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But What About Johnny Unbeatable?

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I’ve lost a ton of respect for Ezra Klein over his fantasies about a new Democratic candidate. I suppose it’s not surprising to watch that generation of pundit go into Full Beltway Mode, but when the people you talk to are other Beltway elites, this happens. Nate Silver is an even more hilarious transition since he based his career on being the data guy who would show the journalists what really matters and ended up becoming the Prophet of Conventional Wisdom. In any case, the whole idea that Biden could be replaced by some obviously amazing candidate is risible on the face of it. It’s even more absurd when the obvious replacement is Kamala Harris, who the mainstream media also hates for some reason and who thus has very low approval ratings.

Were he to drop out, Biden would have to endorse Harris, the first woman vice president. Not doing so, as Michael Cohen argued in a thread on X this week, would cause an intraparty firestorm and possibly tarnish his legacy. But there’s another obvious reason he’d endorse her: to foreclose a contest to replace him. Biden, who united disparate wings of the party after defeating Trump in 2020, surely would want to avoid a monthslong battle royale that culminates in a chaotic convention—one that may result in a nominee whose name many Americans don’t even know.

Endorsing Harris would effectively make her bulletproof. She would inherit his campaign infrastructure and delegates, giving her a head start over any potential challengers—including Newsom, who has been conspicuously building a national profile over the last couple of years. (Even if Biden didn’t endorse Harris, she would still have huge advantages in fundraising and infrastructure.)

But now we arrive at the other problem. Ordinarily one could expect the vice president to succeed the president in the event of an eleventh-hour decision to not seek reelection, but voters like Harris even less than Biden. This has been borne out in polling, which regularly shows her faring even worse against Trump than Biden. That’s a rather knotty kink in the argument for replacing Biden.

Klein, to his credit, takes Harris seriously as a candidate, arguing that she is “underrated” even as he acknowledges—in an understatement—that she “has not thrived as vice president.” Still, the idea that an untested candidate like Whitmer or Pritzker—or even Newsom, for that matter—would do better on the national stage than Harris, who served for four years in the Senate, ran a (pretty terrible) presidential campaign, and has been vice president for the last three years, strikes me as unfounded at best. Freed from the shackles of the vice presidency—and allowed to be herself—Harris could conceivably grow on the public.

Yeah, maybe. But she’s not Johnny Unbeatable, the perfect (read, white male candidate with good hair and Beltway approved policy positions) candidate that exists solely in the mind of the Beltway elite. David Broder approves of this entire discourse.

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