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If Biden isn’t on the ticket, Harris’s pick for vice president will be key to 2024

Kamala Harris
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
File – Vice President Kamala Harris addresses the crowd near the 95th Bridge over the Calumet River, on Jan. 4, 2023, in Chicago. The bridge is one of four over the river that will be rehabilitated with federal funds.

Well before classified documents were found in President Biden’s Delaware home, its garage, and the Penn Biden Center, it’s fair to say a certain number of Democrats were uncomfortable with the idea of our octogenarian president seeking reelection. Now a narrative is building that if the classified documents found at these locations aren’t the leverage needed to convince him not to run — or even to resign at some point — his age and health very well could be a reason for him to do just that by the time campaigning begins in earnest next year. 

So, on the admittedly long-shot chance that Biden could indeed turn the Oval Office over to Vice President Kamala Harris, would that increase the chances for the Democratic Party to retain the White House in the 2024 election? The answer is that it likely would hinge more on who Harris chose as her running mate than on her own attributes, because of the weaknesses she has shown thus far.  

The instinct of many Biden supporters will be to brush off any such discussion as predictable partisan noise from Republicans. That noise is there, for sure, but it’s the squeaks from certain Democrats and left-leaning pundits that should have the ears of those in the White House.

Just a quick sampling has Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) telling “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd: “Well, it’s certainly embarrassing.” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) told MSNBC host Symone Sanders-Townsend: “I am glad that there is a special prosecutor that has been appointed to this.”  MSNBC’s Biden White House-friendly “Morning Joe” program ripped the administration’s response as “stumbling and bumbling. … At this stage, we’re two months in. They need to clean this up. … Amateur hour is over; they need complete transparency and they just mishandled it from day one.” And Jonathan Lemire, Politico’s White House bureau chief and host of MSNBC’s “Way Too Early,” said Democrats are frustrated by the “drip, drip, drip” of it all. 

“Democrats,” Lemire was told, are frustrated that the Biden White House didn’t begin their own search for misplaced classified documents when the FBI raided former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home last August to “make sure we don’t have a similar issue.” And because it didn’t do that, the Biden White House has been subjected to the three most feared words in Washington: “Special counsel investigation.”  

But in truth, how “frustrated” are the Democrats? Perhaps it’s only those who believe it’s time for Biden to ride off toward the setting sun in Delaware, a journey that should be most inviting for him, since he reportedly has spent at least 164 days at his Wilmington home since his presidency began.

A quote attributed to former Obama White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel reminds us: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is, an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.” As in, convincing the president that it might be best for Democrats if he considers resigning before the 2024 election, rather than running for a second term. If that were to happen — and yes, the odds are long — a critically important question is, who would Harris choose as the new vice president and her running mate for the next election?

Some Democrats and Harris supporters will vehemently deny it, but she has never elicited a great deal of confidence as a political candidate with many Democratic voters. During the 2020 primary campaign, she was the first Democratic candidate to drop out. Since becoming vice president, Harris has hemorrhaged staff; reportedly, she’s difficult to work for. And regarding policy, she has been accused of being missing in action when it comes to the main task Biden assigned to her early on: overseeing the immigration crisis at our southern border. Just this week, Harris attended the groundbreaking for an energy project in Arizona, but skipped visiting the border only 100 miles away.

Knowing these concerns and others regarding Harris, it’s fair to assume that a percentage of Democrats would think she should pick a “superstar-in-waiting” as her running mate if Biden is out of the picture.

Who might be in consideration? Will it be someone who is beloved by the far-left wing and party activists, or one who appeals to working-class Americans and the party’s traditional base? I don’t have the answer — but if this scenario were to come about, it’s a decision that Harris and Democratic Party leaders may have to make, so they might want to start thinking about it now.  

Normally, a vice presidential pick doesn’t matter. It’s the presidential nominee who typically determines whether a party wins an election. But this is one of those rare cases where it may be the reverse: Harris is a weak enough candidate that her political future may depend on who people see as her likely successor four or eight years down the line. 

Douglas MacKinnon, a political and communications consultant, was a writer in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration.

Tags 2024 presidential election Biden Democratic Party Ilhan Omar Kamala Harris vice presidential pick

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