Usually—and by usually, I mean last time—we don’t begin to see the call for “unity tickets” of a Democrat and a Republican in a presidential election until the year of the actual election. But everything moves faster now, and today, a Republican campaign flack writing in Politico has a bold suggestion: a ticket of two guys who have each run failed campaigns for president multiple times.
Juleanna Glover, a member of the Biden Institute Policy Advisory Board at the University of Delaware (my alma mater) who’s described in her bio as having worked for both Bush brothers, Dick Cheney, John McCain, and Rudy Giuliani (you know, all of the good guys), writes of probable Democratic candidate Joe Biden:
The former vice president is clocking in well above the closest competition in the latest 2020 presidential polls. And, as he said last week, he is the “most qualified person in the country to be president.” Yet in a Democratic primary he could be cannibalized by his own kind. Other Democratic candidates with more ambition than ability to win a general election against Donald Trump will inexorably and gleefully erode his standing by rehashing the Anita Hill hearings, pushing him to the left on domestic policy and endlessly reminding voters of his support for the Gulf War.
Yeah, why would other candidates bring any of this horrific shit (plus the crime bill, which Biden helped author), which is the antithesis of what the Democratic Party ostensibly stands for, up in a contested Democratic primary? Crazy libs.
Glover’s suggestion to Biden, you might be able to guess, isn’t that he should stay on the sidelines, or even apologize for his past gigantic missteps in hopes of winning over progressive critics. It’s that he should run an independent campaign for president with either former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Ben Sasse (who votes with Donald Trump’s position 87 percent of the time), or—wait for it—Sen.-elect Mitt fucking Romney as his vice president. She continues:
Many past third-party bids have failed because they came from the lunatic fringes—think Jill Stein and Ralph Nader of the Green Party or Ross Perot with his quirky North American Free Trade Agreement obsession.
In what world is Ralph Nader from the lunatic fringes but Donald Trump isn’t? Also, “quirky” is an interesting way to describe opposition to NAFTA, considering the current president called it the “worst trade deal ever” during the campaign, but okay. Glover continues:
What about policy? A Biden-led bipartisan ticket would pledge to serve a Cincinnatus-like single term and address all of the U.S.’s ticking time bombs like Social Security, Medicare, health care reform, climate change, money in politics, immigration, gerrymandering and infrastructure investment in four years. Why this pledge? It decouples a president from the demands of reelection politics while simultaneously easing concerns about age—Biden would be 78 on inauguration day. It also ensures governance unpolluted by campaign finance concerns and narrow special interests inherent to maintain a winning coalition. This ticket would promise to force decisions on all the underlying structural policy matters damaging America’s long-term prospects and distorting our democracy. No more kicking the can down the road.
None of this is grounded in anything remotely like reality. Biden would instantly be at odds with any three of Glover’s suggestions for vice president on nearly all of these issues (except maybe that banks are good). That vice president would have very little cache with the congressional Republicans after helping to sink a Republican incumbent and his true believer vice president. And Biden would still be a lame duck after two years, when we’d get to do this all over again.
Furthermore, this is all based on the idea that a Biden-square-jawed-white-Republican ticket would win with a coalition of soft left and center-right Norms Respecters. An equally likely scenario is that Biden would mostly split the Democratic vote, leaving the Republican base as kingmakers and handing Trump a second term with something like 40 percent of the vote.
We’re still over a year out from the first Democratic primary. Every poll we’re seeing now is based on name recognition and not even worth talking about, but Trump’s GOP just suffered a devastating rebuke, losing at least 40 seats in the House, seven gubernatorial seats, and hundreds of state legislative seats in November. He lost that much while enjoying a moderately successful economy (at the top, at least), which he is doing his best to fuck up. There’s no reason to believe that a ticket that’s forcefully against everything Donald Trump stands for wouldn’t be successful.
The biggest problem with Glover’s essay, however, is her premise—that the only way to beat back the far-right is with a strong, unified center. Unfortunately, this has already been proven to be ineffective: An unprecedented amount of Republicans either stayed out of endorsing in the last campaign or endorsed Hillary Clinton outright, and the outcome was less than ideal. This strategy doesn’t seem to be working anywhere else, either.
Glover’s op-ed is also indicative of what passes for wisdom in serious political consultant circles. While she goes to great pains to stress that she doesn’t think all of the players involved would take to this idea immediately and that it might seem a little “crazy,” she ultimately rests on the idea that it’s only logical that two dominant figures in the two major political parties would come together to a) get elected, b) pass longstanding agenda items, c) that everyone would ultimately love the reforms they pass, and d) that four years of No Labels bullshit wouldn’t further polarize American politics. Compare this with what establishment politicians and consultants believe about radical policy prescriptions to urgent problems, such as Medicare for All or the Green New Deal. Hell, compare it to what Glover herself says about Ross Perot’s opposition to a free-trade agreement. Who’s actually being unrealistic here?
Pundits love unity tickets because they love the idea of coming together for a greater purpose, but there’s no need to unnecessarily complicate this, especially nearly two years out from the election. The way to beat unpopular politicians and policies is by promising a clear break, rather than a double scoop of the respectability politics that enabled Trump’s rise in the first place.