Will — or should — Kamala Harris become the Spiro Agnew of 2022?
The last vice president of the United States to resign was Spiro Agnew in October 1973. Should Vice President Harris be the next?
This is not a partisan attack against Harris. If anything, what I write is likely to upset a number of Republicans and conservatives who would prefer to bury any options to upgrade the Democratic Party’s 2024 ticket. Ironically, as more and more Republicans hope that Harris remains on the ticket — especially as the candidate for president — a growing number of Democrats are publicly vocalizing their concerns about President Biden and Harris as viable candidates three years from now.
Agnew, Richard Nixon’s vice president, resigned after pleading no contest to a felony count of tax evasion. His resignation came just 10 months before Nixon resigned the presidency in disgrace. Their resignations set off a “musical chairs” version of appointed vice presidents, and soon after, Gerald Ford and Nelson Rockefeller assumed the country’s two highest offices.
Agnew did not have to resign. If he and Nixon had agreed, he could have stayed on and toughed it out. But at what eventual cost to the Nixon White House, the president’s agenda and, most importantly, his party’s chances for reelection in 1976?
Looking forward to 2024, it is fair to say that more and more Democrats are becoming concerned about their party’s chances for reelection, whether with Biden or Harris at the top of the ticket.
Lately there have been a number of reports alleging infighting between Biden and his staff and Harris and her staff. The staffs may deny it, but the reports have emanated from multiple sources, and as someone who once worked in the White House, I say that “where there is smoke, there is almost always fire.”
During the best of times, a natural rivalry exists between the staffs serving the president and vice president. Often the rivalry is healthy; it pushes each team to better serve their boss.
That said, this is far from the best of times for the Biden-Harris White House. They appear to have been in crisis mode almost since day one, given COVID-19 and the badly executed troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, and much of their troubles seemingly have been self-inflicted.
For that reason and others, it is safe to assume there are a number of Democrats who want the party to keep the White House after the 2024 elections and who might embrace a scenario in which Harris resigns her office — sooner rather than later.
Why? Because her resignation would give Democrats the option to install someone party leaders believe would have the best chance of winning the presidency in 2024. The scenario would play out this way: Biden picks a replacement for Harris, someone well vetted by party leaders. Then, after the swap, Biden announces sometime in 2023 that he won’t seek reelection after all, making his new vice president the Democratic Party standard-bearer.
A few months ago, I speculated here that if he won Virginia’s gubernatorial election, Terry McAuliffe would be a credible candidate to fill such a role. But McAuliffe lost that election in November, largely because — in an unnecessary display of homage to teachers unions — he said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
With that world-class political blunder, McAuliffe managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of near-certain victory.
That’s not to say that McAuliffe is off the VP list. It’s just that his unfortunate choice of words will forever hang around his neck like a political albatross.
So if McAuliffe has been pushed down on the list, who now tops it for the Democrats? One name getting a fair amount of attention for such a mission is Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who showed early success in the 2020 presidential primaries.
There is no doubt that, to lead the Democratic Party, Buttigieg checks a number of important boxes. But I suspect that many Democrats fear he is not quite ready for the viciousness of the presidential campaign stage in its closing months and weeks.
There is another name getting attention again: former first lady, senator, secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Yes, I know, mentioning her name might set off gales of derisive laughter, especially within certain Republican and conservative circles. But I believe such reactions would be underscored by a certain amount of fear.
Like her or not, Clinton is a solid step above Buttigieg, Harris and even Biden when it comes to Democrats who could run for president. She is tough, intelligent, battle-tested and ruthless in politics.
If I were the Republican nominee for president in 2024 — or whether it is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) or even former President Trump — I would not want to look across the debate stage to see Clinton staring back at me.
The Democrats have some tough choices to make in the coming months. But with those choices come some very credible options for moving forward.
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.