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By Gail Collins
So … it’s pretty clear Joe Biden is going to announce he’s running for re-election. What do you think he should do about Kamala Harris?
A) For heaven’s sake, keep her on.
B) For heaven’s sake, replace her.
C) Shouldn’t we be talking about banks or something?
Hey, this discussion is brought to you entirely because I don’t know enough about banking to write about it. How often do you find yourself chatting about the vice presidency when there’s another topic available?
The veep question did come up recently on a Boston radio show, where Elizabeth Warren was asked if she thought Harris should stay on the ticket. “I really want to defer to what makes Biden comfortable on his team,” the Massachusetts senator said, with what might be described as a lack of pumped-up enthusiasm.
Warren has reportedly tried to call Harris to apologize, without success. But the answer to our original question is super simple: If Biden runs again, Harris will be his running mate. Try to imagine him starting off a second-term campaign by dumping the first female vice president. Who also happens to be the first vice president of Black or Asian descent.
Veep-dumping does go back a long way. Thomas Jefferson turned on Aaron Burr — although rejecting someone who went on to shoot Alexander Hamilton is setting the bar pretty low.
The last time was the election of 1976, when Gerald Ford ditched Nelson Rockefeller for Bob Dole. Remember? No? Well, try to guess why that happened:
A) Rockefeller was tired of breaking tie votes in the Senate.
B) Rockefeller was too liberal and rich.
C) Bob Dole was just so charismatic.
Answer is the liberal-rich combo. Even moderate voters apparently found it difficult to relate to somebody with a billion dollars.
These days critics point out that Biden, now 80, would be the oldest president ever running for re-election — and therefore his veep should get special scrutiny. Eight vice presidents have succeeded to the presidency when their boss passed away. Some of those were terrible assassination stories, which left the voters who hadn’t really thought about the second slot doubly traumatized.
But four presidents simply … died. We will refrain from an extended discussion of Zachary Taylor, except to say that Joe Biden should not, under any circumstances, consume cherries and cold milk on a very hot summer day. Or the saga of William Henry Harrison, who made the very major error of drinking White House water that came from a marsh near a field of human excrement. Warren Harding died of a heart attack at 57 — possibly because he had run out of other things to go wrong with his administration. And F.D.R. ran for a fourth term even though a specialist had warned his physician that he’d never live through it.
Biden’s medical team says he’s in super shape, which certainly sounds plausible. He appears devoid of bad habits — works out all the time and his strongest drink is Gatorade. While there are different estimates of his life expectancy, pretty much all of them would get him through a second term. One, by a team of medical experts before the 2020 election, projected 96.8 years.
(The same team estimated Donald Trump would make it to almost 89 — that could keep him in your lives for about a dozen more years, people. Just letting you know.)
No matter how well Biden is doing, you’ve got to take a serious look at anybody who’s planning to be No. 2 to a guy in his mid-80s. With Harris, there’s definitely a downside. She was, you’ll remember, not a terrific candidate for president when she ran in 2020, and her staff was sort of a mess.
Staff seems to have been a problem for Harris, and when we’re thinking about a potential chief executive of the most powerful nation in the world, the phrase “not so great at running things” is a serious matter.
Her term in office under Biden didn’t begin well, although to be fair, Biden didn’t exactly give her the easiest portfolio. The biggest assignment was dealing with the migration crisis at the Mexico border.
“Do not come,” she helpfully suggested to our southern neighbors.
Time for the plus side. As vice president in a narrowly divided Senate, Harris has spent a lot of her time breaking tie votes. Before we get to the end of 2024, it’s a pretty good bet that she’ll be a record-setter — and who wouldn’t want to go down in history as having broken more deadlocks than John C. Calhoun?
I have to admit, I’ve been part of the let’s-replace-K.H. club. But I’ve come to grips with reality. It’s just not gonna happen. Meanwhile, her performance has definitely been improving — she made an important speech recently in Munich about the Russia-Ukraine situation. And she’s been a passionate voice for the administration on the issue of abortion rights.
And let’s admit that we’re talking here about whether, if we should lose Joe Biden during his second term, Kamala Harris would perform better as president than, say, Donald Trump. Suddenly, all our questions are washed away.
No fair saying Cocaine Bear would be a better president than Donald Trump.
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