If Biden Steps Aside, Harris Should Be Included Not Anointed

The dismal debate performance by President Biden and subsequent misfires in his response has led to much speculation by an anxious public over the best path forward for the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. Strategies have ranged from advisors encouraging Biden to weather the storm while others in the party are calling for the president to immediately step aside and appoint a stronger candidate to take his place. Vice President Kamala Harris is a name that some have begun to promote as the presumptive replacement nominee.

Some influential Democrats have even gone so far as stating that it would be disrespectful to “pass over” Harris for the presidential nomination should Biden withdraw from the general election. The argument implies that Harris has earned a spot on top of the next ticket and is the most qualified candidate-in-waiting because of her role in what is often described as a thankless job. Hubert Humphrey complained that the job implied a political marriage with the president which requires strict loyalty Harris has shown that loyalty in addition to having served as a successful US senator as well as a strong Attorney General and District Attorney for California.

The history of this office shows there is no job promotion certainty. Voters do not select candidates solely based on their political titles. Reviewing the performance of vice presidents in prior presidential elections may cause some to rethink assumptions that one individual deserves to skip ahead in the line.

Despite prior political party support and the advantage of already having been sworn into national office, the VP credential is not a contracted career path unless the president resigns or dies in office. Of the fifty-one vice presidents in our nation’s history, nineteen have made a bid for the top job. Thirteen have been nominated to represent their party. Only six vice presidents, including Joe Biden, have obtained enough votes from the electoral college to be named president.

Prior to the Twelfth Amendment of 1804, each member of the Electoral College cast two votes with no distinction between president and vice president. The candidate with the most votes won the presidency. The candidate with the second most was given the vice presidency. Aaron Burr came in second to Thomas Jefferson and became vice president.

While Vice President Harris could very well be the next best option in place of President Biden, the American people, and the delegates who will represent them in the Democratic National Convention, deserve to hear the platform of a Harris for President campaign as well as other qualified would-be candidates such as:

  • Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan,

  • Governor Jay Pritzker of Illinois

  • Governor Gavin Newsom of California,

  • Governor Wes Moore of Maryland,

  • Governor Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania,

  • Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg

  • Governor Andy Beshear of Kentucky.

Polling has cast some doubt on the strength of Harris’s own presidential campaign. A poll by CNN found Trump leading Harris by 2 percentage points – 47 percent to 45. RealClear Polling data shows Trump leading Harris in negative net favorability ratings – Trump at -11.4 versus Harris at -16.3.

An open convention or “rapid primary” will surely prove to be disruptive to the Democratic Party during a critical moment in our nation’s history. However, Democratic leadership anointing a candidate would likely do the same. It would be monumental in its own right – as the first modern presidential election where voters of a major party were not provided an opportunity to nominate their preferred candidate.

The Democratic Convention has always been a raucous caucus. As social commentator Will Rogers intoned a century ago: “I don’t belong to an organized political party – I am a Democrat.” Michael Smerconish captures this sentiment in a fresh online poll where 72 percent of survey participants agreed that Harris would be a stronger presidential nominee if she were to go through a competitive process.

As President Biden has run down the clock in his flailing effort to prove his fitness for office, he erodes the Democratic Party’s needed time to showcase its portfolio of vibrant leaders as skilled contenders for defeating Donald Trump. IBM’s visionary Tom Watson Jr. once told me, “I get as much pride in the success of my successors as I do from the triumphant transformation of IBM under my own watch.” Biden could enjoy this same parallel pride if he opens the pathway for succession.

Contact us at letters@time.com.