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The Kamala Harris Problem

Vice President Kamala Harris listens as President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address, Tuesday, February 7, 2023, on the House floor of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)
Vice President Kamala Harris listens as President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address, Tuesday, February 7, 2023, on the House floor of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

Is Kamala Harris Doomed?: Many more Americans disapprove of the vice president’s job performance than approve of it. Will this cause trouble for the Democratic Party, post-Biden? 

According to Five Thirty Eight’s latest polling average, 47.8 percent of Americans disapprove of the job of Vice President Kamala Harris, while 40.4 percent approve.

The average has been worse for Vice President Harris, with the disapproval number going as high as 58 percent in the spring of 2022, but Kamala Harris has been underwater ever since the opening months of the administration. 

The Succession Issue

And that brings up a fascinating dynamic in the Democratic Party right now.

President Biden, even though he’s past his 80th birthday, is likely to announce that he’s running for a second term.

The party’s succession appears unsettled, with many Democrats doubting Kamala Harris.

But, because of Biden’s advanced age, he could become incapacitated if he were to have a health issue, which would make Kamala Harris president

The Times Has Thoughts

A New York Times analysis earlier this month had the headline “Kamala Harris Is Trying to Define Her Vice Presidency. Even Her Allies Are Tired of Waiting.”

The piece had Harris struggling to define her role and place in the administration, even beyond the traditional restrictions of the vice presidency. 

“The painful reality for Ms. Harris is that in private conversations over the last few months, dozens of Democrats in the White House, on Capitol Hill, and around the nation — including some who helped put her on the party’s 2020 ticket — said she had not risen to the challenge of proving herself as a future leader of the party, much less the country,” the early February Times piece said.

The report also noted that Harris’ advisers had referred reporters to some Democrats for “supportive quotes,” but those Democrats “confided privately that they had lost hope in her.” 

The story also quoted Democrats who worried that, in the event, Biden chose not to run again, Kamala Harris wouldn’t be up to the job of carrying the Democratic banner into a 2024 race.

The piece even stated that Hillary Clinton had told fellow Democrats that the vice president “could not win because she does not have the political instincts to clear a primary field.”

“I can’t think of one thing she’s done except stay out of the way and stand beside him at certain ceremonies,” Democratic donor John Morgan told the Times. 

The Kamala Harris Problem

On Monday, also in the New York Times, former Obama-era White House Counsel Greg Craig wrote an op-ed about “Biden’s Succession Problem.”

Craig is a veteran Democratic hand who also worked in the Clinton White House, and was also a staffer for Sen. Edward Kennedy while working as a high-powered lawyer while not serving in government.

Craig’s argument was in reaction to the many polls in which voters, even Democrats, expressed concern about Biden’s advanced age, and argued that Democrats should unite in support of Biden’s re-election. 

“Democrats do themselves no favors when they let it be known, as they have in recent polling, that they too think he is too old to run again,” Craig writes. “Democratic voters should have more respect for Mr. Biden’s record as president and more confidence in the good judgment of the American people.”

However because those concerns about the president’s age “will not go away,” he argues, Biden and the party should “consider making some bold decisions to address these actuarial concerns and show they are being taken seriously”- by focusing on his succession. 

And, per Craig, that could entail a different vice presidential candidate on the 2024 ticket. Biden, he writes, should turn the choice of vice president (and implied successor) over to the delegates of the Democratic convention in 2024.

He also repeatedly cites the example of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who ran for re-election in 1944 while in poor health and chose Harry Truman as his running mate, understanding that Truman would succeed him as president. 

“He should take a page from Roosevelt’s book by telling his party that he will not dictate who will be his running mate but instead leave it up to the delegates to pick the person who is best equipped to take on that task,” Craig writes of Biden. 

Doing so, however, would necessarily entail possibly removing Harris — the first woman and Black person to be vice president — which would likely upset multiple key demographics in the Democratic Party. Also, no incumbent president has removed a sitting vice president from the ticket since Roosevelt.

And leaving it up to the convention would likely lead to chaos and disunity- the exact opposite of what a party typically wants at their party convention. 

“Giving voters a chance to participate in selecting Mr. Biden’s running mate in 2024 would address the issue of age and succession. It would show him to be confident, engaged, unafraid, farsighted, and even vital.”

A much more likely scenario is for Biden to keep Harris on the ticket, where he will either win the 2024 election or lose it, and the fight over the future of the Democratic Party will be left for the primary season in 2028, with Harris likely facing off against other Democrats of a younger generation than Biden. 

But of course, should Biden pass away or otherwise become incapacitated either during his current term or at any point in a second term, Kamala Harris would become president, and therefore the leader of the party and presumptive Democratic nominee in the next election. 

Craig, it should be noted, was indicted in 2019 on federal charges that he lied to prosecutors about foreign lobbying work he did in Ukraine, on behalf of the pro-Russian former leader Viktor Yanukovych, when he was a lawyer. Craig was acquitted of the charges later that year.  The case was brought by the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, as an offshoot of the Robert Mueller Special Counsel investigation. 

The op-ed recieved some less-than-enthusiastic reactions. 

“Throw open VP selection? Bad idea. Black voters are responsible for Biden winning. Pushing aside Harris would be political suicide. If worst comes to worst, Harris is a capable, experienced leader who could finish the term,” writer Charles Haynes wrote on Twitter. 

“Tell us you have racist, sexist, and ageist thoughts without telling us you have racist, sexist, and ageist thoughts,” veteran journalist and professor Jeff Jarvis wrote. 

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Expertise and Experience: Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review, and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.