Joe Biden, the oldest president in US history, intends to run for reelection. Unless he changes his mind, the Democratic Party will nominate him for a second term — a term that will extend two months past his 86th birthday. Given Biden’s advanced age, it is only prudent to assume that his vice president might have to assume the duties of the presidency at some point in the next few years.
Which explains why the question of Biden’s running mate — should he keep Vice President Kamala Harris on the ticket or find someone else? — has been getting so much attention.
In recent months, any number of Democrats have urged the president to consider replacing Harris on the 2024 ticket. For her part, Harris has felt the need to publicly dismiss such suggestions as mere “political chatter,” insisting that when Biden runs for reelection, “I intend to run with him as vice president.”
Were Harris a charismatic vice president, someone who inspires confidence in the administration and has played a role in its successes, her presence on the ticket would be an undeniable asset. Unfortunately, none of those is the case.
For nearly all of her time as vice president, Harris has been underwater in opinion polls, with approval ratings that have hovered in the high 30s or low 40s. When she has drawn headlines, it has mostly been because of disarray and dysfunction among her staff — the vice president’s office has been described as “not a healthy environment” and “rife with dissent” — or because of her frequently inarticulate and cringe-making remarks in interviews and before audiences.
And in the arena of public policy and legislation, her achievements have been close to nonexistent.
Harris has “played no visible role in Biden’s historic legislative victories,” writes Harold Meyerson, editor-at-large of The American Prospect, an influential progressive journal. “It’s hard to find Democratic pols or liberal activists who spring to her defense, either in general or because she played a crucial role promoting or defending a progressive cause.” Even Harris’s loyalists, such as Donna Brazile, are reduced to touting her “excellence” by citing such minimal achievements as casting tie-breaking votes in the Senate, “travel[ing] the country to meet with Americans,” and being the “co-leader of the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment.”
As a candidate for president in 2020, Harris proved so feckless that her campaign folded before primary voting began. Biden chose her as his running mate largely on the strength of her “diversity” profile as the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica. Biden “came to the conclusion that he should pick a Black woman,” Harry Reid, the former Senate majority leader, told The New York Times. “They are our most loyal voters and I think that the Black women of America deserved a Black vice-presidential candidate.”
Unlike some critics, I saw nothing wrong with that. When presidents select high-level officials or a running mate, they are engaging in a political process and should be free to take into account any political factor they wish. The problem with Harris is that she shows no sign of having grown in office — or of being prepared to take over as president in the event of a crisis.
It is widely held that any attempt by Biden to replace Harris in 2024 would trigger a firestorm of anger among Democratic loyalists, who would regard her dismissal as a sexist and racist slight. But America is blessed with any number of talented Black women who could take Harris’s place on the 2024 ticket. Examples include Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, former National Security Advisor and ambassador Susan Rice, Marine Corps General Lorna Mahlock, or (to repeat a suggestion I have proffered before) former police chief and former US Representative Val Demings of Florida.
If there is a potential political downside to choosing a new running mate, the potential upside is arguably greater. Biden would free himself and his administration from the albatross of a vice president to whom most Americans have not warmed up. Shaking up his ticket would be a demonstration of impressive decisiveness even amid delicate circumstances. It would reassure voters of the president’s ability, notwithstanding his age, to chart a new course when the old one has gone awry. And it would prepare Democrats for a presidential campaign in which unusual scrutiny will be focused on their party’s vice presidential nominee.
Conventional wisdom says Biden will never take such a step — that it is fantasy to suppose he would remove Harris from the ticket. Maybe. But if Biden wants to be reelected, this might be the time to cast conventional wisdom aside.
Jeff Jacoby can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeff_jacoby. To subscribe to Arguable, his weekly newsletter, visit https://bit.ly/ArguableNewsletter.