The Kamala factor in Joe Biden's 2024 reelection decision

Baseball statisticians throw around the concept of the “replacement level” player — the level of production you could get from a player that would cost you nothing but the league-minimum salary to acquire. Vice President Kamala Harris is, much to the frustration of Democrats, currently a below-replacement-level contributor to the administration. Biden, his party, and arguably the country would be much better off if he had simply selected the embodiment of a “Generic Democrat” for that key role. Of course, replacing Harris on the 2024 ticket would likely tear apart the Democratic Party — but she’s the primary reason that Biden is running for reelection at age 80. People forget, but back in 2019, a second term for Biden was not part of the plan.

Joe Biden, the Democratic Party, and arguably the country would be a lot better off right now if, instead of selecting Kamala Harris as his running mate in August 2020, he had simply picked a stand-in for the term “Generic Democrat.”

Why is 80-year-old Joe Biden running for another term, one in which he’ll be 82 on Inauguration Day and 86 when he leaves office?

Ego, no doubt, and to paraphrase the film Clear and Present Danger, “He wants what every first-term president wants: A second term.”

But as you’ll recall, back in 2019, Biden and his closest advisers weren’t necessarily counting on his running for a second term. As Jack Crowe reminded us, look back to 2019, and you can find a lot of news stories featuring Democrats who expected Biden to be a one-term president, a Trump dragon-slayer who would then pass the torch to some younger, promising rising star. In October of that year, Biden told the Associated Press he “wasn’t necessarily committed to seeking a second term if elected in 2020.”

Politico reported in December 2019: “According to four people who regularly talk to Biden, all of whom asked for anonymity to discuss internal campaign matters, it is virtually inconceivable that he will run for reelection in 2024, when he would be the first octogenarian president.” Some unnamed adviser told the publication, “If Biden is elected, he’s going to be 82 years old in four years and he won’t be running for reelection.”

Apparently, “Biden 2024” was not the original plan; passing the torch to Harris was apparently the plan. And now, that plan is unworkable.

Back in March, some unnamed White House official told Reuters’ Jeff Mason and Nandita Bose that Biden “is also convinced that neither Harris nor any other Democratic hopefuls would be able to beat former President Donald Trump if he is the Republican nominee.”

That’s a reasonable fear. Pollsters don’t ask about a hypothetical Trump vs. Harris matchup very often, but when they do, Trump is often ahead by a surprisingly comfortable margin. Although it’s also worth noting that right now, Harris’s job-approval rating in the FiveThirtyEight average is only three points below Biden’s. Maybe Biden likes having Harris around as a scapegoat for his own lousy numbers.

But Biden is not an outlier in having doubts about Harris being up to the challenge. Back in January, the Post’s Cleve Wootson reported:

Concerns about Harris’s political strength were repeated often by more than a dozen Democratic leaders in key states interviewed for this story, some speaking on the condition of anonymity to convey candid thoughts. Harris’s tenure has been underwhelming, they said, marked by struggles as a communicator and at times near-invisibility, leaving many rank-and-file Democrats unpersuaded that she has the force, charisma and skill to mount a winning presidential campaign.

A subsequent New York Times profile revealed, “Even some Democrats whom her own advisers referred reporters to for supportive quotes confided privately that they had lost hope in her.”

As The New Republic oh-so-gently put it, Harris’s “tenure has not overwhelmed most observers.”

Biden’s reelection bid is a direct consequence of Harris’s disappointing performance as vice president, and Democrats’ widespread fear that she wouldn’t win if she was atop the ticket in 2024. Matt Bai observed at The Post:

That Democratic leaders did nothing to dissuade Biden from seeking a second term is, itself, a testament to how much Harris worries them. A lot of Democrats will tell you that, while they had doubts about renominating a man Biden’s age, they could see no one other than Harris who might take his place — a prospect sufficiently ominous as to unify the party.

That New Republic article notes, “The early signs of Harris’s prominent role underscore how the Democratic Party is increasingly focusing on two strategies: turning out Black women and emphasizing abortion,” and quotes Democratic strategist and former MSNBC host Karen Finney as saying that Harris, “was very effective at reaching women and people of color, particularly Black folks. That is really the core of the Democratic Party.” (Note that African Americans are not uniformly pro-choice.) Thus, Harris is doing abortion-centered events at places such as her alma mater, Howard University.

If you’re a Democratic president running for reelection after Roe v. Wade was overturned, what are the two demographics that are most likely to be the most supportive of you as you start your reelection campaign? African Americans and pro-choice voters. “Make sure our support among African Americans and pro-choice voters remains high” is just about the easiest assignment the Biden campaign could give Harris.

This is like a Republican president asking a vice president to make sure support remains high among older, pro-life, evangelical, rural whites. You notice the Biden campaign isn’t asking Harris to make a sales pitch to any swing demographics.

Baseball statisticians throw around the concept of the “replacement level” player — the level of production you could get from a player that would cost you nothing but the league minimum salary to acquire. A player wants to be as far head of that level of production as possible. A player who isn’t much better than replacement level is a good candidate to be traded or released, and a player who dips below replacement level is a liability, a candidate for benching and ditching at the earliest opportunity.

Imagine if instead of selecting Harris back in the summer of 2020, Biden had selected a replacement-level Democratic vice-presidential option, the Generic Democrat. Take your pick which real-life figure best matches this hypothetical blank slate. Biden’s original potential running-mate list included Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, Wisconsin senator Tammy Baldwin, New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, and former Rhode Island governor and current Commerce secretary Gina Raimondo. Envision an alternate vice president who’s not terribly well-known or widely beloved, but who also doesn’t come to the job with any glaring weaknesses.

Vice President Generic Democrat would probably have a job-approval rating that’s a bit higher than Harris. (A “generic Democrat” gets in the low- to mid-40s in congressional polling lately, while Harris’s approval rating is at 39.4 percent.)

Vice President Generic Democrat might not have been able to alter the Biden administration’s policy on immigration and migrants at the border, but she probably would have talked about the problem in a more effective manner. She might have had the instinct to avoid insisting that the border is secure when it obviously is not, and likely would not have insisted that the border is secure because the administration wants it to be secure.

Washington Democrats would probably not be admitting, on background, that they no longer have faith in Vice President Generic Democrat. And Biden would probably have more faith that Vice President Generic Democrat could beat Trump.

Because Harris is the first woman vice president and only the second person with African-American heritage to be on a winning presidential ticket, an enormous number of people want to believe that she has greatness in her. A lot of people in the Democratic Party are massively emotionally invested in her success. It’s like they’re trying to will her greatness into existence, no matter how much the evidence points in the other direction.

We’re still seeing arguments that the country is about to meet the “real” Kamala Harris, or that the coming presidential campaign will make Americans see her in a new way.

From the NYT:

Ms. Harris’s supporters say they see enormous potential for the vice president to bolster her reputation and further define her legacy as the campaign season approaches. Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis of California, who visited Ms. Harris last week in Washington, said the vice president had grown into her role. She added that Ms. Harris would be able to showcase more of her skills on the campaign trail this time than in 2020, during the height of the pandemic.

“Particularly with the younger climate activist leaders in the room, and particularly with people of color, she is an inspirational champion,” Ms. Kounalakis said. “Connecting with real people on the campaign trail is very natural for her, and where she truly thrives.”

Kamala Harris has been vice president for almost two and a half years, and we’ve been hearing the “people just haven’t had a chance to see the real Kamala Harris” excuse for almost two and a half years. First, who are these people who are not allowing the vice president to show her real self to the American people? Why is she allowing these people to somehow obscure the “real” her?

Harris spent four years in the Senate, spent about a year as a presidential candidate, and has been vice president for 846 days. Allow me to offer a crazily controversial thought: This is the real Kamala Harris. There is no better, more popular, sharper, or reassuring version of Harris waiting to emerge from behind a curtain. What you see is what you get, and the Biden–Harris ticket will rise or fall on what it has.

Biden’s selection of Harris was a choice that set a lot of falling dominoes in motion and brought his party and our country to this point.
Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher is the editor and publisher of High Plains Pundit. Dan is also the host of the popular High Plains Pundit Podcast.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post