Joe Biden only has a few weeks left as the nation’s vice president, but some are starting to wonder if he might maintain a prominent place in the party as the Democratic National Committee’s chair.
Facing Hillary Clinton’s unexpected defeat and a GOP-controlled Congress, Democrats need to figure out if they want to explore the populist route that propelled Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont to become a competitor wildly popular among young people in the Democratic primary or if they want to stick to the more moderate liberal ideals they’ve embodied in the past. Some are arguing that the DNC should look to a minority for leadership as a way to counter some of the racist rhetoric that came out of the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election.
While many are debating the merits of each route, it might be too soon to tell where the party is lacking, and where it needs to reinvent itself, Marjorie Hershey, a political science professor at Indiana University, tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview.
“I don’t think the Democrats have yet reached any kind of consensus about what went wrong [to make them lose the electoral college],” says Dr. Hershey. “As to what direction they have to go in next, this is the time to decide. It’s not as though that conversation ever ends. There are these occasional kind of due dates such as the election of the DNC chair that will require some kind of consensus.”
There’s been much speculation about who might be the right candidate to take on the job, with some recently floating Mr. Biden’s name as a possibility.
Biden has enjoyed widespread popularity within the Democratic Party. In fact, many party members urged him to launch a bid for president against Mrs. Clinton. What's more, the vice president has cultivated a reputation as an affable negotiator with ability to reach across party and ideological lines, a skill many commentators have suggested would be effective in wooing the more liberal voters who swung toward Trump in the election.
"There are a lot of people who think that he would be the sort of perfect voice toward the white working-class voters who the party is looking to attract," New York Times writer Maggie Haberman told CNN Sunday. "There's been no indication that this is what Biden wants, but it is something that is being talked about right now."
The DNC manages the Democratic Party’s operations, supporting candidates for both small and national offices by staffing field operations, raising campaign funds, and promoting the party’s platform.
But a series of missteps on part of the committee have led some to lose trust. Hacked emails revealed that former chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz had favored Clinton over Mr. Sanders in the party’s primary, discussing possible ways to sabotage his campaign and overstepping the boundaries of her role. Another leak showed that the committee’s interim chair, Donna Brazile, had shared debate questions with Clinton’s campaign while working as a commentator for CNN.
So far, former Vermont governor and DNC chair Howard Dean and Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison have thrown their hats in the ring, with former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley also considering a bid.
“A lot of people in this election determined that their vote was best used to protest an economy that wasn’t working for them, instead of supporting a Democratic Party that had their best interests at heart. We need to change that. We need to do better,” Governor O’Malley told Time.
But O’Malley’s concerns about a lapse in Democratic constituents might be overstated.
“The idea that the Democratic coalition is collapsing because they lost an election is a little over the top,” Hans Noel, a political science professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., tells the Monitor. “But it is the case, because of the loss, that the Democratic Party is trying to figure out what they did wrong.”
Biden could be a pick to help bridge the gaps in the party and meet multiple demands, bringing his connections to the popular Obama administration, his foreign policy knowledge, and working-class credentials to the table.
“You need someone who can bring together the different elements of the party. There’s a white working class, there are also people of color, women, people who care more about social issues, people who care about foreign policy,” Dr. Noel says. “The nice thing about Joe Biden is that by having been in the Obama administration, he is someone who is connected to the establishment. But at the same time, he’s viewed as one of the choices voters might’ve preferred to Clinton and has led on a handful of issues.”
And there are ways for the party as a whole to do that as well, expanding its leadership to incorporate the diversifying party.
“The Democratic Party doesn’t have to decide between maintaining the Obama coalition ties and moving on to other groups,” Indiana University's Hershey says. “There will be a vice chair. There will be other appointments.”