Encouraged by President Joe Biden’s consistently weak poll numbers, the Republican contenders participating in last night’s presidential debate repeatedly lashed out at his administration and policies. But as politically vulnerable as the president appears to be, he may not be the most vulnerable member of the Democratic ticket.
When the Democratic Party delegates convene to nominate their presidential and vice presidential candidates for next year’s election, it is Vice President Kamala Harris who may find herself stranded in the more precarious position.
State law will protect President Biden after he wins every primary, thus locking the individual delegates’ votes through the first ballot and, in some states, the second and third convention roll calls. No such protection is awarded to the vice presidential contender. While voters in every state collectively determine the presidential nominee, the convention delegates have the sole power to accept or reject that nominee’s choice as a running mate.
With Vice President Kamala Harris’ approval numbers consistently dropping even below President Biden’s typically poor showing, jittery delegates might believe replacing Ms. Harris would strengthen the party’s chances next November.
Ironically, the parallels between the 1944 and 2024 presidential election campaigns are staggering. Could what happened at the 1944 Democratic National Convention repeat itself at the party’s 2024 nomination gathering?
Despite President Biden’s advanced age and questionable health, most pundits expect he will seek re-election and secure re-nomination. Winning the general election and completing another term, however, is far from certain.
Democrats ventured to Chicago in the summer of 1944 for their national political convention. Where are Democrats holding their convention next year? Chicago.
In 1944, Vice President Henry Wallace was considered an electoral liability by Democratic Party insiders. According to historian David McCullough, they believed having Wallace on the ticket could cause the Democrats to lose two or three million votes and ultimately “the loss of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and California.”
Similarly, as a recent headline (“The VP is a Drag on the Ticket”) suggests, Vice President Harris is also considered a drag on the presidential ticket. Within a year of assuming office, she sported the lowest approval rating (28%) of any sitting vice president in fifty years.
Today, Vice President Harris’ net favorability rating (approval rating minus disapproval rating) is -16.3 percentage points. While 82% of Democrats hold a favorable opinion of Harris, a whopping 70% of political independents — the voters President Biden will need behind him to win re-election—hold an unfavorable opinion of her.
In 1944, Vice President Wallace was unceremoniously tossed from the ticket in favor of then-Senator Harry Truman. Why? According to McCullough, Franklin Roosevelt viewed Truman “as the one who would do the ticket the least harm.”
The same can’t be said of Kamala Harris, given her decrepit poll numbers.
Another parallel between 1944 and 2024 is the growing concern that the president may not survive an additional term in office.
President Roosevelt turned 62 in April 1944. Due to wartime concerns and political expediency, Roosevelt’s declining health was intentionally kept from the public. His aides and associates, however, knew better.
Ed Flynn, one of FDR’s associates, reportedly urged Mrs. Roosevelt to persuade her husband not to seek re-election, arguing that the president “would never survive his term.” George Allen, one of FDR’s cronies, wrote that FDR’s closest allies “realized that the man nominated to run with Roosevelt would in all probability be the next President ….”
They were right to be concerned. Harry Truman served as vice president for all of 82 days before assuming the presidency upon Roosevelt’s death.
President Biden turned 81 last month. Should he win and survive a second term, he will be 86 years old upon leaving office. According to the Social Security Administration’s Actuarial Life Table, an 81-year-old man has a 7.2% probability of dying within one year. That probability jumps to 12.1% for a man of 86. Those odds are just shy of a game of Russian roulette—a 1 in 6 possibility.
But should President Biden win re-election, his vice president stands a meaningful chance of assuming the top job. President Biden needn’t die for his vice president to assume his office; he could step down in perhaps a mentally or physically disabled condition.
For that reason alone, ambitious Democrats could, in 2024, as in 1944, jockey for their party’s vice presidential nomination. Henry Wallace stood against 15 other men seeking the Democratic nomination for vice president in 1944. How many people will Vice President Harris face next year?
A crowded field of contenders, designed to prevent Harris from securing the vice presidential nomination quickly, could spell the end of her tenuous hold on the office. That could open the door to any number of possibilities. Vice President Michelle Obama? Vice President Amy Klobuchar? Vice President Oprah?
In consolation, President Truman appointed former Vice President Wallace as Secretary of Commerce. In that vein, should Joe Biden secure a second term, we’d like to be the first to congratulate Ambassador Kamala Harris on her new role abroad in the years ahead.
James Carter was a Deputy Undersecretary of Labor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under President George W. Bush. Jim Ellis is the founder of the Ellis Insight election analysis service.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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