern or a Walter Mondale.


            Most of the black elected officials in contention have come from high minority districts, many having not faced an opponent in years. There are no black women governors. Had Stacey Abrams won her race for Governor of Georgia, it might be a different story. There is, however, a former Governor, a woman of color with foreign policy credentials as a former Ambassador to the United Nations ‒ Nikki Haley, a Republican.


The House Candidates


            Biden is also considering two black candidates who serve in the House of Representatives: Val Demings and Karen Bass, national unknowns from heavily minority districts.


            The House has the power to impeach the president. Impeachment is supposed to be an extraordinary tool, as it violates the separation of powers by making the legislature into a judicial body. It was used only once in American history until 1974 and has been used three times in the 46 years since. I have always thought that George H. W. Bush because he served before Watergate, would be the last president to have served in the House of Representatives. Turning the impeachment process into a partisan political tool, first with Nixon, then Bill Clinton, and now with Trump makes any member of that body unelectable as president, if the voters care about separation of powers, which I think they do. Hillary Clinton, while not a member of the House, was special counsel to the Judiciary Committee during Nixon's impeachment, which is probably just as tainting as being a House member.


            In addition to the impeachment power argument, there is the fact that the last three presidents who tried to get elected to the House:  Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama each failed to win, yet went on to become president. This historical pattern is not a recommendation to pick a House member for Vice-President.


            Also mentioned is Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. She barely won her mayoral race by 832 out of less than 100,000 votes cast. Even having a candidate like Keisha Lance Bottoms under serious consideration makes Biden look weak.


The Senators


            Biden spent 36 years in the United States Senate before becoming Vice-President. The ticket already has the Senate covered.


            Of the current Senators under consideration for Vice-President, most are from states guaranteed to go for Biden: Kamala Harris ‒ California, Elizabeth Warren ‒ Massachusetts, and Tammy Duckworth ‒ Illinois,. Only Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin might help to bring in a doubtful state that voted for Trump in 2016, but Baldwin is gay, which might help solidify Trump's support in the conservative heartland.


            However, all four of these senators called for Senator Al Franken to resign and voted to convict Trump in his impeachment. Biden needs a female running mate who can not be attacked for doing those things, because Biden didn't do them either.


The Staff Option


            In Washington, staff members are becoming as or even more powerful than the elected representatives. This phenomenon is partially driven by the need for elected office holders to spend most of their time raising campaign funds.


            Under consideration is Susan Rice, a democratic party foreign policy advisor, brilliant, accomplished, but from Washington D.C. Choosing Rice would be an inside the Beltway disaster. She has never run for public office.


            At a time when  Congress is so low in the public esteem, a ticket of two Capital insiders would be a mistake. What the media is failing to mention is the current extraordinary situation where the incumbent president is running as the outsider while the challenger is the insider candidate.


Biden's Choice


            One of the truisms of presidential politics is that it usually comes down to picking the Vice-Presidential candidate who does the least harm. While the Vice-Presidential candidate does bring assets to the ticket, she or he also brings liabilities. Biden's running mate, however, has to be seen as able to be president in the event of succession.


            Governor Gretchen Whitmer is the strongest candidate for Biden. Grisham looks good on paper, but a ticket where both candidates come from small states would be an anomaly. Bill Clinton was the first president from a small state since before the Civil War.


            In forty years of non-partisan election analysis, I have discovered another truism: prior experience winning votes is a perfect predictor of winning votes in the future. That is why every president this century, except for Clinton, came from a big state: McKinley, Taft, and Harding - Ohio; the Roosevelts, Eisenhower, and Nixon - New York (not to mention the 2016 race where both major party candidates were from New York); Coolidge and Kennedy - Massachusetts; Hoover and Reagan - California; Truman - Missouri; Johnson and both Bushes - Texas; Carter - Georgia; Ford - Michigan; and Obama - Illinois.


            Biden comes from Delaware, one of the smallest states in the union.


            No matter which woman Biden chooses, don't be completely surprised if Donald Trump drops Mike Pence and takes Nikki Haley as his running mate.


            This is going to be a close race.


            If the news can be believed, Biden's choice is being driven more by the internal politics of the Democratic Party than by any objective assessment of the national political landscape. Elections today are determined by independents. During the primaries, as the Democratic establishment increasingly backed Biden, it seemed that the Democrats would rather lose with Biden than win with Sanders. Whitmer is Biden's best hope for winning and stopping Trump.


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Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf