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Opinion

Opinion: Why Democrats should recruit a Republican vice president for their 2020 ticket

Marco Rubio
A Republican such as Marco Rubio might be just what the Democrats need on their ticket this year.
(Kurtis Lee / Los Angeles Times)

I have had many brilliant political ideas. There was my failed campaign to eliminate the penny, my mildly successful plea for people to send me letters to stem the Post Office’s budget losses and — as you undoubtedly remember from the 2000 Republican convention — my winning argument that the delegate from Utah introduce her state as “Utah: the only state that starts with U.”

My new notion is bigger than any of those: The Democratic nominee should pick, as her or his running mate, a Republican. Specifically, the nominee should choose a moderate anti-Trump Republican capable of attracting right-leaning independents, such as Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush or current Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

There are lots of other options, none of whom I can name because the only Republicans I know are the ones who run for president. I have no idea who the senators from Indiana are, but I am familiar with Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan, which I’m pretty sure involved tricking the devil by turning everything upside down.

By choosing a Republican, the Democratic nominee would be putting country over party. They’d be offering a huge sacrifice to sew together our divided nation. They’d be saying that as crucial as Democrats consider healthcare, global warming, gun control, sexual harassment, abortion and that robot-job apocalypse (which has given Andrew Yang sweats so severe he can’t wear a tie), it’s more crucial to save democracy. Because if we continue our march into autocracy, we won’t be able to address any of those issues.

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I ran my idea by Joel Benenson, chief strategist for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, deciding he was best poised to make it happen. Knowing how threatened experts get when presented with genius solutions by a layperson, I humbly added, “I know I’m a political novice.”

“You’re being too kind to yourself,” he said. “It’s a terrible idea. It’s bad on so many levels.”

Benenson argued that picking a member of the other party is a Hail Mary pass, and you don’t start a game with a Hail Mary pass. “It suggests a fear that you can’t win this election on your own merits, which is going to undermine your own campaign,” he said. “The worst signal you can send to the general electorate is ‘I’m afraid of losing.’” Voters, he said, want a strong leader. It’s an even more important quality than not having an email server.

Worse, Benenson said my idea wasn’t original. “A lot of people think of this. Not political professionals,” he said. “You guys think, ‘That would get Republicans to vote for you.’ No! No one votes based on who the vice president is.”

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Apparently Benenson doesn’t remember the riveting vice presidential debates in which Mike Pence faced off against that guy who was like a senator or governor from Maryland or Virginia or one of the Carolinas.

I also ran my idea past someone who has been directly involved in choosing past vice presidential nominees, but that person thought my idea was so bad he or she refused to be named in this column.

“If a bill to protect a women’s right to choose comes to a tie vote in the Senate, would Marco Rubio vote how President Democrat wishes, or his own views? Would Jeb Bush go to Capitol Hill and lobby for President Democrat’s key healthcare legislation?” the person asked. “Your position makes sense if blue versus red is a color war, but if policies matter, you can’t ask voters to put into power someone diametrically opposed to them.”

I was feeling pretty chastened, until I realized my mistake. I was asking hard-core, lifelong Democrats to give something to a Republican. To get more thoughtful feedback, I needed to call a Republican.

“I love the idea,” said Republican political strategist Rick Wilson.

Wilson noted, however, that a Republican veep could provoke a backlash. “The big danger is that it pisses off the progressive side so much that you end up with Tulsi Gabbard or Jill Stein or Tom Steyer or Bernie [Sanders] who runs as a third-party [candidate] in enough states to mess up your electoral college math,” he explained.

There is nothing, on a very personal level, that frightens me more than additional attention for Jill Stein.

Wilson did think, however, that there’s a key group of swing state voters who voted for Reagan, Clinton, Obama and Trump who this plan might appeal to. At first Wilson wondered if the perfect vice presidential nominee for these Obama/Trump voters would be former Florida Rep. David Jolly — who left the Republican Party because of Trump — because he’s good on television. But then Wilson had a better idea: a fiscally conservative businessperson with Republican name recognition.

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So we are reaching out to Carly Fiorina to accept the Democratic nomination for vice president. If Mike Pence can put up with this administration, I’m sure she can suck it up for four years.

Joel Stein is the author of “In Defense of Elitism: Why I’m Better Than You And You’re Better Than Someone Who Didn’t Buy This Book,” which will be published next month.

Updates:
7:38 AM, Sep. 25, 2019: An earlier version of this op ed misspelled Joel Benenson’s last name as Berenson.

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