04 Dec Kamala Harris
California; State Attorney General 2011-17, U.S. Senator 2017-21, U.S. Vice President 2021-present; age 59.
No, Kamala Harris is not running for president, technically. Nevertheless, she currently is number two on the ticket to Joe Biden, a not-so-hearty-appearing octogenarian who would be 86 by the end of his second term.
Nikki Haley, one of the leading Republican candidates, has said: “A vote for Joe Biden is a vote for Kamala Harris. That’s who we’re really running against. We have to make sure she doesn’t win.” One of Haley’s GOP competitors, Ron DeSantis, sometimes refers to “the Harris-Biden administration,” perhaps on the cynical theory that she has been running the show for the last three years.
Is Kamala Harris really a problem? For whom?
He Could Dump Her
We raise the Kamala Harris “issue” today because this is the time in the presidential election cycle when political pundits enjoy throwing around opinions about what candidates should and should not do. Some of us have been and are suggesting, for example, that Joe Biden drop out of the race or be urged out by Democrats. Principle Based Politics may have started that theme with our post a year and a half ago, Joe Biden’s Final Two Years (May 3, 2022). Now, many writers are chiming in, particularly following recent polls showing President Biden behind Donald Trump in key battleground states.
Others offer different advice – that Biden improve his chances by switching running mates.
It has been done before, with considerable success. Four monument-level presidents replaced their vice presidents and then won new terms with the substitute. Thomas Jefferson first had Aaron Burr as VP, then switched to George Clinton four years later. Fraklin D. Roosevelt started with John Nance Garner, who he replaced with Henry Wallace, who he later replaced with Harry Truman, winning each time. None other than Abraham Lincoln’s first running mate was Hannibal Hamlin, who was changed out for Senator Andrew Jackson in 1864. Ulysses S. Grant swapped Schuyler Colfax with Henry Wilson in 1872.
On the other hand, Gerald Ford dumped Nelson Rockefeller in 1976, but then lost anyway to Jimmy Carter. Remember also, however, that in recent years Jimmy Carter kept Walter Mondale in his 1980 bid for reelection, and lost. George H.W. Bush kept Dan Quayle in 1992, and lost. Donald Trump kept Mike Pence in 2020, and lost.
History tells us that a Biden strategic move of dumping Kamala Harris in favor of, say, Amy Klobuchar or Gavin Newsom, is not guaranteed to work. This is particularly true when President Biden has said all along that he in fact is sticking with his current vice president, who he has defended against her critics. To change at this point might anger more voters than it would satisfy.
VPs Often Seem a Bit Inept
The main criticism of Ms. Harris is that she is incompetent and unpresidential. Because President Biden assigned her to lead the nation’s efforts at the U.S. southern border, she gets blamed along with her boss for whatever happens or does not happen there. The “unpresidential” rap also may stem from the vice president being deemed to “babble” or “ramble incoherently” when speaking.
To these complaints, we are reminded of Mom’s advice to “consider the source.” Those same critics likely may not approve of Senator Klobuchar or Governor Newsom, either, or of any Democrat for that matter.
We also note that other vice presidents had their substantive faultfinders, particularly from members of the opposing political party. Dick Cheney, who served from 2001 to 2009, comes to mind, as does Al Gore (1993-2001). Others simply were accused of being inept or pointless, such as Dan Quayle (1989-93), Mike Pence (2017-21), and Alban Barkley (1949-53).*
*Feel free to note in the comments section below everything you know about Alban Barkley. Never heard of him.
Then there was Joe Biden himself, who served as vice president from 2009 to 2017. Many Americans may need to be reminded how “presidential” and “competent” he seemed then, too. Or not.
Ms. Harris, who graduated from the famed Boalt Hall law school of the University of California at Berkeley, has an impressive career resume. Her competence and alleged speaking inability did not prevent her from being elected as San Francisco district attorney, California attorney general, or U.S. Senator.
It is not so clear that Ms. Harris is the biggest – or even second biggest – problem with respect to Joe Biden’s hopes for re-election.
Written by Quentin R. Wittrock, founder of Principle Based Politics.
Look for his posts each week, as this blog will explore and promote the idea of principle in politics, both as to individual elected leaders and our federal government as an institution.