Democrats have a Kamala Harris problem

At a certain point, someone of substance within the Democratic Party is going to have to find the courage to say the quiet part out loud regarding Vice President Kamala Harris: Fewer and fewer Democrats want her on the 2024 ticket with Joe Biden or, most especially, as the presidential nominee should Biden drop out of the race.

Cue the outraged denials from the White House, the Democratic National Committee and various Democratic Party supporting organizations, websites and pundits. Except … I suspect they either all know it’s true or have all heard the same whispers.

I have spoken to multiple high-level Democrats, and not one of them wants Harris on the ticket. A sentiment that was touched upon just about a year ago in a piece in the Washington Post titled “Some Democrats are worried about Harris’s political prospects,” which outlined why Democratic strategists and party leaders were rightfully concerned about Harris’s “electability,” especially if Biden chose not to run and she became the Democratic nominee in 2024. A concern which has surely increased since then as the vice president continues to be mocked for various “word salad” answers to serious issues.

That comes atop of President Biden’s growing perceived “cognitive issues.” A worry which was raised again last week as Biden claimed that he had spoken to dead former world leaders in the persons of former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand, the former President of France who passed away in 1996.

These “word salads” and “cognitive issues” are creating a real panic among some Democrats that neither Biden nor Harris is up to the task. While those worries have been expressed regularly about Biden, they have been voiced less so with regard to Harris, especially by powerful Democrats who could signal to various organizations and pundits that replacing Harris on the ticket could be entertained as a serious option.

Why? A combination of American history and especially a sensitivity to political correctness and voter response.

Kamala Harris is not only the first woman to hold the office of vice president of the United States, but also the first person of color. As I have written in this space in the past, she should be quite proud of that accomplishment. She has claimed a critically important slice of American history, which no one can ever take from her — or our nation. 

But does that history make her untouchable? In a word: Yes.

At least in the unanimous opinion of the Democratic operatives I have spoken with over the last year. Because Harris is the first woman and first person of color to serve as vice president, they feel it would be a fatal mistake to try and force her off the ticket. The reasoning — correct in my opinion — being that Black and other minority communities, as well as a significant percentage of female voters, would be offended by such a move.

In the future, as the two major political parties rightfully offer up more candidates who represent the wonderful diversity of our nation, judging said candidates purely on their merits will become more acceptable. But at the moment, Harris has the weight of American history in her corner, so the argument of “merit” matters little.  

Knowing that to be the case, what is a potentially panicked Democratic Party to do? There is really only one answer: convince Harris that, in the best interests of the party and the nation, she should withdraw from the ticket.

Can it be done? Well, there is a precedent for the move. Back in October 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned from office, with President Richard Nixon replacing him with House Republican leader Gerald Ford.

Could Vice President Harris be convinced to step aside? While doubtful, such discussions are likely going on behind the scenes.

Such a game of political musical chairs also offers up a very interesting scenario for the Democrats to try to save the White House come November. As I wrote in this space in November 2022 in a piece titled “Here’s a game plan: Biden replaces Harris with Newsom and then resigns,” both Biden and Harris could theoretically step aside before the election.

The idea being that if the party could convince Harris to step aside, then Biden could name California Gov. Gavin Newsom — or another major Democratic officeholder — as vice president. Then, after a certain amount of time, Biden would resign for health reasons. Newsom or another Democrat then becomes acting president and names a replacement vice president. 

Is any of that likely to take place? Almost certainly not.

That said, there is no doubt that a growing number of Democrats are losing confidence in the current ticket of Biden/Harris for 2024. 

But, for anything to happen along those lines, the Democratic Party would first have to solve the Kamala Harris problem. 

Douglas MacKinnon, a political and communications consultant, was a writer in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration.

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