Questions about Harris’ political prospects have long loomed. Harris is not extraordinarily unpopular for a vice president, but her presence seems more prominent in this election. Voters have serious and growing concerns about Biden’s age and sharpness. And polls show that Americans are more hesitant about Harris becoming president than they have been about her recent vice presidents. They are also more hesitant about Harris today than they were in 2020.
Most often, concerns are raised in private. Or they come from lesser-known Democrats outside Washington. But prominent Democrats are increasingly giving the kinds of answers that normally seem designed to fuel questions about the wisdom of proceeding as is.
In January, it was Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) who answered yes to a question about whether Biden should run. Then, when the question turned to Harris, she was noticeably more tight-lipped.
“I really want to defer to what makes Biden comfortable on his team,” Warren said.
Warren quickly clarified that she fully supported both candidates, and her office claimed that she had simply wanted to avoid trampling on a future Biden campaign announcement. It was a plausible defense. But Warren’s initial, somewhat circuitous response seemed to indicate the possibility that there might be reason to look elsewhere.
She said she liked Harris while adding, “But they need — they need to be a team, and I feel like they are — I don’t mean that by suggesting that I think he There are problems.”
Why even bring up this prospect?
Fast forward to this week, and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was visibly dancing around a similar question. When asked three times on CNN if Harris was Biden’s best running mate, she avoided saying yes while praising Harris.
“He means it, and that’s what matters,” Pelosi said first.
She added, to the third question: “She is the vice president of the United States. … I think she represented our country very well at home and abroad.”
The next day, on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Pelosi appeared to take pains to say, “The Biden-Harris team is our team.” We are very proud of it. A Pelosi ally, meanwhile, responded by suggesting that it was much ado about nothing and even that the media coverage was misogynistic.
But later in the day, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Mary.) asked a prominent Democrat the “best running mate” question a total of seven times without answering it directly.
CNN host Jake Tapper quickly made it clear that he noticed Raskin didn’t say “yes.” Ultimately, Raskin instead said Harris “would be a great running mate and a great vice president.”
Raskin quickly cleaned that up, saying about that Harris was “a historic and effective vice president, and clearly President Biden’s best candidate and running mate.”
Is Harris the best running mate?
In all likelihood, no – and not just because of its unpopularity. In terms of raw probability, there is only one best option, and the chances of you ever choosing it are extremely low. But politicians are generally quick to assign hyperbolic labels to their allies.
As with Warren, it’s worth examining Raskin’s in-depth comments.
“I don’t know if President Biden has named his running mate,” Raskin said on CNN. “We’re going to a convention next summer. It’s, you know, a year away, so we’re going to go through that process.
Again, why even float something like that? Biden declared Harris his running mate — more than a year and a half ago. She was featured prominently in his April campaign launch video. The only reason to bring up the convention would be if you think there is reason to doubt that it will still be there in a year’s time, or perhaps you are suggesting that it shouldn’t be.
What’s particularly confusing is that, even if officials agreed that this was the right decision, there doesn’t seem to be a good way to replace her on the roster without risking a collapse of the Democratic coalition. Just as with Biden, the costs of pursuing a supposedly ideal alternative may well outweigh the potential benefits. Replacing Harris is the kind of thing you would only risk if you thought you had no other choice.
The only other logical reason this would make sense would be if Democrats legitimately think Biden might step down. At this point, Harris would immediately be the most logical backup option due to his second-in-command role.
It’s a possibility that California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) highlighted last weekend, also quite prominently. Asked about the possibility of Biden withdrawing, Newsom largely demurred, as expected. But he started by doing something unusual: declaring that if Biden, for whatever reason, didn’t run, Harris would be next in line and he wouldn’t run against her.
“Of course not,” he said. “By definition. It won’t happen.
It’s a bunch of weird answers on a supposedly established ticket, from people who need to know how they might be perceived. And for some reason, these strange responses suddenly proliferate.