Haley, the former South Carolina governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, contends backing Biden, age 81, is effectively a vote for Harris as president. Biden, in Haley’s view, isn’t likely to make it through a second term, and Harris is incompetent and a failure as vice president.
It’s a risky, if not particularly novel, approach by Haley. Vice presidents have long been the target of opponents’ campaign derision, to limited effect. The first negative television ad ever run, in 1956, slammed Vice President Richard Nixon as he and his boss, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, sought a second term.
“Nervous about Nixon? President Nixon? Vote Democratic — the party for you, not just the few,” said the 13-second spot, which ran about a year after Eisenhower suffered a heart attack, raising the possibility of Nixon having to take over.
The ad, and a broader Democratic line of attack against Nixon, went nowhere. The Republican ticket romped in a 457-73 Electoral College win. Nixon himself won the presidency a dozen years later.
Republican Vice Presidents Spiro Agnew, Dan Quayle, and Dick Cheney were targets of similar attacks, to varying degrees. But it didn’t make much difference, with two of the three GOP tickets they were on winning second terms.
The Biden-Harris team can hope history repeats itself in the 2024 campaign. But that’s no sure thing, with Biden’s middling, at best, approval ratings. And a media environment in which the president’s age — he would be 86 upon finishing a second term — is a constant, and to the campaign, unhelpful, theme. Which could help amplify the kind of attacks on Harris that Haley, and to a lesser extent other Republicans, frequently issue.
And problems that plagued Harris’s own failed 2020 campaign didn’t exactly disappear as she hit the road that year as Biden’s No. 2. The vice president has a penchant for making a mess of interviews, offering up stemwinder answers to simple questions or talking in circles, repeating words or phrases several times without finishing a thought.
Biden and former President Donald Trump, the likely Republican candidate he’ll face in November, have nearly identical favorable/unfavorable ratings in the most recent RealClearPolitics average — 40.4% favorable, 55.4% unfavorable for Biden and 40.1% favorable, 56% unfavorable for Trump. Neither of those figures is something leading candidates want to see, but both the 77-year-old Trump and Biden shine compared to Harris, who clocks in with 36.5% unfavorable and 54.2% unfavorable.
When former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was asked by a reporter whether Harris offered Biden the best chance to win again in 2024, she demurred, telling CNN, “He thinks so, and that’s what matters.”
When Pelosi was given another chance to defend Biden’s decision, she dodged again, saying, “She’s the vice president of the United States! … You don’t do that much.”
Harris hasn’t been given many opportunities to thrive as Biden’s top lieutenant. Her portfolio has been stuffed with problems tangled with sensitive relationships and foreign politics beyond the long arm of the U.S.
“I believe Kamala was set up for failure,” Amani Wells-Onyioha, a Democratic strategist, told the Washington Examiner. “Harris was given tasks that in my opinion are not suitable for one person to solve. Like being in charge of immigration. That’s a heavy lift for the VP. Also, being thrown into the press and being the mouthpiece for some of Biden’s most controversial plans/opinions. She’s done well despite the position she’s been put in, but I wish she had been utilized differently.”
Harris in the 2020 primary season was widely viewed as a key piece of Biden securing support from Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), who helped deliver South Carolina to Biden, rescuing the flailing campaign following dismal showings in Iowa and New Hampshire. Clyburn, then House majority whip, didn’t make Biden choosing a black woman as his running mate a requirement for his endorsement, but he made it clear “it would be a plus.”
However, Clyburn appears to have joined the Pelosi camp in shying away from offering a full-throated endorsement of the vice president, who would otherwise be the heir apparent and next woman up in 2028 — and possibly sooner.
As the Biden campaign scrambles to shore up support as poll after poll reflects doubt about whether the Biden-Harris ticket is the best choice for Democrats to beat Trump again, removing the vice president from the ticket doesn’t appear to be a solution.
“Why wouldn’t he run with her again? Not only is it a tradition, she also touches key demographics and has a record of fighting for economic, racial, and gender equality,” Krysten Copeland, chief strategist and founder of Democratic firm KC and Co. Communications, told the Washington Examiner. “Some of the prevailing narratives in the media is that representation no longer matters. I firmly disagree. It sends a message of unity to underrepresented minorities to see the first black/Asian American woman in the second-highest position in the land, speaking and advocating on their behalf.”
For all the problems Harris poses to Biden’s campaign, the optics of Biden replacing a relatively young black woman — Harris will be 60 on Election Day — with anyone else is bound to leave a bitter taste in voters’ mouths.
“Biden isn’t doing well in his reelection campaign, but I don’t think Biden’s chances of winning have anything to do with Kamala Harris’s performance,” Wells-Onyioha said. “I believe his chances are completely based on his performance alone. It would be an attempt to scapegoat and skirt responsibility to imply that Kamala has anything to do with it.”