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When news leaked today that Vice President Joe Biden quietly met with Senator Elizabeth Warren, you could hear official Washington’s sharp intake of collective breath. As much fun as the Biden speculation had been, he was still signaling that no decision had been made, and that it was unlikely he’d make a decision until the fall. This meeting has electrified the political media tonight.
A Biden-Warren entente presents a scenario that Biden should view as a power move that would leave Hillary Clinton’s already damaged campaign bleeding out on the deck. If I were Biden’s team, I’d cut a deal right now with Elizabeth Warren promising her two things; the Vice Presidency and full control over Biden’s economic agenda.
It’s a match made in policy and political heaven; for Biden, the complexities of the economy aren’t really his forte. Weddings, funerals, ribbon cuttings, cute animals, fondling White House visitors, and affable parody videos? Biden’s your man. Substantive policy, detail work, and intellectual rigor? Not so much. Warren’s entire economic and political philosophy is a nightmarish farrago of every post-modern socialist and regulatory-state fantasy, but at least she’s interested in having a firm grip on the controls of the economy as she crashes it into the ground at Mach 3.
Say what you will about Joe Biden’s lack of intellectual horsepower (and there’s a lot to say, but mostly in one- or two-syllable words, spoken slowly while making eye contact with him), but he’s a classic backslapping, bluff, hail-fellow-well-met kind of pol. Hillary can’t even simulate his ability to connect with people, even if he is a bit handsy. His survival and success in Washington has been that sheer likability, not his intellect or his impact in the policy domain. The base of his party likes him well enough.
Naming Warren as his VP pick right out of the box does three things for the Democrats that they can’t otherwise achieve.
First, it’s the equivalent of taking Hillary behind the barn one last time and putting her out of her misery. The predicates for her campaign (first woman President, most accomplished candidate in the field, and the sense of inevitability) are falling apart. The email server story is driving it, but the sense that she’s replaying 2008 all over again is growing among Democrats. She’s flailing, her dismal polling on both her overall image and her trustworthiness is hardening into a range from which she’ll have a lot of trouble recovering. She’s losing head-to-heads with the GOP field in battleground states, and the panic is rising.
Second, it gives the Democratic Party its socialist dream date without having to choose a 70-year-old socialist with a shock of untamed white hair, the sartorial style of a New England community college professor circa 1979, and a grating Brooklyn bellow. Bernie Sanders is the Democratic Party’s id coming out to play, and he reflects the market space that Warren left when she declined to enter the race earlier. There are the Democrats for whom Barack Obama simply hasn’t been ambitious enough in nationalizing the economy, expanding the regulatory state, and generally nannying into every aspect of our private and business lives.
Finally, it completely resets the overall campaign narrative for the Democratic Party. Right now, this would be – as the Clinton team hoped from the beginning – a stunt-casting personality fight between Hillary-as-first-woman-President and her Republican rival. Clinton would have produced the usual panoply of policy word-vomit from her focus groups, but largely run on the First Woman President narrative, not on what she’d actually do. The right words and phrases would be there, but the core progressive base of the Democratic Party and its angry labor constituency would have never believed Hillary’s heart was in it. With Warren, they would.
Biden and Warren can be beaten, surely. He’s still the Ruprecht the Monkey Boy of the Democratic Party, and Warren is a far-left (ok, far-far-far-left) Massachusetts fabulist with a calm affect that disguises a woman I can easily imagine purging the ideologically impure from the 34th Party Congress for insufficient diligence to the Five-Year Beet Harvest Plan.
It would be a wildly different scenario on the Democratic side than anyone imagined even six months ago, but it’s one for which we’d be smart to have a contingency plan.