This is the year of the disruptor. In business and science and politics, anyone who comes along promising to interrupt normalcy gets plenty of attention. Donald Trump has shown that the disruption itself is often the core of attraction. When the mood is sour and every glance is askance, people willingly rally to defeat the status quo.
Into that maelstrom, how does a lifetime white male politician, who has twice run for president, position himself as a disruptor? This is what 72-year-old Vice President Joe Biden and his advisers must be trying to determine as he considers a possible third run.
First, he cannot be seen as Hillary’s disruptor, much as she may need that. Too many people had their heart set on electing a woman after choosing an African-American to be president. If Democratic primary voters are forced to choose between Hillary or not-Hillary, they are likely to choose her, but their enthusiasm for that choice may be insufficient to carry her to a November 2016 victory.
The conventional wisdom today is that Hillary would be a good president, but she hasn’t yet learned how to be a good campaigner. Biden, on the other hand, is the prototypical “happy warrior.” He remembers names, he makes eye contact, he has Bill Clinton’s almost pathological desire to please. But he is 72 — older than John McCain or Ronald Reagan when they ran their campaigns.
Biden’s first disruption should be to build his campaign around a pledge not to run in 2020. A one-and-done presidential term will be something new for those who cover or follow politics. It will offer a sense of urgency on one hand, but also an opportunity for completion of Obama’s two terms.
Some will like Biden’s single-term gambit. Others won’t. Lame duck presidents have certain strengths and weaknesses, but nobody knows exactly what those would be for a first-termer. It will get people talking, which is what a late entrant into a presidential campaign most requires. And how they talk can be shaped by the second disruption Biden could offer a restless America.
Biden should put Elizabeth Warren on his ticket from Day One. If they campaign together from the start, they will blunt two narratives that could doom Biden’s effort. Warren is younger than Hillary, and not less female.
Speculation will abound that Warren could spend that one term being groomed for the Oval Office. Four years of on-the-job training could itself be presented as a necessary disruption for today’s geopolitical complexity. Our last three presidents didn’t hold up very well when military brass came calling.
Finally, Biden should disrupt presidential campaign protocol by announcing in no uncertain terms who will receive his first Supreme Court nomination: Hillary Clinton.
At the end of the day, Hillary would be better suited for the cloistered debates that shape our nation’s laws. With a lifetime appointment, she could wield more power from that bench than her political enemies would ever allow her from the Oval Office. And that job would offer her the personal privacy for which she has shown an unpresidential appetite.
Of course the offer of a Supreme Court nomination would not obligate Hillary to accept it, but it would frame the conversation Democrats will be having in the months ahead. Voting for Biden-Warren would no longer be perceived as a vote against Hillary. Biden would be shrewdly offering voters a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too alternative.
Taken together, these three disruptions — a single term, Warren in waiting, and a better job for Hillary — would create enough mischief to drive turn-out, energize the party’s core, and position the party already in the White House as the one willing to think differently, upend the status quo, and force a new conversation.
If that sounds like the case Donald Trump is making among Republicans, so be it. Trump’s unnatural colorings look garish in the GOP limelight, but his opponents offer only dull hues of conventional gray.
Disruptors derive their power by using the conventional as boring background and offering themselves as figures of stark relief.
Don Kahle (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.