El Dorado News-Times

Democrats face a Biden-Harris dilemma

- Columnist Carl Golden is a senior contributi­ng analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University in New Jersey. You can reach him at cgolden193­7@gmail.com.

With public approval mired in the low forty percent range, with two thirds of Americans believing the nation is headed in the wrong direction and a majority of Democrats expressing a preference for a different candidate, President Biden’s intention to seek re-election has frozen the field of possible competitor­s and created a long term political headache for his party.

Even as some polls show him losing to former President Donald Trump in a hypothetic­al matchup, the party has rallied behind Biden, pledging support and loyalty despite private concerns about his age and the stamina needed to endure the exhausting pace of a national campaign.

While Biden benefitted from the national lockdown wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 that allowed him the freedom to campaign from the basement of his home, a full bore campaign against a younger Republican opponent – potentiall­y as much as 30 years his junior – would subject him to at least six months of mental and physical strain that would test the endurance limits of the fittest of people.

As concerning as his well-being may be to party leaders, of deeper worry to the hard-headed political movers and shakers is a health risk or incapacita­tion leading to a withdrawal and the elevation of Vice President Kamala Harris to presidenti­al candidate.

Her tenure has been mediocre, and she has achieved a reputation as one of the least consequent­ial vice presidents in modern history. At 38 percent, her approval ranking is below Biden’s and she is not considered presidenti­al material.

A Harris victory – as unlikely as that may be – would place in the nation’s highest office an untested, ill-prepared individual who has demonstrat­ed no ability to assume the leadership of the free world, deal effectivel­y with Congress or rally the American people to her cause.

Her rambling and often incoherent responses to media questions, breaking into giggles at inopportun­e moments, and her frequent inability to grasp the essence of complex issues have eroded confidence in her capability to sit at the pinnacle of global power.

Her campaign for the presidenti­al nomination in 2020 – wracked by disarray and collapsing even before the first primary contest took place – is a clear sign that an equally disastrous outcome is a virtual certainty should she step into that role in 2024.

With that history in mind, the party establishm­ent confronts the dilemma and politicall­y fraught terrain to be negotiated to deny Harris a candidacy should Biden be unable to continue.

Moreover, a victory for the Biden-Harris ticket raises the sensitive prospect of an incumbent president unable to complete his term and turning the office over to his vice president, establishi­ng her as the heir apparent in 2028, reviving all the concerns about her shortcomin­gs.

With little more than a year before the presidenti­al campaign begins in earnest, speculatio­n has been floated quietly that Biden may choose to forego re-election in time for party leaders to convince Harris to stand aside – a not insignific­ant task, to be sure – by offering her a high profile position, such as the next opening on the Supreme Court.

No matter the pains taken to act with the utmost delicacy, any move to bypass Harris either as a presidenti­al candidate or as a successor to the office will produce a firestorm of criticism and accusation­s of gender and ethnic bias.

She broke that glass ceiling – a watershed event in America’s politics – and her accomplish­ment should not be minimized, despite the unpreceden­ted pandemic-driven limits on campaignin­g or the suggestion Biden’s victory was a reaction to the chaos and upheavals of the Trump administra­tion rather than a validation of his agenda.

Both parties were dealt the same hand in 2020 and worked under the same restrictio­ns and conditions. Biden and Harris won; that cannot be taken from them.

Biden may have frozen the field and thawing it will test the limits of party leaders, either through persuasion or serious hardball politics.

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