Analysis: GOP focuses on Harris and suggests Biden won’t live to 2028

President Biden and Vice President Harris share a moment after giving a Covid-19 Update in the Rose Garden at the White House on May 13, 2021. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Demetrius Freeman

President Biden’s formal announcement that he seeks reelection has led to a boom in pieces on what role Vice President Harris will play, and an explosion of conservative commentary that 2024 is just as much a referendum on her as it is about the candidate at the top of the ticket.

Harris appears prominently and frequently in the president’s official launch video – not just at Biden’s side, but on her own. There’s nothing especially surprising there. She’s the sitting vice president and his running mate. It would have been weird if she had been absent.

In some ways, what’s going on over in the GOP is more interesting, even if the political payoffs are pretty obvious.

-First and foremost, the tactic reminds voters that Biden, at 80, is the oldest president ever and would be 86 when he finishes a hypothetical second term. (Former president Donald Trump, who currently leads the Republican pack, is 76.)

-It puts the spotlight on a vice president whom GOP base voters dislike even more than they dislike Biden. (Her overall job approval isn’t that much worse than his, though neither possesses enviable numbers.)

Two caveats: The GOP has attacked Harris since she was picked, and the argument didn’t work in 2020 or 2022.

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The GOP’s actuarial table argument

Many Republicans are not being subtle in their message to voters, and it’s a bit macabre: They argue Biden is likely to die of old age before the end of a possible second term, and Harris would become president.

“I think that we can all be very clear and say with a matter of fact that if you vote for Joe Biden you really are counting on a President Harris,” GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley told Fox News last week, “because the idea that he would make it until 86 years old is not something that I think is likely.”

“Joe Biden is 142 years old,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told Fox Business last week. “In a very real sense, this election, the Democrats are suggesting Kamala Harris for president” because there’s “a very real possibility that Kamala Harris becomes the president” if Biden wins.

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The counter on age

Biden’s doctors recently declared him “a healthy, vigorous, 80-year-old male who is fit to successfully execute duties of the presidency.” He is known to resent the persistent discussion of his age.

At the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on Saturday, the president turned to humor to try to defuse the question. (He did the same thing at last year’s dinner, so when it comes to inoculating him, the event isn’t exactly burying the needle.)


-The First Amendment? “My good friend Jimmy Madison wrote it.”

-“You might think I don’t like Rupert Murdoch. That’s simply not true. How could I dislike the guy who makes me look like Harry Styles?”

And of course, part of the strategy is to argue that Biden has a capable successor in Harris.

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The counter on Kamala

Whatever the tensions between president and vice president and their respective teams – Biden referred to her as “a work in progress” a few months into his term, according to “The Fight of His Life” by Chris Whipple – the White House and Bidenworld more broadly have swung entirely behind her.

There are two broad tacks. First, public shows of support. Second, efforts to elevate her profile and identify her even more closely with some of the administration’s biggest priorities (reproductive rights, for instance) that proved pivotal for Democrats in the 2022 midterms.

So both White House chief of staff Jeffrey Zients and communications director Ben LaBolt jumped to her defense on Twitter after Jeff Mason and Nandita Bose of Reuters wrote Harris struggles with “low poll ratings, a failure to win over the Washington establishment and concern among fellow Democrats about an underwhelming start in the job.”

Former Biden chief of staff Ron Klain did an interview with journalist Kara Swisher last week. He partly blamed “sexism and racism” against the first vice president who is a woman, Black and Asian American. But this part of Klain’s comment stood out:

“I think she was not as well known in national politics before she became vice president,” he said, “And I think hopefully during the campaign season, the American people will get more of a chance to see her on the stump and get to know her a little better.”

She’s been vice president for two years! But a former Harris aide, who spoke to The Post on the condition of anonymity to be more candid, said that’s part of the problem.

She is Biden’s top political partner, playing the traditional role of vice president, promoting whatever issue of the day the White House wants pushed. That’s “actually increasing her ability to know and manage the issues of governing,” the former aide said.

But it also conflicts with “her communications team’s ability to hone [sic] in on a few things and make those her hallmarks,” said the aide, who specifically cited access to abortion as a politically potent issue she has worked to make her own.

And that, of course, could position her well for 2028.



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