Throughout the 2020 Presidential election season there has been speculation that the election of Joe Biden was really a vehicle to place a true leftist into a position to become President. Biden’s age and the perception by some that he is in mental decline seems to make it likely he will not serve two terms for a total of eight years. If he does, would Kamala Harris, his vice-president, likely be poised to run and win in 2028, or if he bows out after one term, in 2024? Another possibility is that he would die in office (or become incompetent to function and the Twenty-Fifth Amendment procedure could be invoked to put Harris in the White House, temporarily or for the duration of Biden’s term).
It might be useful to look at Vice-Presidential succession during the past two centuries.
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were the first two VPs who succeeded their President. But both were elected under the pre-Twelfth Amendment procedure where the candidate with the second highest number of Electoral votes was elected as VP.
Since then twelve Vice-Presidents have made it to the Presidency; Biden will be the thirteenth (unlucky?). Three were first elected in their own right: Martin Van Buren, Richard Nixon, and George H. W. Bush. Nine were “accidental” in that they succeeded Presidents whose terms were cut short, eight by death, Nixon by resignation.
Using the Vice-Presidency as a stepping-stone appears to be a recent phenomenon. One reason for this is that the only Constitutional duty the VP has, other than wait on the sidelines to step if the President dies, resigns, or is removed, is to preside over the Senate. Most candidates were chosen to “balance the ticket” or mollify factions. Until recently, Presidents mostly used their Vice for ceremonial or other feel-good purposes and had no interest in promoting their political prospects. Prior to 1960, Van Buren was the only VP who was nominated and elected to follow a President who completed his term(s). Several failed to follow their Presidents into the White House: Humphrey, Mondale, and Gore. Nixon failed to immediately follow Eisenhower, but was elected eight years later in 1968. George H. W. Bush was elected in 1988, immediately following Reagan’s two terms. Of the accidental Presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, Coolidge, Truman, and Lyndon Johnson were elected in their own right after finishing their President’s remaining term, The other five were not.
All this is to suggest that if Harris were to become our first woman President, it will probably be the result of Biden leaving office prior to the end of his term, first or second. Furthermore, dubbing her as “accidental” would not be appropriate. It cannot be lost on observers that Harris was selected by the Democrat Party precisely for that purpose. Of course, another benefit to Harris’ candidacy was to shore up support from the party’s left wing, who might have otherwise sat on their hands. She’s a three-fer: a committed leftist, is the right sex, and has the right complexion for the so-called woke crowd.
A year or so ago, I saw Nikki Haley speak in Dallas. Her presentation suggested to me that it was probable that she would be the first woman President. That possibility has not gone away. Perhaps sooner than we think, there will be two female nominees, each one the daughter of immigrants. That would be a hoot (and I would still bet on Haley). But like everything else in this brave and crazy new world, only time will tell.
Note: Dave Berry in a year-end column pointed out that Kamala Harris’ name is an anagram of “I alarm a shark”! Joe Biden is “I need job”!