A Kamala Harris-Gretchen Whitmer ticket could help Democrats avoid a landslide

Democrats could hold on to suburban women and compete in the blue wall states again

Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer speaks at the NAACP Detroit Branch annual dinner in Detroit, Michigan on May 19, 2024 (Getty Images)
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The mood among Washington Democrats is grim. Understanding that Joe Biden is headed toward defeat, they’ve also come to the conclusion that there’s nothing they can do about it — that unless Biden willingly steps aside, their side is doomed to failure. Three senators — including Jon Tester and Sherrod Brown, fighting to hold on in competitive elections this fall — said this out loud to their colleagues behind closed doors. The third, Michael Bennet of Colorado, was willing to say it publicly on CNN, even invoking the prospect of a “landslide” that results in…

The mood among Washington Democrats is grim. Understanding that Joe Biden is headed toward defeat, they’ve also come to the conclusion that there’s nothing they can do about it — that unless Biden willingly steps aside, their side is doomed to failure. Three senators — including Jon Tester and Sherrod Brown, fighting to hold on in competitive elections this fall — said this out loud to their colleagues behind closed doors. The third, Michael Bennet of Colorado, was willing to say it publicly on CNN, even invoking the prospect of a “landslide” that results in Republicans winning the Senate and the House. Even Nancy Pelosi seemed skeptical of Biden’s prospects on Morning Joe, where she said, “It’s up to the president to decide if he is going to run. We’re all encouraging him to make that decision. Because time is running short.”

The Biden White House’s frame of this situation is that it is “Washington elites” who are pushing him out. In fact, the opposite is true — as numerous commentators have pointed out, the DC elites are late to come to this conclusion. It’s just that, prior to the debate, virtually none of the state activists or leaders were willing to raise the voice of concern lest they be labeled a traitor to the cause of “defending democracy” or somesuch. As one Democratic state party chair admitted to NBC: “I wish I was more brave.” 

Now, after nearly two weeks of this story dominating all news, even with Democrat officials publicly voicing opposition, even with the heights of media like the New York Times calling for Biden to step aside, Washington Democrats think they’re trapped with Joe: destined to lose, with no way out of their predicament. 

That’s the vibes talking, because this just isn’t the case. It’s also totally at odds with the lesson they and the media spent teaching their voting base for the past several years — that this is a win-at-all-costs election about whether democracy survives or not. If you really believe that fanciful argument, you should be ready to pull out all the stops, including forcing Joe Biden out, in order to win.

Nate Silver writes at length about this in his latest newsletter, and he makes three key points that shouldn’t escape notice. First, Joe Biden was already tracking toward losing this election before the debate debacle. Gaslighting from the likes of Stephen Colbert aside, it’s one of the reasons Biden’s team demanded such an early debate, to achieve a reset. Second, that nothing the Biden White House has done since the debate to make attempts to clean things up has worked, not with the media, not with donors and not with voters. And third, there is no legal requirement for delegates to the Democratic convention to cast their votes for Biden — in fact, they can invoke the “conscience clause” of their party bylaws to oppose Biden. This doesn’t mean that they will do it, or even need to — the point is, they can conceivably make that threat. If Biden wants to go nuclear, they can, too.

There’s another point I’d add to this, which should be obvious to any observer. We’re only beginning to see the fallout from this debate and the following rolling disaster show up in the polling data in swing states across the country. (And not even swing states — the lead headline in Politico today is that Biden could be in trouble in New York.) Those numbers are going to keep rolling in, and they’re likely to get worse — not just because the Biden campaign has no functional strategy for getting back on their feet, but because we’ll almost assuredly see a convention bounce from the RNC next week on top of it.

So what’s the alternative for Democrats? The fantastical suggestions of a convention blitz of competition between candidates isn’t realistic. There is only one alternative: pushing Biden aside for Kamala Harris. Beyond avoiding a host of legal and fundraising complications, she now polls better than Biden against Donald Trump. And for all the concerns about her foibles, delegates and party leaders can make the case that whether Biden really wanted to be a transitional president or not, he was going to be if he achieved re-election. No one thought that he would make it another four years, so cut out the farce and vote for the person who was going to be president by the end of the term anyway.

Democrats were already running behind in 2024 before Joe fell apart. The aim at this point should be to erase the concerns of a landslide election and to protect their hold on the Senate. Achieving this with Harris is at this point much more realistic than achieving it with Biden.

There’s one more step to consider. It wasn’t lost on many of Biden’s allies that perhaps his worst answer to any question on debate night was to a softball question about the issue that has dominated and motivated Democratic wins over the past two years — abortion. As someone who was no rabid pro-abortion advocate until it became necessary for his political career, Joe’s just not comfortable talking about the issue. 

Donald Trump wants to make the 2024 election about the economy and immigration, and all his finalists for his vice presidential pick look to be men. If Democrats want to change the issue set for this election to abortion and guns and diversity, if they want to hold on to suburban women and compete in the blue wall states again, then a Kamala Harris-Gretchen Whitmer ticket could achieve just that. It might not be enough to beat Trump, but it could avoid the landslide that Democrats fear today.