FP Guide

A Biden-Harris Ticket—and What It Means for the United States in November

Picking Kamala Harris as his running mate underscores that Joe Biden is not looking for extra heft on foreign policy—but he’s reaching out with several firsts.

Jon Benedict illustration for Foreign Policy/Getty Images

In less than 90 days, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and California Sen. Kamala Harris will participate in one of the most pivotal elections in U.S. history. In choosing Harris as his running mate, Biden is going after Democratic voters keen on domestic policies and excited about the prospect of a vice president who would be the first Black and South Asian American woman to hold the second highest office in the country.

It’s already clear that this election season is unlike others before it. For one, Biden may only run for one term, compounding the importance of the selection of Harris ahead of 2024. Harris is also one of only three women ever chosen as running mate on a major ticket. All of this comes as U.S. President Donald Trump warns that he may not accept election results and has flirted with the idea of delaying the election altogether.

Ahead of the Democratic National Convention, which begins Aug. 17 in Milwaukee, the two seasoned politicians now face the challenge of melding their agendas into one and jockeying for the favor of a hotly contested electorate. Harris is slated to speak Thursday, Aug. 20, the final day of the convention. 

To explain Biden’s choice—and what a Biden administration might look like when it comes to foreign policy—we’ve gathered our top reads.

Biden’s years of experience on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as eight years in the Obama White House, have shaped his approach to building his campaign team. In an exclusive last month, Foreign Policy’s Colum Lynch, Robbie Gramer, and Darcy Palder found that Biden’s campaign has established a foreign-policy team of over 2,000 strong to focus on issues from diversity in national security to defense, intelligence, and homeland security. If Biden wins, many in this cohort are expected to jockey for high-ranking positions in the administration. East Asia expert Ely Ratner and Middle East specialist Daniel Benaim, for instance, are likely to occupy senior posts in the Pentagon, State Department, or other agencies.

But his view of America’s relations with the world may not be the perfect foil to Trump’s. Colum Lynch in June wrote of Biden’s stubbornness in accommodating more progressive foreign-policy tenets, and how that may play against him in the voting booth. As much as Biden has incorporated some ideas from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, he drew the line at explicitly calling out Israel’s “occupation” of Palestinian territories, as Lynch reported—which could turn off some of the voters he is trying to reach. Whether backing the resolution authorizing the Iraq War in 2002, remaining committed to waging an open-ended global war on terrorism, or showing a tough approach to China, “Biden appears to be a man of the past: an unapologetic champion of American exceptionalism,” wrote Lynch.

But among some disenchanted conservative voters, for whom “the only thing worse than a second term for Trump would have been a first term for Sanders,” Biden may prove to be a saving grace, John Hannah writes. What’s more, his camp is attempting to walk a fine line amid extreme economic inequality that has bedeviled the country for a generation and may haunt the country for a generation more. Robert Kuttner wrote in our Summer 2020 issue that the coronavirus crisis has cost the U.S. economy more than 25 million jobs, vindicating the need for a massive government role in the recovery. That suggests that Biden would need to reach for something as bold as Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society or Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. But Biden has yet to reveal whether he could wield the full force of the presidency in such a way, wrote Kuttner.

Beyond this deeper reckoning with domestic policies, Biden recognizes the need for a overhaul of how America has presented itself to the world under the Trump administration. As former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg put it, “the next administration … faces a daunting task in rebuilding the United States’ global alliances and partnerships and restoring trust and confidence in the country and its leadership.”

But banking on negative feelings about Trump to carry the day is “a familiar danger zone for Democrats,” Foreign Policy’s Michael Hirsh wrote in July. Already, the Trump campaign is hard at work prodding Democratic weak spots by exploiting fears that Biden is merely a tool for the extreme left who would “hurt the Bible” and “hurt God” if elected. But with Trump trailing in the polls and his hopes for reelection looking shaky, he has little choice but to try to repeat the kind of ad hominem attacks that served him well four years ago.

Kelly Kimball is the social media editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @kellyruthk