Fourteen Reasons Why Biden Was a Stupid Choice
August 24, 2008
Barack Obama, Joe Biden, vice president
An Exclusive for No Quarter by Democratic Political Strategist (incognito) “Sam Copeland”
The selection of Joe Biden as the Vice Presidential nominee by Obama was a big surprise for me. Biden was not even on my list of finalists.
I didn’t think anyone – not even Obama – would make a strategic blunder of this magnitude.
For the record, I really like Joe Biden as a person and as a Senator. My analysis is simply political and doesn’t speak to his abilities as a Senator.
The typical criteria for selecting a VP include one or more of the following: (a) win a key state, (b) reinforce a message, (c) balance the ticket (cover different regions of the country), (d) bring the party together, (e) provide a contrast favorable to the candidate (Nixon selects Agnew, Bush selects weaker Quayle), and (f) enlist a hatchet man to do the dirty work. With the exception of “f”, Biden does none of these and he does “f” at a big cost.
Read the rest ->
In announcing Biden as the VP selection, New York Times summarized in a nutshell the problem with this choice:
It reflected a critical strategic choice by Mr. Obama: To go with a running mate who could reassure voters about gaps in his résumé, rather than to pick someone who could deliver a state or reinforce Mr. Obama’s message of change.
Here are my 14 reasons why this is a terrible political decision:
1. During the primary, Biden made many remarks about Obama’s lack of experience and the need for experience in order to be President. That has already given the Republicans a free round of attacks. Throughout the campaign there will be constant contrasts between Biden’s experience and Obama’s lack of it, further questioning Obama’s readiness for the office. Americans don’t care if the VP has experience; they want it in their Commander in Chief.
2. The selection of Biden sends a mixed campaign message. The Obama message was about hope and change. In politics, you must “stay on message.” This sends a mixed message — do you need hope, change, and judgment to lead the country or someone who knows what they are doing? If you say both, then you get into a nuanced discussion of when you need hope vs. experience, why can’t one leader have both hope and experience, and so on. Contrast this with the pick of Senator Gore by Governor Clinton in 2000. This reinforced the message of “A New Democrat” (since both had similar political philosophies).
3. To paraphrase James Farley — one of FDR’s ‘36 campaign managers and DNC chair, “As Delaware goes, so goes Vermont.” In other words, Delaware’s 3 electoral votes should have been in Obama’s column before this pick; it gives him no pick-up. Contrast this with picking Kaine or Bayh, who would have put Virginia or Indiana in play. (The original Farley quote was “As Maine goes, so goes Vermont.” Maine and Vermont were the only 2 states won by Alf Landon in 1936; up until that election Maine was considered a bellwether state in predicting the outcome of national elections).
4. Obama’s electoral strategy was to reconfigure the map by making gains in the Western states. This pick does nothing to help in that area. It actually hurts. Why would people in Colorado, Nevada, Montana, and New Mexico be impressed with a Northeasterner? Contrast with Clinton/Gore 2000 where both were Southerners and thus made the statement, “We are here to win the South.” The selection of Biden also writes off Southern states. Obama had hopes in Georgia and North Carolina; I don’t see how it helps in the border states or in Florida.
5. Obama’s election strategy has now become the equivalent of drawing to an inside straight in poker. He hasn’t secured his base states (particularly Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania), but yet he is campaigning in states like Colorado. Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania are like the inside cards he needs to draw a straight. Biden helps with eastern Pennsylvania because of his roots and religion, but not with Ohio and Michigan (with fewer Catholic populations). In other words, Obama just spent a lot of political capital to win a state - Pennsylvania - that he should be winning by larger numbers anyway.
6. The argument for Biden is that he will appeal to the Hillary base of blue collar workers. This is somewhat true in Pennsylvania where there are strong Catholic ties. (Hillary’s strongest support among men came from Catholic blue collar workers, who Biden should also appeal to). However, blue collar workers in Ohio and Michigan do not have those Catholic roots and it is not clear how much Biden will help. Furthermore, Biden does little (and most likely does harm) in securing the other major portion of Hillary’s base — women. Symbolically, Biden is from the “old white boys” club and is only moderately pro-choice (a NARAL rating of 36%, although he is probably more pro-choice than this number suggests). Some women are already suspicious of Obama’s position on abortion, and Biden’s selection doesn’t help reduce those concerns. I think the selection of Biden indicates that Obama now realizes he needs to unite the party and secure the votes of traditional Democrats; this is a poor tactical play in a correct strategy that should have been executed throughout the primary and completed no later than June.
7. Biden is gaffe prone. Already, the news media is covering past Biden gaffes. This takes away from the impact this announcement was suppose to have. Further, if Biden makes one or two gaffes during the election, then that will take Obama off message for a week or two as everyone tries to cover for them. That will be costly.
Biden’s past gaffes make him look like a quarterback who has some great abilities but who fumbles the ball and throws interceptions as critical game moments. Thus, in voters’ minds, you have a situation where you are starting a high school quarterback in the Super Bowl, and this high school kid is being backed up at quarterback by a veteran who is capable of playing at a high level but is also prone to make critical fumbles. No one wants to go into the Super Bowl with this quarterback situation and, if you had to, you would go with the veteran back-up as starter and not the kid. This is not the image you want if you want to win the Presidency.
8. Biden’s strength is that he can deliver a strong blow to his opposition if need be. He is a great hatchet man. But, this comes at a cost including: (a) he also makes gaffes, (b) it undermines Obama’s claim to run a different campaign (he really boxed himself in with this promise), and (c) he spent a lot of political capital on a hatchet man. In sports metaphor, you have spent a first round draft pick on a person who comes off the bench to foul instead of a franchise player. Obama needs an attack dog. However, given that he has promised a clean campaign, the attack dog can’t be too close to Obama (say, like a VP pick). Instead of making his VP a hatchet man, he should have developed a team of surrogates and made use of his netroots for stealth attacks.
9. Biden supported the resolution to go to war. If it is about judgment and not experience– as Obama has proclaimed — then Biden does not have the qualities needed to be President. Biden also has a different plan to end the Iraq war (withdrawal vs. stay there long enough to sort the contending coalitions into their own geographic space). This mixed message can be exploited by McCain as he uses one against the other.
10. Biden supported the bankruptcy law and legislation favoring credit card companies and banks. This now neutralizes a key democratic issue in the campaign: sub-prime lending and the economy in general. Depending on how the issues in the campaign unfold, McCain can exploit this to drive a wedge to further separate blue collar workers from the Democratic Party (and thus neutralize Biden on this strength). McCain can also use Biden’s connections to the financial industry to show lobbying ties and thus neutralize Obama on this issue.
11. One of Biden’s major strengths is his patriotism. His son is leaving his post in Delaware state government to go serve in Iraq. This is an inspiration to most Americans. Obama probably thinks that it will neutralize McCain’s war record. Here is what will actually happen. McCain will praise Biden and his son for their service to America. Biden will need to reciprocate and praise McCain for his service (or else Biden looks like a jerk). With McCain and Biden praising each other for their service to America, guess who is left out of the discussion? Answer: Obama. Where is his service to America?
12. Biden was accused of plagiarism in 1988. Do I need to say more than this: “Change you can Xerox.”?
13. Biden has over 30 years of speeches, votes, and positions. The Republicans have this material indexed. This gives them an enormous amount of material to be used on a tactical basis as the campaign unfolds.
14. Last week, David Gergen noted that the Obama campaign was losing momentum and needs a game-changer. Gergen is correct in his analysis. The selection of Biden is not a game-changer.
The left-wing blogosphere is changing course and now come, not to bury Biden, but to praise him. They marvel at what a great choice this is (last week they were saying the opposite). They also are in utter admiration for how the selection was announced.
Over at Daily “I-Think-Ned Lamont-is-a-Winning-Political-Strategy” Kos, they put it this way:
This has been the best Veep rollout EVER. . . . [I]s there a better example than this that old media is getting left out in the cold?
Let me conclude by telling you why his roll-out of this announcement was actually terrible.
1. Way too much hype for the selection. Obama hyped this thing up and had everyone on pins and needles for — Joe Biden? Had it been Al Gore or Hillary Clinton or someone like that, then it would have made sense. This is like a nonstop 2 week PR blitz for the movie Gigli.
This hype comes at a cost. First, it reinforces the perception that this campaign is about Obama and not about the American people. Second, I am seeing more and more that Americans are growing fatigued –call it Obama fatigue– by all the theatrics. They want to know how their lives will be better.
2. Daily “I-think-Ned-Lamont-is-a-Winning-Political-Strategy” Kos is absolutely correct that this roll-out made the media look bad because they were not supposed to be the first to know. And this is a good thing? Who do you think will be filtering the news for most Americans during this election cycle? The media is lazy and doesn’t do its job; the one thing it likes most of all is being perceived as being in the know. This roll-out undermined that perception, which can’t help but anger the media. How do you think they will even the score?
3. The use of text messaging was a brilliant idea. It helps build excitement, involves people in the campaign, and builds a voter base. That being said, it was poorly executed, and did more harm than good. Those folks who signed up for the alert were NOT the first people to know, as promised. The media scooped Obama, anyway. This was a let-down to all those who signed up. It sends a signal that Obama really can’t change things (the media is still in control).
The media figured it out because they knew to watch the Secret Service as a tip-off. They knew that the first person to know would not be the text-messengers but the Secret Service, and that the Secret Service would show up to Biden’s house before the announcement. Obama’s people didn’t know that. Obama thought he could out-fox the media, but didn’t know enough about how the media works its sources to do so. Once again, he is the rookie high school quarterback playing in the Super Bowl. He thinks he is clever by calling the “Statute of Liberty” play, but the play gets quickly shut down by a vastly more knowledgeable and experienced press corps (at least more experienced at these sorts of games). The end result is a dissed media, disappointed supporters, and a reinforced rookie image.
Sam Copeland’s Political Rule #29: You cannot make up a political deficit by hiring a surrogate. That only makes the political deficit more apparent.