Democrats have a bigger problem if Kamala Harris takes over as President

Kamala Harris was just doing her job when she told a reporter that she’s ready to replace Joe Biden as president. That’s fair enough: she was already just doing Biden’s job when she said it, visiting the ASEAN Summit in Jakarta on his behalf. It’s not unusual for a vice president to stand in for the boss. Xi Jinping also chose to stay at home, and was represented instead by second-in-command Li Qiang. But Xi didn’t spend the summer with his presidential posterior glued to a beach chair.

“Joe Biden is going to be fine,” Harris insisted in Jakarta. Of course he isn’t. Biden was visibly not fine when he campaigned from his basement in 2020. Since then, he has fallen over his dog, fallen up the steps of Air Force One, fallen onto the stage at West Point, fallen off his bike, and displayed all the faltering, fumbling signs of a dementia patient on the lam. Already the oldest president in American history when he shuffled into the White House aged 78, Biden now intends to pull off the trifecta of defeating Donald Trump, the actuarial odds and the march of time in 2024.

The Democrats are stuck with Biden, at least until he comes unstuck, even if 73 per cent of Democratic voters told a CNN poll in April that they would prefer him not to run in 2024. And Biden is stuck with Kamala Harris as his vice president, even though her approval rating is somehow lower than his. That might suit Biden now, but if he plants his face one time too many, a Harris candidacy will prove to be a hard sell for the Democrats in 2024.

The Democratic convention is in August 2024. The later in the campaign Biden falls out, the less time Harris’ rivals, notably governor Gavin Newsom of California, would have to launch their own campaigns. If Biden drops off after the formality of securing renomination, then Harris will prove even harder to dislodge.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first vice president, John Nance Garner, described the job as “not worth a bucket of warm piss”. Garner might have felt differently had he been Barack Obama’s vice president. Eight years as Obama’s wacky uncle set up Joe Biden for the presidency.

The vice president is supposed to symbolise the presidency, but instead often symbolises what the president most lacks. Barack Obama chose Joe Biden in the hope that Biden’s gibbering Scrantonese would defuse the otherwise deplorable racism of low-income white Democrats. Donald Trump’s campaign chose Mike Pence because Pence would keep Republican evangelicals inside the tent and vouch that Trump was under adult supervision.

Joe Biden chose Kamala Harris because California’s donor base is too big to ignore, and because she is a woman of colour whose relative youth and lawyerly efficiency compensated for his age and ornery unreliability. In the joyless funhouse of Democratic identity politics, Harris is the Nurse Ratchet to Biden’s Randle MacMurphy.

All this made sound electoral sense and helped hold together the Democratic coalition of plutocrats, technocrats, chippy college professors and the urban poor. Perhaps it was too much to hope that Harris, having worked the miracle of campaigning while being a woman of colour, would actually do anything once she possessed the elixir of “equity” – high office. Perhaps this hope was, as Harris likes to remind us, a case of biased expectations. Probably not, though. 

Harris has kept a low profile since taking office in January 2021. This is not just a Machiavellian counting out of the grains in Biden’s hourglass. Nor is it Biden’s revenge for Harris raising his collaboration with old-school Southern Democrat segregationists in the Senate, and his opposition to school busing, in the June 2019 nomination debate.

This is a control-freak administration, and Biden’s team have done their best to sideline Harris. They gave her the poisoned chalice of the immigration crisis on the Southern Border, but she refused to drink, or even be photographed anywhere near the border. She did, however, deliver a useless speech in Mexico. “Do not come,” she intoned to the camera. This was meant to be an order, but as the administration had already opened the gates, it sounded like a plea: “Do not come in such numbers that it makes us look bad.”

Harris may have climbed through the Democratic Party in California like a mountain goat on crack, but she does not appear to be very good at the kind of politics that involves treating the little people as equals. She has a kind of negative charisma, a manner that draws attention to the fakeness of political performance. Her notorious laugh, a nervy tic presumably encouraged by some dimwit PR handler, is like the blare of a foghorn, warning of hidden shallows. She is a lawyer, but she cannot articulate a clear sentence.

“Let us also understand that every vice president – every vice president – understands that when they take the oath, that they must be very clear about the responsibility they may have to take over the job of being president,” she said in Jakarta.

This is the classically Harrisian mixture of managerial pomp and sloppy grammar. It may sound like a lecture in midwit legalese from a jobsworth in HR, but it does make a bland sort of sense. This is more than can be said for Joe Biden’s esoteric musings, and that is why America’s electoral agonies may yet foist president Harris upon us. After-all, we all know that Ratchet beats MacMurphy in the end.

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