Let’s imagine what the global security environment might look like at the start of a second four-year term of a Joe Biden presidency. The war in Ukraine is still ongoing, but public support for the war is waning even while Ukraine continues to make small, incremental gains against Russian forces. In the Middle East, Israel occupies most of Gaza, and Iran continues to challenge the U.S. and Israel militarily through its proxies while also racing to finish acquiring a nuclear weapon. Meanwhile China is engaging in even more provocative military operations—against Taiwan in the wake of the Democratic Progressive Party’s third straight victory in Taiwan’s presidential race and against treaty ally, the Philippines, over the Second Thomas Shoal. And, 2027—the year Chinese leader Xi Jinping has said that China’s military must be ready to invade Taiwan—is now only two years away.
Now imagine the following: On the day of President Biden’s second inaugural ceremony, it’s windy and bitterly cold. Instead of moving the event indoors Biden proceeds with the event on the Capitol steps. Not long after, he comes down with a cold, which eventually turns into pneumonia. Granted, that’s a dramatic and unlikely hypothetical, but just one of many voters must weigh given the president’s age: He could trip and fall during inaugural festivities, or the stresses of the presidency could induce a stroke. Whatever the case may be, his advanced age makes it more and more likely some physical ailment will force his Cabinet to decide whether to invoke the 25th Amendment and hand over the “powers and duties” of the Oval Office to recently reelected Vice President Kamala Harris.
Who would think this was a good idea? Who wouldn’t want a “do-over” in picking Biden’s running mate back in the summer of 2024? Early in his tenure, Biden tasked Harris with the border crisis and Central America policy and she fumbled, showing she was not ready for prime time. She has done nothing since to suggest she is any more ready now. Standing next to the president at important events—as she so often does—doesn’t translate into being able to stand in for him if necessary. And that certainly appears to be the view of the American public. Her favorability rating hasn’t been near 50 percent since September 2021. Since January 2022, her disapproval numbers have outstripped her favorability by double-digits—with the average in the recent months more than 16 points. These are remarkably negative numbers considering how little she appears on the public stage.
We’ve gotten used to presidents picking their running mates with an eye toward how it will help them win in the general election. How their choice for vice president might do if required to assume the presidency is typically an afterthought. And while we put the parties’ nominees through a taxing and extended electoral process that gives citizens some idea of the character and qualities of the candidates, we remained satisfied with the presidential candidates basically picking a name out of hat to run on the ticket. And then we remain satisfied with small tidbits of news about them on the campaign trail and a debate between the vice presidential candidates watched by mostly political junkies and the candidates’ extended families. This despite the fact, as then-Vice President John Adams remarked, “I am nothing but I may be everything.”