Would Kamala Harris be disloyal if she were VP?

Would Kamala Harris be disloyal if she were VP?
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If chosen, would Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisThe Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation Biden can rebuild trust in our justice system by prioritizing prosecutorial reform Harris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence MORE be a loyal vice president to Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation US records 2,300 COVID-19 deaths as pandemic rises with holidays MORE? Brian Schwartz of CNBC reports that a group of Biden allies and donors are trying to stop Harris from becoming vice president because “she’s too ambitious and that she will be solely focused on becoming president herself.” 

This report follows up on a Politico story that former Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, a member of the Biden vice presidential search committee, was angered by Harris’s attack on Biden in a primary debate over school busing, calling it “cheap” and “a gimmick.” The source also reported that Dodd had told him that loyalty is “what Biden really wants” in a running mate, implying that Harris was falling short on this measure.

These concerns about Harris’s ambition and loyalty are misplaced. In fact, they have it complete backwards. If he nominates Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate, Joe Biden can count on her loyalty to him. And the reason he can count on that is her ambition to be president. 


How do you get to be your party’s presidential nominee? If you are the vice president, the answer is simple — prove to be a loyal working partner to the president. 

One clear and obvious example of how this works is Joe Biden. Why is Biden the Democratic Party’s nominee for president today? Largely because he was Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama: Republican Party members believe 'white males are victims' Texas warehouse where migrants housed in 'cages' closed for humane renovation North Carolina — still purple but up for grabs MORE’s vice president. Biden proved his loyalty to Obama by building up a closer personal and political friendship with his boss. 

Biden’s loyalty to Obama was crucial in his ability to win African American votes in South Carolina, and turn around the Democratic primary after losses in the first three contests. This was the same group of voters that turned around Barack Obama’s electoral fortunes after losses in New Hampshire and Nevada in 2008. An ambitious politician like Harris certainly paid attention to this pattern. 

Of course, Biden is not the only recent example of a vice president being rewarded with his party’s nomination after loyally serving the president. Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreKey McConnell ally: Biden should get access to transition resources CNN acquires Joe Biden documentary 'President in Waiting' Former GSA chief: 'Clear' that Biden should be recognized as president-elect MORE rolled to the Democratic Party nomination in 2000, winning every primary and caucus. His work as a loyal governing partner to Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonTrump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College Obama: 'Hopeless' to try to sell as many books as Michelle Dow breaks 30,000 for first time as Biden transition ramps up MORE allowed him to secure early support from a wide variety of Democratic Party leaders and scare off all but one serious opponent.

George H.W. Bush was of course a rival of Ronald Reagan in the 1980 Republican primary, and Bush attacked Reagan’s supply-side tax cuts as “voodoo economics.” Yet Reagan looked past that to select Bush as his vice president and received loyalty from Bush during his eight years in office. Bush in turn received the support of his party’s leaders and voters in 1988, winning the nomination and the presidency. 


Obviously, a vice president is attached with his president — both at the proverbial hip and the literal ballot line. But the example of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College Federal workers stuck it out with Trump — now, we're ready to get back to work Biden soars as leader of the free world MORE is even more instructive of the future political value of loyally serving your president. Clinton and Obama fought a long and divisive primary clash in 2008, and the rhetorical knives sharpened as the contest went on, undoubtedly egged on by Clinton’s belief that she should have romped to the nomination.

Yet, Clinton put aside her bitterness and accepted Obama’s offer to be his secretary of state. This gave her a place to work with President Obama and to mend fences with a party now led by her main political rival. Staying in the Senate would have led to journalists constantly analyzing her actions, quotes and votes in the context of her primary fight with Obama, which would have hurt her future prospects. By putting their rivalry aside, Clinton benefitted, and was able to secure near universal support among Democratic Party leaders in the 2016 nomination contest. 

The lesson for an ambitious politician is clear. The best path to your party’s nomination is to serve the president for which you work with loyalty. This gives one the best perch to not only gain national name recognition, but also to build your reputation with donors, consultants, politicians and insiders who provide critical resources in future party nomination contests. 

A vice president cannot win her party’s nomination as an outsider. She is by definition an insider. 

While VP nominations are often covered by journalists for its electoral impact and demonstration of the themes the nominee’s campaign wants to emphasize, political science research shows that vice presidents have little-to-no impact on the results in November. 

The most important impact of a Joe Biden’s vice presidential pick is that she is the person most likely to be a future Democratic presidential nominee. As a result, considerations about the nominee’s fitness to be president and her political and communications skills should be the top priority in selecting a vice president. Loyalty can be assumed if the nominee is ambitious (and pretty much all politicians are). 

Democrats should be concerned that Dodd is looking for the wrong traits in a vice president. The question he and others on the vice presidential search committee should be asking is whether or not the nominee is a good enough politician to be successful in the fishbowl that is the national office. Dodd and Biden should want a vice president who is ambitious. It ensures that she will be loyal. 

Brian Arbour is an associate professor of Political Science at John Jay College, CUNY. He is also a member of the Decision Desk at Fox News Channel.