Founding Father John Adams, who served as the first vice president of the United States, described the job as “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man conceived.” Throughout much of the country’s history, the vice presidency wasn’t seen as particularly significant – so much so that even when lists are compiled of the “worst vice presidents” few are likely household names.
That is until modern times.
Spiro Agnew, Walter Mondale, and Dale Quayle are sure to make any shortlist of bad modern vice presidents. But they’re certain to eventually join the ranks of Elbrige Gerry, William Rufus King, and Thomas A. Hendricks – arguably some of the worst VEEPs in our nation’s history. They were so bad that they have largely been relegated to the dustbin of history, known only to political scholars and writers compiling lists of bad politicians.
Unlike bad presidents who will be remembered for all time, only the spectacularly awful vice presidents will likely be recalled by future generations – like Aaron Burr (a Broadway play likely helped in his case) or Hannibal Hamlin.
But then there is Vice President Kamala Harris.
As The New York Times Magazine recently reported, after nearly three years, the vice president is still struggling to make the case for herself, even as she feels she shouldn’t have to. The White House has tried to find a niche for her; she’s tried to find her groove.
Yet, Harris has remained Harris, and every step forward is met with two steps back.
But that’s modern politics at play. Harris can have a very good day, connect with an audience, and find her voice as she did during Pride Month, and seem up to the tasks assigned to her. But it is all washed away when she goes off script and delivers her signature word salad speeches.
Americans Don’t Want President Kamala Harris
All of this speaks to why few Americans now believe she is ready to be president.
There is always the question of whether a vice president is up to the job, but it is also true that the VEEP is routinely selected to round out a campaign and to widen the base. A vice president may always be just a heartbeat from the Oval Office, but in modern history that was never a serious consideration.
In fact, Lyndon Johnson was the last vice president to assume the presidency and that was 60 years ago next month.
Few would have expected LBJ to ascend the presidency. In fact, of the eight presidents to die in office, only half were from natural causes (although there has been speculation Zachary Taylor may have been poisoned).
Few presidents have actually died in office, but President Joe Biden is soon to turn 81 and would be 86 at the end of a second term. This fact hasn’t been lost on some of the Republicans now seeking their party’s nomination for 2024 – notably former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who maintains that a vote for Biden is a vote for President Harris.
Biden is Too Old
Biden’s age has remained a real concern for voters.
Yet, the White House has only maintained that Harris is “prepared” should she need to step up if the situation arises. That is hardly the best endorsement.
Harris was selected as she checked several boxes for Biden in the 2020 campaign – including her being a woman of color. She has since proven to be the least popular VEEP in modern history, yet, that shouldn’t automatically mean she’d go down as the worst president.
The aforementioned John Adams was widely seen as a competent and capable vice president yet was an unremarkable president – and had the dubious distinction of being the first to be defeated while seeking re-election.
By contrast, Gerald Ford was selected as President Richard Nixon’s number two only after Spiro Agnew was forced to resign. It was a compromise for sure, but Ford then ascended the Oval Office and turned out to be a highly capable, albeit accidental, president. The same could be said of Theodore Roosevelt, who was pushed off to the vice presidency only to become a powerful president after William McKinley was assassinated.
Whether Kamala Harris can rise to the occasion like Roosevelt or Ford is unclear. Yet, it remains an issue that voters will need to consider in just under 13 months.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.