The typical Donald Trump supporter claims to do so, in part, because “he is not afraid to say what I am thinking.”
Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, the candidate least likely to succeed as the next Republican presidential nominee, has also been saying what millions of Americans are thinking. She has stated on the campaign trail that because of his age, Joe Biden will likely die in office or otherwise be unable to serve out a second, so “a vote for Biden is in fact a vote for Kamala Harris as the next president.”
What she really means is a “second Black president.” And the odds are that she is right. Haley tries to disguise this covert racist appeal by claiming that Harris is incompetent, has poor approval ratings and has been a failure as vice president. Haley also claims that her assertions cannot be racist or sexist because she, like Harris, is a woman of Indian descent.
Haley’s strategy is premised on the belief that Donald Trump’s election in 2016 was a White backlash to Barack Obama’s election as the first Black president. And she assumes that another Black person cannot be elected president in the current political climate. She is right as to both.
So she prefers to run against a Black woman who is not a candidate rather than the White man who is. Her warnings about the prospect of a Harris presidency if Biden dies in office, is reminiscent of an incredulous Bill Clinton’s take on Barack Obama defeating Hillary Clinton in the 2008 South Carolina Democratic primary, when he effectively said, Y’all do know that he is Black.
The only person who will benefit? Trump
Haley’s gambit will avail her nothing because she has no chance of becoming the Republican nominee, in part because she is a woman and a minority. The only person who will benefit is Donald Trump because she is saying what he and his supporters are thinking and hoping.
The 2024 presidential election will be the most consequential since Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1861. That year the issue of race tore the country apart and threatened the nascent experiment in democracy that was less than 100 years old. If Haley’s framing is correct, and I believe that it is, then the upcoming election is a binary, existential choice for America, that will determine whether we can keep our democracy. And as in 1865, the issue of race animates the choice.
Rather than agonizing over whether Biden and Harris can win in 2024, Democrats should devote their remaining time and substantial resources to Black voter registration and turnout.
No vice president in American history has received high approval ratings based on performance as vice president. When asked to rank the top five vice presidents, historians list John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and George H.W. Bush, all of whom were later elected president. It was the high visibility and “frontrunner” status that the position conferred that made these men electable as president rather than any exemplary performance as vice president.
That advantage, which was an asset for White men, is now said to be a liability for Harris, whose performance as vice president is being scrutinized by a different standard to disqualify her as Biden’s successor if he dies in office. Eight of the 46 presidents who have served died in office, and one resigned. No one questioned the qualifications of the vice presidents who were their successors.
The most influential vice president in recent memory was George W. Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney, and that was for the wrong reasons. Cheney, who had worked for former President George H. W. Bush, was handpicked by Bush Sr. and other Republican power brokers to serve as the caretaker for his son W., whom they knew was not qualified to be president. This influential vice president created the pretext that led America into a protracted war with Iraq in 2003 that resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of people and destabilized the Middle East.
Cheney’s approval ratings when he left office in 2009 was 13 percent down from 68 percent after the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. There are no other published polls on the performance of any of the other vice presidents, all of whom were White and male. The results of an internet search of “vice presidents approval ratings” all refer to Harris but none of her White male predecessors.
Apparently, Haley’s statement reflects what millions of people from across the political spectrum are thinking — including conservatives, moderates, and liberals. Some in these groups are motivated by racism and sexism, others by pragmatic concerns that a Black woman cannot be elected president.
That is a moot point because Harris is not running for president. For Haley and others on her side of the political spectrum, it evidences the persistence of the racism that has permeated American society since its founding in 1619 and that ebbs and flows in cycles. The only time in American history that a vice presidential candidate may have influenced the outcome of a presidential election was in 2008, when an obviously unqualified Sarah Palin was John McCain’s running mate.
People on the opposite side of the political spectrum who share Haley’s view about Biden’s age and Harris as his successor are motivated by an unarticulated but legitimate fear that Americans could actually choose an ignorant, criminal, anti-democracy, racist who fomented an insurrection over Biden, simply because his running mate is a Black woman — they and I fear that America’s racist chickens will come home to roost in 2024.
What is the solution?
The problem is that the solutions they propose are unrealistic and unprecedented. For example, Washington Post columnist Dave Ignatius and others approach the issue by arguing that Biden is too old and, for the good of the country, he should voluntarily withdraw as the Democratic nominee to allow a younger candidate to emerge. They don’t identify who that candidate might be and whether he or she can defeat Trump. They obviously don’t believe polls that suggest that Biden, who beat Trump in 2020, has the best chance of beating him again in 2024.
Haley’s statement reflects what millions of people from across the political spectrum are thinking … Some are motivated by racism and sexism, others, by pragmatic concerns that a Black woman cannot be elected president.
No one, from either party, is suggesting that Trump, who is only three years younger than Biden and has not selected a running mate, should withdraw. So it is clear that Harris’ race is driving this discussion. Other than George Washington, the only sitting president who was eligible to run for reelection and declined to do so was Lyndon Johnson, who served six years, the remaining two years of John Kennedy’s term, and four years of his own.
Others have suggested that the Democrats at their convention in the summer of 2024 could conclude that a Biden-Harris ticket is unelectable in the current political climate and come up with an alternate slate. Such a suggestion would destroy the Democratic Party and ensure Trump’s election, if in fact, he is the Republican nominee. (There is no guarantee that Trump, who will be 78 in 2024, and is in poor physical condition, evidencing mental decline, and facing numerous legal challenges, will be around at all.) The only rationale for choosing an alternate slate is that the Democrats believe that Americans will not again elect a slate that has a Black woman.
The result would be catastrophic because Black voters, who are the largest and most loyal block of Democrats and other minority voters, would simply not show up to vote.
As the Constitutional Convention ended in Philadelphia in 1787, 236 years ago this month, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, “Dr. Franklin, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” to which he replied, “A republic if we can keep it.” Rather than agonizing over whether Biden and Harris can win in 2024, Democrats should devote their remaining time and substantial resources to Black voter registration and turnout. As Black people have demonstrated in most presidential elections this century including both of Obama’s elections and Biden’s in 2020, if we “show up and show off” at the polls, we can prove that Haley is wrong, keep the republic, and save democracy.
Carl Singley is of counsel at the Tucker Law Group and the former Dean of Temple Law School.
The Citizen welcomes guest commentary from community members who stipulate to the best of their ability that it is fact-based and non-defamatory.
MORE ON POLITICS FROM THE CITIZENLeft: Vice President Kamala Harris. Right: Former Governor Nikki Haley. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.