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OPINION

Brandishing the Albatross

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

In a week of major news stories, perhaps the most consequential development of all got lost in the shuffle. Joe Biden, octogenarian weakling, decided to run for reelection, and he left no room for doubt that Kamala Harris, the airhead who gives Air Force Two most of its buoyancy, will remain as his Vice-President and reprise her role as his running mate. This is a shocking decision that speaks to the runaway hubris of our left-wing ruling elite.

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Harris, to be clear, has been a massive disappointment since she took office, and even before that. Her stumbles on the stump have led the White House to sideline her for most of the last three years. Her inability to get along with her own staff has led to unprecedented instability in the Office of the Vice-President. Her first and most high-profile mission, to take charge of the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border, has been executed with such sloppiness and negligence that she has been given little or no meaningful responsibility since. What's more, Democrats across the country running for office have mostly avoided appearing with Harris, although, to be fair, especially in the 2022 cycle, few of them had much enthusiasm for Joe Biden's company either. 

The bottom line is that Harris is the considerably less popular sidekick to a president whose own popularity and approval ratings are already in dangerous territory. Harris is “underwater” in terms of favorability (her unfavorable numbers outweigh her favorables) by 16 points, which precisely matches Donald Trump's performance – a man Democrats regard as the Devil incarnate. To say that Harris is a drag on the Democratic ticket, rather an asset, would be an understatement.

In most election cycles, Harris's weaknesses would not matter. It is a truism among political analysts that voters do not vote for Vice-Presidents – they vote instead for (or against) whoever is at the top of the ticket. 

The problem for Joe Biden and the Democrats, however, is that voters have grave doubts about Joe Biden's health, mental fitness, and durability. They doubt whether he can finish his first term. They are downright incredulous about whether he can finish a hypothetical second term. 

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That means that, in this cycle, more perhaps than in any other in American history, voters will be paying attention to who the major candidates chose as their running mates. This will be especially true if the Republicans nominate Donald Trump, in which case both major parties will have chosen as their standard-bearers men well past retirement age, and closing in rapidly on obsolescence. It would be grossly irresponsible not to weigh carefully whether these candidates have picked presidents-in-waiting who are up to the job.

Joe Biden's selection of Kamala Harris as his running mate – a woman in whom he himself reposes little confidence, based on the responsibilities his administration has been willing to grant her – can be explained in only three ways, and probably all three have equal validity.

One, Democrats have become captives of their own DEI (“diversity, equity, and inclusion”) rhetoric, and they are simply incapable of cashiering a woman of color in a position of authority under any circumstances, because the optics would be less-than-progressive and doing so would provoke howls of protest (the howls and the howlers suggest themselves) from certain key constituencies of the Democratic Party.

Two, Harris is to be retained because Joe Biden and his inner circle regard the GOP as so dysfunctional and electorally inept that they can put forward virtually anyone as their presidential and vice-presidential candidates, and Americans will have no choice but to vote for them. In other words, they view candidate quality as irrelevant, because the opposition has disqualified itself and is no longer viable. If you take seriously the claims made by Joe Biden in his presidential campaign announcement – that the Republicans have become“MAGA extremists lining up to take [our] freedoms away”, and to blow up American democracy in the process – then it makes sense that Americans would choose anyone and anything over four more years of Trumpist tyranny. (On the other hand, Republicans won the popular vote for the House in 2022 by 3 points, suggesting that reports of the death of the GOP are greatly exaggerated.)

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The last possible explanation for Joe Biden's retention of Kamala Harris is more tactical in nature. Joe Biden's team, realizing his weakness, may believe that he requires a foil: a patsy to stand next to him who can, by his or her sheer awfulness, make “the Big Guy” look comparatively wise, capable, articulate, and continent (okay, three out of four ain't bad). 

This is the role that Kamala Harris was born to play. She's played it to perfection since January 2021, provoking in Democrats and Republicans alike the resigned admission: “Yeah, Biden is no prize pig, but at least he isn't...her.” 

And, maybe, given the realities of American politics, in which voters often vote for the candidate who they find least odious, this is enough. Voters, in short, don't have to like or believe in Joe Biden – they simply have to be able to imagine something or someone worse. 

Presto! Cue Madam Vice-President...

The other way to look at all this, of course, is to observe that, by fielding a team of duds, the Democrats are almost certainly granting the Republican ticket a golden opportunity to outperform expectations in 2024, and quite possibly to seize back control of the White House (and, in that case, in all likelihood Congress as well). 

Some have said that in 2016 only Hillary Clinton – a singularly weak and unlikable candidate – could have lost to Donald Trump. She did so, of course, partly because Democrats had convinced themselves that such a thing was impossible.

Could history be about to repeat itself in 2024? Could Biden fizzle and let Trump into the White House through the backdoor – a door held open by a bumbling, cackling Kamala Harris?

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All we can do is wait and see.

Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy is an Associate Professor of History at SUNY Alfred and blogs at: www.waddyisright.com. He appears on the Newsmaker Show on WLEA 1480/106.9.

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