WASHINGTON - Stacey Abrams is running a less-than-subtle campaign to be Joe Biden's vice-presidential running mate. Republicans should hope she succeeds. If selected, she would displace Sarah Palin as the least-qualified person ever to serve on a major-party ticket.
Biden should understand this, because he saw firsthand how much damage Palin's selection did to then-Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the Republican presidential nominee in 2008. Preelection polls showed that six out of 10 Americans said Palin was not qualified for the job, and a Stanford University study found that she cost McCain more than 2 million votes. As Newsweek's Howard Fineman pointed out at the time, Palin "sent wavering Democrats, independents and moderate Republicans scurrying to Sen. Barack Obama." People simply could not see Palin stepping into the presidency if McCain - who was the second-oldest person ever to win a major party's presidential nomination - were incapacitated.
Abrams makes Palin seem qualified by comparison. At least Palin won her race for Alaska governor. Abrams' claim to fame is that she lost Georgia's governor's race in 2018. Indeed, she has never won a statewide race. The highest office she has ever attained is minority leader of the Georgia state House of Representatives, a part-time legislature. Apparently, she thinks this qualifies her to be leader of the free world. Last year, Abrams briefly considered a run for president herself, telling The Washington Post in an interview "I know I have policy chops. I have foreign policy experience." According to her official bio, her foreign policy experience is serving as a "former term member of the Council on Foreign Relations" (a temporary membership for young people) as well as holding a string of fellowships that might qualify her for an entry-level research job at a think tank. She is an accomplished author - not of foreign policy treatises, but of romantic suspense novels.
But Abrams' lack of either experience or electoral success has not stopped her from actively pursuing the vice presidency. In recent weeks she has done a raft of interviews, culminating with an online joint appearance with Biden. Abrams makes the case that she tripled turnout among Latinos and Asian Americans and boosted African American turnout by 40% in Georgia in her gubernatorial run - and that she could do the same for Biden nationally.
"That's why you have running mates," she says. No, the reason you have running mates is so they can assume the duties of commander in chief if the president is incapacitated. That is why George W. Bush selected Dick Cheney, a former defense secretary, and why Obama selected Biden, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Whatever advantage Abrams might bring with minority voters who are already in Biden's camp would be dwarfed by her obvious lack of readiness for the presidency, which would drive away the moderate suburban Republicans and independents in the swing states that Biden needs to defeat Trump.
And presidential readiness will be more important for Biden's running mate than for any other vice-presidential pick in modern times. If elected, Biden would be older on the day he takes office than Ronald Reagan was on the day he left office. Biden's not just old, but also incredibly fragile - a fact we are reminded of whenever he emerges to do an interview from his Delaware basement.
Biden has essentially acknowledged that he will be a transitional figure who will serve as a "bridge" to a new generation of leaders. If elected, he would be a caretaker president who would serve one term at most and keep the seat warm for his successor.
That means Biden's choice of a successor will have outsize importance. In most elections, voters do not cast their ballots for the vice president.
But this time around, Biden's vice president will really be a president-in-waiting - one who could very well be required to step into the presidency before Biden's term is up.
McCain later said he regretted picking Palin as his running mate. Biden would similarly regret choosing Abrams. She would be a weak vice-presidential pick under any circumstances, but in Biden's case she could cost him the White House.
Marc A. Thiessen writes for the Washington Post.