Friday, July 31, 2020


There is a good reason why former Vice President Joe Biden’s looming selection of a running mate has become so freighted with emotion and expectation, and it is not just that the Democratic presidential nominee is not, shall we say, entirely and always there.

The anticipation is heightened because this will be Mr. Biden’s first personnel selection for an administration that is likely to be marked by a difficult and durable civil war over its ideological preferences.

For most Americans, this vice presidential selection is more important than usual because they understand and even sometimes have witnessed that Mr. Biden appears to be in the midst of an unfortunate cognitive decline. This concern is enhanced by the equally clear understanding that most of the media, which vote for and prefer Democrats, have a vested interest in not covering the actual extent of the decline. There is nothing censurable with having an opinion — but it is wrong to pretend that you don’t.

Mr. Biden may be our next leader. Addled and superannuated leadership is nothing new or particularly egregious on this planet or in this country, but when the enormous arsenal of the United States is stirred together with a rising China, a hostile and nuclear Iran, and maybe a North Korea that might like to do us damage, the situation becomes a matter of literal life and death.

Consequently, the question of who will be Mr. Biden’s running mate has taken on an outsized — and completely warranted — importance to most voters.

But for a smaller and more focused group, the selection is even more freighted. Those who would like to shift the Democrats toward the collectivism of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren view this decision as the first step in what could be a long march toward remaking the Democratic Party as the country’s primary socialist standard-bearer.

At the same time, more traditional Democrats would prefer that Mr. Biden aim for the middle of the fairway and pick someone more, well, traditional.

For his part, Mr. Biden has carelessly and unwisely limited his options to women of color. As a practical matter, that likely means either Sen. Kamala Harris, Rep. Karen Bass or Obama adviser Susan Rice. Each of those women would be a disappointment to the left wing of the party, and those partisans will undoubtedly announce their displeasure in ways subtle and gross immediately after the selection.

You can see this already with the refusal of Michigan Rep. (and “Squad” member) Rashida Tlaib to endorse Mr. Biden. He’s insufficiently committed to the revolution, and that’s that.

If there is a Biden administration, expect this sort of internecine warfare to be part of the warp and woof of every personnel decision. The party will be locked in a civil war — quiet and subterranean, but also fierce and bloody — over what kinds of people are going to be making the policy decisions, from the chief of staff in the West Wing to the deputy assistant secretaries in the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

An incoming president has about 5,000 appointments or nominations to make across the breadth of the federal government. Some are critical (secretary of health and human services), some are mundane (deputy assistant to the president in the Office of Legislative Affairs), some are trivial (Amtrak board of directors). But all are important in determining what policies the United States government will pursue.

The left side of the party of Jefferson and Jackson intends to install its people in each and every one or those positions. It is a war in which each of us will have a stake, and its outcome will shape American politics, for good or ill, for the next generation.

• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.

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