Commentary: Democrats are headed toward a white nominee. The vice president needs to be a person of color

Commentary: Democrats are headed toward a white nominee. The vice president needs to be a person of color

  • Updated
Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks on January 7, 2020, in New York.

Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks on January 7, 2020, in New York. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/TNS)

Julian Castro announced he was withdrawing from the Democratic presidential primary Jan. 2. Despite a strong progressive record, his campaign never attracted much media attention or voter loyalty. Sen. Cory Booker dropped out Monday, after facing some of the same problems.

They leave behind an increasingly white field of candidates. The last presidential debate, in December, included only one person of color, tech executive Andrew Yang. Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyer, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren - all white _qualified for Tuesday's debate in Des Moines. Black candidate Deval Patrick, former Massachusetts governor, has struggled to gain traction. Tulsi Gabbard, who is Samoan American, didn't make the cut this month or last month. And Yank didn't make the stage for Tuesday's debate.

The Democratic Party is about 40% people of color, but its top-tier presidential candidates are 100% white.

A diverse party needs diverse representation. The best way to ensure that outcome for the future is for the eventual 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to choose a person of color for his or her vice president. Although it may not seem crucial, the VP slot can have a huge effect on the fate of the party. Democrats should start using it specifically to elevate nonwhite politicians and party leaders.

Vice presidents generally get picked for their appeal to a particular set of voters or to fill a gap in the presidential nominee's resume. When Hillary Clinton picked Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate in 2016, pundits speculated the choice was meant to help her in the contested state of Virginia, Kaine's home territory. In 2008, Barack Obama's team believed Biden, twice chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would reassure voters that an Obama administration could handle global affairs, despite the president's relatively slim foreign policy resume.

In truth, there's little evidence that vice presidential candidates make much difference in who wins the presidency. But they do have an impact - on later elections. Vice presidents frequently become presidents themselves.

Since 1945, of the 13 elected presidents, four have been succeeded by their vice presidents. Another (Eisenhower) saw his VP (Richard Nixon) eventually become president - just not as his immediate successor. Bill Clinton's VP (Al Gore) won the popular vote and came within a hair of defeating George W. Bush. And of course, at the moment, Biden, Barack Obama's vice president, is the Democratic presidential front-runner.

Biden's campaign is especially relevant. Some pundits believe Obama picked Biden in 2008 partly because Biden seemed to be too old to run for president - he would strictly be Obama's wingman, not pursuing a personal political agenda.

In 2019, Obama reportedly tried to dissuade Biden from running, perhaps because of his age and his propensity for gaffes. But Biden's name recognition, and his association with Obama's winning campaigns, has given him a huge advantage over his rivals. Because he was vice president, and because he was on the ticket when Obama won, people see him as presidential and electable.

Biden's success despite his shortcomings shows just how important a vice presidential nod can be. It proves the point: The VP slot is a crucial way to bring the party's leadership in line with its constituents.

Obama did win the presidency without being vice president; it's possible, just more difficult. Now, if Castro, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker or Stacy Abrams is on a winning, or even a losing, presidential ticket, they will have gained in name recognition and gravitas for the next go-round. It simply will seem like less of a reach for people of color to lead the party.

President Trump's campaigns and his presidency turn on questioning the Americaness of people of color, from a Chicago judge of Mexican heritage to minority members of Congress. The more the Republican Party reflects Trump's prejudices, the more the Democrats must counter them.

An all-white debate stage isn't a great way to send the message that Americans of all races, backgrounds and ethnicities belong here, and that Democrats will fight for them. In the future, we need presidential nominees of color, and one way to get them is to start appointing vice presidential candidates of color now.

Castro has endorsed Elizabeth Warren. Should she be the party's nominee, she could reward him with the VP slot. If they defeat Trump in 2020, Castro would be well-positioned to run for president again in eight years, when he'd be 53. And as a former vice president, he'd be much more likely to win.



Noah Berlatsky is the author of "Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism" and a contributing writer to the Atlantic.

Visit the Los Angeles Times at


Get Breaking News delivered directly to you.

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Marie Kondo and her theories of tidying up have introduced some conflict into my marriage. I can't be the only one. Her idea is simple: First, pick a category, like clothes; next, put all of them into the middle of the room; finally, pick out and keep only the ones that "spark joy." Setting aside the fact that making time for such a project is enough to make me want to bury my head under one ...

The suicide rate in the United States has grown so much that it's contributing to an overall decline in life expectancy. The economic costs of these deaths run into the tens of billions of dollars; the emotional costs to families and communities are immeasurable. But a new study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health suggests a relatively simple way to reduce the number of people ...

While the rest of us were gearing up for the holiday season, a small group of conservatives was busy cranking up something a good deal less cheerful: a new war on pornography. On Dec. 6, four members of Congress wrote a letter to Attorney General William Barr, beseeching him to "declare the prosecution of obscene pornography a criminal justice priority," and "bring prosecutions against the ...

"In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep." So began the momentous Christmas broadcast on Dec. 24, 1968 - the most watched television program in history at that time - when astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell and Bill Anders read verses from the book of Genesis as they became the first humans ...

Alcohol prohibition became the law of the land 100 years ago - on Jan. 16, 1920 - following ratification of the 18th Amendment and enactment of the Volstead Act. Progressivism played a driving role, with Americans possessed by reformist fervor set to cure the ills of society by banning the manufacture and sale of liquor. Today, progressive reformers are pushing in a seemingly opposite ...

In 1974 President Richard Nixon declared, "At the end of this decade, in the year 1980, the United States will not be dependent on any other country for the energy we need." So when President Donald Trump recently said, "We are independent, and we do not need Middle East oil," did he finally accomplish what his eight predecessors vowed to do? Not exactly. We're much less dependent on Middle ...

California was not always the progressive state we know today, where political leaders praise diversity and file lawsuits defending immigrants. Its history is filled with clashes over race and identity, including a little-known episode just after its birth. On Sept. 14, 1850, five days after California gained statehood, John Charles Fremont introduced a bill in Congress. Fremont, one of ...

Four years ago, the residents of Denton, Texas, took extraordinary action. In a state known for its ties to oil and gas production, Denton voters overwhelmingly passed a resolution banning the process for extracting natural gas known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," within city limits. Neighbors had been complaining about noise and toxic fumes from the nearby drilling sites for years. ...

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News