John M. Crisp, Tribune News Service
If an increasingly possible scenario develops—a 2024 rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump—age will be an issue. But not just Biden’s. Certainly, Biden is advanced in years. On Election Day 2024, he will be 81. But Trump will be 78. And while Biden is trim, athletic and a reasonably responsible eater, Trump is overweight, exercise-averse and devoted to fried chicken and cheeseburgers. Imagine either of these men as president in 2025 and speculate on which one is more likely to live through a four-year term. It’s hard to say. Therefore the vice presidential choice for both candidates is more important than usual. The only thing certain about Trump’s running mate is that it won’t be his insufficiently loyal former vice president, Mike Pence, who appears to be mounting a weak run against Trump. Reportedly Marjorie Taylor Greene is a possibility as a running mate, as is Kari Lake, who refuses to concede her defeat in the race for Arizona’s governorship.
Both of these women are difficult to imagine as president, but a moderate Republican—man or woman—who would be willing to run with Trump may be hard to find. In any case, the dubious assumption that Trump will live longer than Biden puts a focus on Kamala Harris, our current vice president and undoubtedly Biden’s running mate in 2024.
In 2020 Harris wasn’t a particularly strong candidate for president, and her two years as vice president have been undistinguished. A primary theme of the Republican campaign against Biden is already the idea that a vote for Biden is really a vote for an unqualified Harris. But this sort of thinking goes wrong in at least three ways: First, concern that any president won’t survive his entire term doesn’t give the Constitution enough credit. The presidency was designed to continue in the event of an unexpected vacancy, and the system has worked smoothly at least nine times. So we should not be afraid to elect a president who is old. That’s what the vice president is for. Second, this isn’t fair to Kamala Harris. The vice president’s job is to be undistinguished, and Biden’s decision to task her with an intractable problem such as border security was always a recipe for failure. We actually have little idea what kind of president she would be.
For several years I’ve been unhurriedly reading my way through presidential biographies. I’m on number 39, Jimmy Carter; I haven’t skipped any, not even Millard Fillmore and Martin Van Buren. One thing that I’ve learned is that trying to predict a president’s performance based on qualifications and record is a sketchy business. Chester Arthur and Harry Truman are good examples of undistinguished men who served creditably. Even Abraham Lincoln was just a hayseed lawyer from Illinois. In short, there’s no way of knowing how a president will perform. That includes Harris.
Finally, the Founders would probably be dismayed at the power and prominence of the modern presidency. A less prominent presence in the White House might be a healthy antidote for what has been called in recent years the “imperial presidency.” In short, a Harris presidency might even be good for our republic.
In any case, if you’re considering declining to vote for Biden because of the possibility of a President Harris, remember that a vote for Trump is a vote for his vice president, as well. I doubt that he will choose Marjorie Taylor Greene. Jewish space lasers and the notion of a “national divorce” might be too much, even for Trump. But you can be certain that Trump’s VP pick will support the thoroughly debunked idea that the 2020 election was stolen and will demonstrate unalloyed loyalty to Trump’s most authoritarian impulses, including his suggestion in December that the “termination” of parts of the Constitution is sometimes called for. Better to rely on a constitutional system that has worked for more than 230 years, even if it means a comparatively less powerful and accomplished president, than to accept a regime that has already demonstrated its contempt for democracy.
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