Vice presidents are meant to be dependable — and in a funny way Kamala Harris is exactly that. Joe Biden knows that, no matter how bad his poll numbers, hers will be worse: she’s the most unpopular vice president since polling began, according to one recent survey. Biden can afford to be pitifully vague in public partly because she is so painfully annoying. He loses his thread; she loses the plot.
That’s one of the reasons why, for all the alarm in Washington circles about the commander-in-chief’s “job performance” and the distinct possibility that he might lose to Donald Trump next year, the Biden-Harris ticket seems locked in place for 2024. Why would Biden nominate someone else when Harris is so reliably unthreatening? Why would he move aside when she would be even more terrible?
Trump, enlightened soul that he is, has said he likes “the concept” of choosing a woman
In recent weeks, there’s been another media-led, insiderish effort to shuffle Biden off his presidential coil — after a CNN poll showed him losing to Trump by significant margins in four key swing states. On November 5, David Axelrod, formerly Barack Obama’s chief strategist, broke the strict rules of Washington etiquette by saying something that is glaringly obvious to absolutely everyone outside politics: “The greatest concern is that [Biden’s] biggest liability is the one thing he can’t change. Among all the unpredictables there is one thing that is sure: the age arrow only points in one direction.”
In other words, Biden is old and human beings can’t reverse the aging process. Nate Silver, the Nostradonut of progressive psephology, weighed in too, pointing out that if Biden is too old to govern effectively, he may also be too old to be president and run a re-election campaign. “If Biden can’t keep up with the schedule of a typical sitting president running for re-election or is prone to making errors when he does, voters and the media are going to notice,” he said. These are the sort of devastating aperçus that make you a fortune in modern politics. It’s also quite telling that, for Democrats, the problem is never that the President might be too gaga to go on. It’s that voters might realize.
For now, however, Biden isn’t budging. He, the first lady and the White House inner circle appear to believe that the forty-sixth presidency is going swimmingly. Obama’s polling was similarly bad at the same stage of his first term, they say. It doesn’t necessarily matter if Joe is no Barack: Bidenism is working, or at least pro-abortion Democrats have been beating anti-abortion Republicans in state-level elections since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.
Besides, who is the alternative? Various governors are often touted as emergency replacements — Gavin Newsom of California, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania — but Harris, as veep, would have to be the most credible contender and that’s a scenario that really makes Democrats sweat. We might all have to take Harris seriously, though, if frail Joe Biden were to be re-elected aged eighty-two, with Kamala a heartbeat away from the Resolute Desk, as time’s arrow keeps whirring.
All hail Kamala, commandress-in-chief! What an irony it would be if feminism’s “glass ceiling,” the great barrier in the equality sky, ended up being shattered by that most patriarchal force — the willingness of an old man to keep a younger woman around because she didn’t challenge him.
On the Republican side of the 2024 equation, the vice presidential question is harder to fathom. The party’s election process does not begin in earnest until January 15, when Iowa holds its caucuses. In a normal cycle, all minds would be focused on the matter of who will be the presidential candidate. But Donald Trump makes everything abnormal and, as things stand, he must be considered the presumptive nominee.
Yes, his legal troubles could overwhelm him. Yes, the significant opposition to Trump within the party might finally coalesce around one of his Republican opponents. But Trump’s courtroom dramas seem only to bolster his appeal and his rivals are flailing. Ron DeSantis has enjoyed a small uptick in the latest polls, but his candidacy thus far must be considered a flop: in February, he was at 30 percent in the polls, fourteen points behind Trump. Today, he’s on 14 percent and Trump’s lead is 44 points. Nikki Haley is emerging behind DeSantis as a clear third choice, on 9 percent, but she’s never going to win and is only splitting the significant anti-Trump vote.
Trump has so far swerved the televised candidate debates, making them a series of silly sideshows. Inevitably, then, the intrigue moves on to the question of Trump’s potential running mate. It’s thought, for instance, that the businessman turned presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, currently fourth in the Republican polls, is really only auditioning for the VP role. He reiterates Trumpish talking points, says that Trump “was the best president of the twenty-first century” and often delves deeper into conspiracy theory than The Donald. He’s Asian, too, which helps him fend off charges of white supremacism.
When asked about the idea of Vice President Vivek in August, Trump turned avuncular and said Ramaswamy was “very, very, very intelligent… he could be some form of something.” High praise, though he was quick to add a warning: “He’s getting a little bit controversial… Some things you have to hold in just a little bit, right?” Trump probably also reckons that the name Ramaswamy has too many syllables.
One Trump confidant tells me it’s far too early to start the “veepstakes” guessing game. “We don’t even know if Biden will be the Democratic nominee,”he says, not unreasonably. “I don’t even really think there is a shortlist other than perhaps in Trump’s mind.”
But it’s fun to speculate and Trump seems to be enjoying teasing us with his ruminations. He tends to think of everything as celebrity entertainment and he’s aware that his dominance of the Republican field risks turning the main contest into a tedious affair with bad ratings. That makes him keen to sprinkle a little suspense into Trump 2024, the third election season of the greatest show on Earth. And “Choosing a veep” is the closest politics gets to The Apprentice, his old hit television show.
On November 8, Trump set tongues wagging by telling a radio show that he would consider Tucker Carlson, the recently fired Fox News host, as his vice president. “I like Tucker a lot,” he said. “He’s got great common sense.” Then, last weekend, Trump walked into the Ultimate Fighting Championship arena in Madison Square Garden with Carlson just behind him. Was this a signal? Trump-Carlson: the ultimate tag team? “Probably not,” says another Trump insider. “But crazier things have happened.”
In 2016, Trump made a surprisingly boring choice. But his vice president, Mike Pence, a machine politician, arguably proved to be an election-winning nominee: he convinced enough conservatives that a Trump presidency did not mean the end of the world as they knew it.
A similarly tactical choice in 2024 might be Haley, who would help address one of Trump’s biggest electoral shortcomings: his unpopularity with suburban women. Haley, a war hawk, would upset the MAGA movement, but Trump would regard that as a surmountable problem. Trump and Haley got on when she was his ambassador to the UN.
Trump, enlightened soul that he is, has said he likes “the concept” of choosing a woman. Various other names are being thrown around: his former press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the harder right congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, the former Democratic presidential candidate turned television host Tulsi Gabbard, the television host turned politician Kari Lake.
Another telegenic choice might be Kristi Noem, the South Dakota governor, although she has made the mistake of having an affair with Trump advisor Corey Lewandowski. All these women seem to go up and down in the chauvinistic esteem of Trumpworld. But Trump, a visual creature, might delight in selecting the right woman because it reminds him of another of his earlier roles: that of Miss Universe organizer. Who will be the luckiest contestant? Or perhaps Trump will conclude that the 2024 veep doesn’t really matter, since nobody could be as dire as vice president Harris.