Will Kamala Harris rank as one of the worst VPs in history?

Vice President Harris
Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP

Historians and polling companies love to provide their assessments of past presidents, and to a lesser extent vice presidents. While it is still early in her tenure – so there’s a chance she’ll make a comeback – let’s just say those future assessments of Vice President Kamala Harris’s job performance will likely not be kind.

It’s remarkable, since the U.S. Constitution gives the vice president almost no duties to fail at — and yet failing she is. 

The best-and-worst surveys of former vice presidents seem to be a bit more subjective than those applied to former presidents, which is understandable. The only constitutionally designated job for the vice president is president of the Senate. The veep doesn’t really have anything to do unless the president assigns that person one or more tasks.

And Biden has. He put Harris in charge of addressing the crisis at the southern border, which has grown exponentially worse since she took on that responsibility. And Biden occasionally sends her off to make speeches. But that’s turned out to be even worse than her handling of the border crisis — because a vice president’s only real job is to not embarrass the president and the administration. That’s something Biden is able to do, and often does, without any help from Harris.

Social media is having a field day compiling her word-salad speeches and making them available for everyone to snicker at. And that tendency will likely only get worse with the “passage of time,” because “there is great significance to the passage of time,” as Harris is fond of saying.

Her poll numbers are even lower than Biden’s, and her staff is abandoning the sinking ship — though it’s sometimes more politely referred to as a “staff reset.” 

Historically, a running mate is often chosen to “balance” the presidential ticket. That balance can take a number of forms.

There’s geographical balance. As a presidential candidate, John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts chose Texas Senator Lyndon B. Johnson to be his Democratic running mate in 1960. The idea was to pair a Northern Democrat with a Southern Democrat, but especially a Texas Democrat (the “Boston to Austin” connection) since Kennedy had to win Texas. And he did.

Then there’s the ideological balance. Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan chose the moderate George H.W. Bush in 1980 to assuage those who thought Reagan was too conservative. Reagan won.

And sometimes there is an effort to provide an expertise balance. Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, who as governor of Texas had little foreign policy experience, chose Dick Cheney in 2000, who had extensive foreign policy and Washington D.C. knowledge. Bush 43 also won, though with an Electoral College victory, not a popular-vote victory.

There have even been efforts to provide a gender balance. Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale in 1984 chose Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (D-N.Y.) as his running mate, while in 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain chose Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska. And finally, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton reversed that approach and chose a man, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). All three of those presidential candidates lost.

It was left to Biden to pull off the first gender-balanced presidential victory. Harris also became the first woman of color on a major presidential ticket.

Unfortunately for Biden, Harris hasn’t fulfilled a VP’s first task of not embarrassing the president. She is quickly joining the ranks of the worst vice presidents. One who appears on almost all those worst VP lists is Dan Quayle, who was Bush 41’s running mate. The media loved to pillory Quayle for his oratorical flubs. The mainstream media are much “kinder and gentler” to Biden and Harris. It’s social media that pillories them.

Another person who regularly shows up on the worst VPs’ list is Richard Nixon’s running mate Spiro Agnew, who resigned in 1973 after being investigated for taking kickbacks and copping a plea deal.

When Nixon was asked why he kept Agnew on the team in his 1972 bid for reelection, Nixon reportedly quipped, “Because no assassin in their right mind would kill me.” Ouch!

It is often said that a presidential candidate’s first major decision is choosing a vice presidential running mate. Biden’s first big decision was Kamala Harris, and it’s been pretty much downhill for them – and the country – ever since.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.

Tags Biden Dan Quayle Democratic vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney George H. W. Bush George W. Bush Hillary Clinton Joe Biden John F. Kennedy John McCain Lyndon B. Johnson Richard Nixon Ronald Reagan running mate Spiro Agnew Tim Kaine Vice Presidents of the United States

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