Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
As Joe Biden shuffles towards the end of his first year in Presidential office he must be reflecting that things could have gone better. He got off to such a great start, Mr Trump seemingly dishing himself by his extraordinary behaviour on losing the keys to the White House, delivering a nation anxious for a calmer, kinder governance to the new President’s welcoming arms. But even then, not many observers thought that President Biden would actually be the Democrat nominee for a second term in 2024 – his evident frailty and age suggested otherwise. What did look possible was a successful single term, a record of healing and kindness, a calming of the vicious partisanship that has blemished American politics, and a retirement full of honour and praise. Then, his Vice President smoothly picking up the reins with a very good chance of election as the first female occupant of the Oval Office.
How did it all go so wrong, so quickly? To get a true answer to that we may have to wait many years until the release of private and state papers reveal the hows, whens, and whys of White House decision-making in 2021. It is clear that Joe is not the man he was. His mind is slower, his memory fails him on occasion, there seems to be a lack of clarity and forward-thinking in developing and delivering policy. Which is not to say Joe is unfit for office, but it does beg questions as to the influence of his advisors and to the quality of the debate inside the citadel of power. Biden had a problem from the off – whatever President Trump sounded like, in his speeches and late-night Twitter rants, his actual governance was mostly coherent, considered, and most bizarrely, Democrat-friendly (though not so much when we remember that Trump was a registered Democrat twenty years ago). Joe wanted to make a bonfire of the Trump administration’s reputation, but was in the awkward position that Trump had pursued a lot of policies that suited Joe just fine.
Afghanistan was a total mess, but it was a mess in the execution of the withdrawal, not of the underlying Trump and Biden philosophy that nothing more could be done; essentially the mission had failed, and the USA needed to withdraw. To some extent the new President has picked up praise for his handling of the Covid crisis, but a lot of that was simply allowing the approach of the previous administration to work through (with the complication that many aspects are actually state, not federal, matters). Higher taxation on the rich has largely failed to emerge, and spending at the federal level has been supported by the Republicans, openly or tacitly, because the nation’s infrastructure is in such a bad state – after decades of under-maintenance as the military budget swallowed up precious tax dollars. No real new initiatives on health. And on the Wall, as Donald called it, the one on the US-Mexican border – it is still there. Indeed, only this week the federal government has readopted the Trump policy of returning illegal immigrants to the Mexican side of the border and making them apply for entry through formal channels (waiting list currently well over one million persons). Admittedly, the White House has moved to this position only under pressure from the states and the courts (and also with one eye on the electorate in 2022) but this is once again federal policy.
The border with Mexico has caused more trouble to the Democrats than they ever imagined possible. Vice President Kamala Harris, bright, articulate (most of the time), and Californian was an ideal running mate for Joe, it seemed. But once in office she was clearly sidelined. The only real job she was given was to sort out the border. It was an impossible task. Why did Joe appoint her to something that was going to do her standing no good at all? Here we must entertain a little conspiracy theory, though unlike most, it might just be well-founded. It goes like this: Joe is under the control of a group of left-wing advisors and office holders in the basement of the White House. They really do not want Kamala running for the top job in 2024. Come to that, they do not want Joe running for another term either. So, Kamala must be politically weakened. It has to be said that she seems pretty good at weakening her own standing without assistance from anyone else. Maybe the border job was impossible, but she took little interest in it and by doing nothing much managed to upset everybody. Rumours swirl around Washington that the Vice President is rude, unfeeling, and arrogant with her staff; it is hard to know if this is correct but she does appear to have lost a number of people from her support team – though not as many as Donald did and it never phased him.
The latest gossip is that the Veep’s team are now abandoning her at a rapid rate as they know the ship is going down and, being ambitious politicos, do not want to be seen as Harris loyalists (these things can be self-fulfilling of course.) The latest “nudge, nudge, have you heard” is that Ms Harris will be offered the next place to come up on the Supreme Court. This might be very soon; the next retiree will likely be Stephen Breyer, aged 83, from California, and left-leaning. Judge Breyer no doubt would be honoured to move aside for his fellow Californian lawyer Ms Harris, if she wanted the job. Would she? She would have to resign as Vice President, but she may think it better to have long-term influence than become unemployed, as it looks as though she could be, in 2024. There is no constitutional obstacle to such a move, at least so far as anybody knows, but it has never previously happened.
The Vice President would then have to be replaced, which (remember all those checks and balances the Founding Fathers built into the constitution) is proposed by the President but has to be approved by Congress. Chaos, you may think. It has only happened twice since the forming of the Republic, the last being after the resignation of Spiro Agnew in 1973. Then, both houses rapidly approved President Nixon’s choice, Gerald Ford – who unexpectedly ended up as President less than a year later. It seems likely that Congress, deploring a vacuum and especially so in these times, would accept President Biden’s nomination. After all, the Democrats are almost bound to, and the Republicans expect to win control of both houses in the mid-terms next November, so the Biden administration will be pretty stymied from then on anyway. And, to take a really cynical view, if the mysterious controllers of Mr Biden in his basement wanted to impose somebody leftish as Veep, somebody who might slide easily into the Democrat Presidential nomination in 2024, the Republicans might happily go along with that. They after all do not think there is any Democrat candidate with popular appeal to a battered and tired nation. The one they feared was Biden; now, who else is there?
This may all be getting a bit far-fetched – though perhaps not unrealistically so, but it seems very likely there could be a vacancy for a running mate in 2024. Post your applications early because there may be a large field. There is likely to be a vacancy for the top nomineeship as well; if Kamala is promoted sideways, then can Joe be far behind? He might have looked like a winner eighteen months ago; he won’t after another three years of ageing and stress and boo-boos.
But don’t fancy either of those? You could also consider a possible couple of vacancies on the other side of the spectrum. If D. Trump runs again – and it is looking likely – he too will want a new vice presidential partner alongside him. Mike Pence it won’t be. But will the Republican nominee even be the Donald? Sometime early in the New Year, with the editor’s permission, we will explore the possibility of Trumpism - without Trump.