Despite receiving the greatest number of votes cast in a presidential election, there is discussion among some Democrats and commentators about breaking up the Joe Biden – Kamala Harris partnership for the 2024 election.
While Joe Biden has become the target of much criticism for the inflationary challenges of the current US economy, it is vice president Kamala Harris’s position on the ticket that is subject to much more debate.
Harris, the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants to the US, is the first woman to become the US vice president. Seen by many as a trailblazer for women of colour and women in general, it may seem surprising that Democrats are discussing dropping her from the ticket.
But there are some signs of unhappiness. Recently, influential senator Elizabeth Warren gave lukewarm support to Harris as vice president for a second term.
Before November’s midterm elections, Washington Post columnist George F. Will not only called for Biden to be dropped for 2024, but said that Harris, was “starkly unqualified as his successor”.
This attack on Harris has been echoed by other columnists, with one suggesting that Joe Biden replace Harris with Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, while another stated that Harris’ poor communication skills illustrate that she was a poor choice as VP or as Biden’s successor.
Presidents with unfavourable ratings have often been advised to find a new running mate for a second term. It would be unusual, but not unprecedented, for such a partnership to be dissolved. The last elected vice president to be dropped from the ticket was Henry A. Wallace in 1944.
Wallace’s bid for a second term as vice president was defeated at the 1944 Democratic convention after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt refused to endorse him. Democrats opted for Harry H. Truman instead.
In 1976 Gerald Ford exchanged his vice president Nelson Rockefeller for Bob Dole, but neither Ford nor Rockefeller had been on the ticket in the 1972 elections. Ford had become vice president after Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973 amidst a tax evasion scandal. Ford then replaced Nixon as president after Nixon resigned in August 1974 during the Watergate crisis.
Joe Biden and Kamala: Closing up the partnership
However, Biden has consistently included Harris in talking about the administration’s achievements.
In his state of the union address last month, Biden identified her efforts in helping small businesses. He also stated that he and Harris were doing everything they could “to protect access to reproductive health care and safeguard patient privacy”.
Harris is incredibly popular with African American voters, and this was an important part of Biden’s coalition during the 2020 election campaign.
If Biden were to drop Harris, it could seriously impact his popularity with Black voters and undermine his support from women voters too.
Aprill Turner, spokeswoman for Higher Heights for America, an advocate group for African American women in politics, told one reporter that if Biden was to cast aside Harris it would “definitely ricochet through Black America”.
One of the reasons behind the calls to drop Harris might be her poor national poll rating. Even though Biden is polling badly with the American public, Harris is rated even lower.
Republican-controlled Southern states, such as Texas, have been battling with the Biden administration over immigration policy, and Harris has been targeted for blame as she has been put in charge of border policy.
On Christmas Eve 2022, buses of central and southern American migrants were transported from the border states and dropped off outside Harris’ home in Washington. And with Democrats also criticising federal immigration policy, Harris could become an easy target in a 2024 election.
Not all the criticism laid at Harris’ door is fair. She may have taken a while to visit the border, but she had to spend more time than most vice presidents overseeing things in the US Senate. With the Senate gridlocked at 50 votes each, her casting vote as president of the Senate was essential, forcing her to stay in Washington DC.
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If Biden does replace Harris, who does he choose? Leading contender would be Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Immensely popular on the campaign trail, Buttigieg would be the first openly gay vice president. He has struggled in the past to win over minority voters.
There might be calls for a potential successor to Biden that has a wider appeal than Harris. Governor Newsom might have that although he has said that he will not run for president in 2024. If he campaigned as Biden’s vice presidential nominee, it would raise his profile, something that he would need to do to achieve his national ambitions.
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For a man who demands loyalty, Biden might also be reluctant to get rid of a partner who has been exactly that. Despite suggestions that Biden was going to be a one-term president, there has been no question of Harris as a power behind the throne, as there was in the Bush-Cheney years.
Perhaps, more importantly, Harris has the respect and admiration of both the president and the first lady, as well as the support of leading progressives.
If Biden does choose to end his partnership with Harris, it would be a bold move in what might be a close-run race in 2024. There could be a repeat of 1944, where senior Democrats decide that Harris will not be Biden’s successor, but if inflation continues to ease, then the Biden-Harris ticket may be too successful a partnership to break up.
Dafydd Townley is a Teaching Fellow in International Security at the University of Portsmouth. This first appeared in the Conversation UK.