News breaking right now that Biden has chosen Kamala Harris as his running mate. She seems a poor choice even aside from her ideological defects. She ran a terrible campaign, dropping out before the Iowa caucuses having blown through all of her abundant early money and squandering some early strength in the polls, chiefly because she never settled on a campaign message, and performed poorly from day to day, walking back (“clarifying”) plainly ill-thought comments within 24 hours.
But I think Biden chose her for the same reason John McCain chose Sarah Palin in 2008: to close the “enthusiasm gap” between him and Trump. Surveys consistently show that Democratic voters are distinctly unenthusiastic about Biden, and the progressive left is critical of many of Biden’s positions. But the progressive left Democratic base mostly loves Harris (except for that prosecuting criminals part of her past). If events (chiefly the economy and the virus) start to break more in Trump’s favor over the next six weeks, you could see the race tighten, and the enthusiasm gap becoming an important factor.
The enthusiasm gap is important, and this election cycle is reminding me more and more of 1976, when an incumbent president (Ford) with heavy baggage was running way behind (by as much as 25 points in August) the Democratic challenger Jimmy Carter, but managed to close the gap and make a razor-close race of it in the end. Like Biden today, Democrats were not especially enthusiastic about Carter, who they nonetheless gathered around in the nomination contest to stop George Wallace, who, we forget today, was a formidable force for the Democrats in 1976, despite being in a wheelchair. Likewise, a lot of Democrats circled the wagons for Biden in March out of their fear of Bernie Sanders, who was threatening to run away with the race for a two-week period in late February.
Fred Siegel wrote about this 1976 dynamic in his terrific 1984 book Troubled Journey:
At a time when many pros feared Wallace would be able to broker the 1976 Democratic convention by coming in with 30 or 40 percent of the delegates, Carter offered himself to Northern liberals as a stopper. Wallace votes, he told a New York audience, “cannot be transferred to a more liberal candidate.” Meanwhile he was presenting himself to Southerners as a man who could carry on the Wallace legacy of standing up for Dixie by cutting down the federal government.
History may not repeat itself or rhyme, as the apocryphal Mark Twain remarks holds, but some patterns in American history can be instructive.
The media has already fallen into line and running interference. The New York Times is calling Harris “a pragmatic moderate.”
Meanwhile, I expect there’s going to be a lot of talk about Kamala’s previous running mate.
JOHN adds: I just did a bit on the Howie Carr show, and Howie closed by noting that in his upcoming column he is going to write that Harris got her start working under Willie Brown. Happy days are here again!
ONE MORE THING: This will be fun, too
UPDATE: This didn’t take long.
JOHN adds: Wow, that is a dynamite ad. Once more down memory lane: