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Dems Try Harris on for Size
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Dems Try Harris on for Size

Biden’s prime-time interview was not reassuring.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House on July 4, 2024. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House on July 4, 2024. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

We’ve now seen President Joe Biden’s first interview since he drove his campaign into a ditch in last week’s presidential debate. It was not reassuring.

But it couldn’t be. Biden can’t become a different person or de-age 20 years, and he especially can’t do it with the whole world coming down on him. Indeed, the Democrats who have been calling on him to get out there and dispel the doubts about his candidacy are asking the man who, until nine days ago was their presumptive nominee, to walk into a buzz saw.

Biden will have to face reporters in an open press conference next week at a NATO summit in Washington. What should be a moment for an incumbent to play American colossus bestride the world stage will be yet another make-or-break moment for his presidency. He could hide from the press, and that would be even worse. 

Now that so many in the media and his party have said out loud what has been so obviously true for so long—that Biden is much diminished and often seems lost at sea—every big moment reinforces the story of a crisis in confidence. It may be unfair to Biden that he’s taking a beating from his own party and the press for something that was no more or less true before the debate than it was after, but the pack mentality of politics is always a brutal business. 

Congress is set to return Monday from its Independence Day recess and once reliable Biden allies are making moves against him. Most ominous for Biden is the news that Sen. Mark Warner, the respected Virginia Democrat who serves as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is said to be gathering a group of his fellow Senate Democrats to lower the boom on Biden. Just a week ago, we said that this was a possible, but not probable, scenario. Today, the reverse is true.

And the best evidence of that is how much effort is already going into positioning for who comes after Biden. 

Rep. Jim Clyburn, the South Carolina kingmaker, is already floating plans for how to replace Biden as the nominee, a “mini-primary”  that would offer at least a patina of a democratic process but avoid both chaos and the chance of a nominee even more dubious than the incumbent. As the race to replace Biden intensifies, getting the sitting president to abandon his reelection bid will shift from being a scary leap into the unknown to a necessary precondition for the various factions of the party to maneuver for what comes next.

People don’t want to be the first to move against the leader of the party, but neither do they want to be the last to get in position to help pick the next one. Opportunity costs shift from early birds to late risers.  

Two consequential questions for Democrats this weekend:

If Biden is too infirm to run for president, is he too infirm to be president?

If that process can be completed in time, which nominee would stand the best chance of winning the shortest general election campaign in modern history?

Unless you just fell out of a coconut tree, you know that the answers to all of those questions run through—or over—Vice President Kamala Harris.  

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has already offered his assessment of the vice president as a potential foe: “She’s so bad. She’s so pathetic. She’s so f—ing bad.”

A rising star who quickly burned out in her own 2020 presidential run, Harris has been pretting bleeping bad as a politician in the past five years. Even her selection as running mate was tainted by Biden declaring long in advance that his choice would be a black woman, a sop to disappointed voters who wanted a barrier-breaking nominee but ended up with an elderly white man from Delaware. Rather than Biden treating her as a fierce competitor whom he accepted to a team of rivals out of respect for her talents, Harris was added to the ticket as a diversity hire.

And she has had, even by the miserable standards of the vice presidency, an inglorious time as second banana. So bad that Trump’s profane offering is actually a pretty good reflection of the conventional wisdom around Harris, so much so that the idea that Harris was actually less popular than Biden became a reliable, bipartisan trope around Washington.

But what that misses is that Harris is less familiar to voters than Biden. While he consistently outperforms her on favorability ratings by a couple of points, that’s mostly because of voters who haven’t formed hard opinions about her. In a February poll for the New York Times, 38 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of Biden compared to 36 percent for Harris. Less popular, right? But look at the unfavorables: Biden was viewed unfavorably by 59 percent of respondents compared to 55 percent for Harris. He was more popular, she was less unpopular. 

We see the same thing in that poll’s head-to-head matchups with Trump. It was Biden 43 percent to Trump 48 percent compared to Harris 41 percent to Trump 47 percent. Trump didn’t do better against Harris, he did worse. She just couldn’t match Biden’s topline. 

That changed with the debate, as we saw in the CNN poll out this week that found Biden trailing Trump by 6 points but Harris behind by only 2 points. Democrats desperate for an alternative were happy to glom on to Harris, enough so to put the race in a statistical tie.

I commend to you my colleague Nate Moore’s fine analysis of that poll from the site of my other colleague Ruy Texeria, but here’s the money graphic: 

And here’s Nate’s takeaway:

The underlying numbers offer additional hope for Harris, who does noticeably better with the groups most reluctant to Biden’s candidacy. She wins nonwhite voters by 29 points compared to Biden’s 21. She wins 18-34 year olds by a point, while Biden loses them by 6. Independents back Harris over Trump by three points, but Trump over Biden by 10 points. All these groups are overrepresented among ‘double haters’—which indicates one of Harris’s main advantages is simply that she isn’t Biden or Trump.

How would all of that look once $1 billion gets spent for and against Harris as a potential nominee? Maybe she ends up where Biden was pre-debate: Locked in a very close race but unable to win in the Electoral College. But she has more room to grow than Biden for sure, and the name recognition and national status that the other potential contenders lack. Plus, she has the clearest means to use the money the campaign has already raised.

I bet Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, and other presidential aspirants hope Biden guts it out. They’d have a hard time getting past the sitting vice president if the president gets toppled, and a Harris Hail Mary, if successful, could mean delaying their own ambitions not just to 2028 but 2032.

Harris would be an underdog in a race with Trump, for sure. But with Biden looking like a sure loser, Democrats might prefer an uncertain chance for victory to certain defeat.

Holy croakano! We welcome your feedback, so please email us with your tips, corrections, 

reactions, amplifications, etc. at STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. If you’d like to be considered for publication, please include your real name and hometown. If you don’t want your comments to be made public, please specify.


Biden Job Performance
Average approval: 38.4%
Average disapproval: 59.6%
Net score: -21.2 points 

Change from one week ago: ↓ 3.4 points

Change from one month ago: ↓ 4.6 points

[Average includes: New York Times/Siena: 34% approve-62% disapprove; CNN: 36% approve-62% disapprove; AP/NORC: 39% approve-61% disapprove; Gallup: 38% approve-58% disapprove; Fox News: 45% approve-55% disapprove]

General Election

Donald Trump: 41.4% (↓ 0.6 points from one week ago)
Joe Biden: 37.2%  (↓ 2.8)
Robert F. Kennedy Jr: 10.2% (↑ 1.0)

[Average includes: New York Times/Siena: Trump 42%-Biden 37%-Kennedy 8%; Suffolk/USA Today: Trump 41%-Biden 38%-Kennedy 8%; CNN/SSRS: Trump 41%-Biden 35%-Kennedy 14%; TIPP: Trump 40%-Biden 39%-Kennedy 10%; Quinnipiac: Trump 43%-Biden 37%-Kennedy 11%]


New York Times: “Finally, May 23, 1982, arrived. Three cars took the family from Cần Giuộc to Vũng Tàu [Vietnam]. … The moment came. A pitter-patter of feet darting through the jungle bordering the shoreline. … Kieu Thuy, 12, pulling her sister along, burst, ‘We’re going to America!’ … In the spring of 1983, Dinh and Hongyen, along with their five children, arrived in the United States. … They settled about 30 miles south of Los Angeles. … In time, they created families of their own. [Kieu Thuy] met her husband, Douglas Vu, a fellow first-generation Vietnamese immigrant, and had two children. … Here is Lilia Vu. … Lilia is a 26-year-old professional golfer. … Today, after 28 weeks ranked No. 1 in the world between August 2023 and March 2024, Lilia is a bona fide star. … And four years after Dinh Du’s passing, his granddaughter, Lilia Vu — Kha-Tu Du Vu — will represent the United States in the XXXIII Olympic Summer Games. ‘I’ve learned that if you want something, you have to go,’ she says.”


New York Times: “Donald J. Trump’s lead in the 2024 presidential race has widened after President Biden’s fumbling debate performance last week, as concerns that Mr. Biden is too old to govern effectively rose to new heights among Democrats and independent voters. … Mr. Trump now leads Mr. Biden 49 percent to 43 percent among likely voters nationally, a three-point swing toward the Republican from just a week earlier, before the debate. … A majority of every demographic, geographic and ideological group in the poll — including Black voters and those who said they will still be voting for him — believe Mr. Biden, 81, is too old to be effective. … Half of voters go much further: A full 50 percent agree that his ‘age is such a problem that he is not capable of handling the job of president,’ including 55 percent of independent voters.” 

White House circles the wagons as defections mount: New York Times: “Mr. Biden’s operation hoped to assert fresh control on Wednesday, holding a call with a group of Democratic governors, in person and virtually, as he seeks to shore up support after days of private hand-wringing went public in sudden and quick succession. … On Tuesday, Mr. Biden suffered his first formal call to resign from the race from a Democratic member of Congress. … Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said after Mr. Biden’s halting debate performance that it was ‘a legitimate question to say, “Is this an episode or is this a condition?”’ … A private set of polls from a pro-Biden super PAC leaked to the news site Puck showed the president losing ground — around two percentage points — across all the most important battleground states. … Privately, many Democrats have said that they must now ensure they win the House to prevent Republicans from controlling all three branches of government.” 

Hunter a regular presence in White House meetings: NBC News: “Hunter Biden has joined meetings with President Joe Biden and his top aides since his father returned to the White House from Camp David, Maryland, on Monday evening. … The president’s son has also been talking to senior White House staff members. … While he is regularly at the White House residence and events, it is unusual for Hunter Biden to be in and around meetings his father is having with his team, these people said. They said the president’s aides were struck by his presence during their discussions. … NBC News has reported that Hunter Biden is among the immediate family members urging the president to stay in the race.”

Red-district Dems feel doom about Biden’s chances: New York Times: “Two House Democrats facing challenging re-election races in rural districts said on Tuesday that President Biden would lose in November to former President Donald J. Trump. … The two Democrats, Representatives Jared Golden of Maine and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez of Washington, did not call on Mr. Biden to step aside, nor did they indicate that any other Democrat stood a better chance of defeating Mr. Trump in the fall. … But Mr. Golden and Ms. Gluesenkamp Perez … essentially delivered a warning that they were preparing for Mr. Biden to be a critical liability at the top of the ticket. A poor performance by Mr. Biden in the presidential election could doom their own chances for re-election.”

RNC TO CHANGE ABORTION STANCE ‘BEHIND CLOSED DOORS’ Semafor: “In a break from decades-long precedent, reporters and spectators will not be allowed to watch next week’s party platform committee proceedings in Milwaukee. … It’s in contrast with the Democratic Party, which will once again stream its platform negotiations, and allow reporters to cover them. … ‘The lack of transparency is unwelcome,’ said Oscar Brock, an RNC committeeman from Tennessee. … Questions about this year’s platform have focused largely on potential changes to abortion language. … Anti-abortion activists, frustrated by Donald Trump’s promise to leave the issue to the states, have called for strong language to stay in the platform.” 

Trump sentencing pushed to September after immunity appeal: NBC News: “In less than a week, Trump’s legal woes have been significantly minimized for now by the courts. … The latest bump for Trump came this week when the U.S. Supreme Court handed him a win, saying core presidential functions are immune from prosecution, a decision that could hobble the prosecutions he still faces. As a result of that ruling, the judge in his New York hush money case delayed his sentencing Tuesday after the jury found him guilty of 34 counts of falsifying business records. … His sentencing was originally scheduled for next week, but now it won’t be held until at least September — a delay that helps Trump avoid having the severity of his crime cemented in voters’ minds by having a sentence handed down. And it extends Biden’s bad news cycle as Trump heads into the Republican National Convention in less than two weeks.”


Rep. Elissa Slotkin makes massive ad buy as Michigan primary nears—ABC News

After crossing Trump, Rep. Bob Good loses primary—The Hill

Dem leaders rally behind embattled Rep. Cori BushPolitico


“I really do criticize the campaign for a dismissive attitude towards people who are raising questions for discussion. That’s just the reality that we’re in. That’s hardly — I won’t repeat their term.”—Democratic Sen. Peter Welch of Vermont chastises the Biden campaign for referring to those with concerns about the president’s standing as “the bedwetting brigade.” 

You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes, and, always, good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let us know in the email if you want to keep your submission private. My colleague, the peak season Nate Moore, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!


President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden visit a Biden-Harris campaign debate watch party in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 27, 2024, after President Biden debated Donald Trump. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden visit a Biden-Harris campaign debate watch party in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 27, 2024, after President Biden debated Donald Trump. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Our Cutline Contest players are most certainly word people, and proved it this week with their focus on the text on the monitors in the background of this photo of President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden. The unfortunate double meaning of the exhortation “Let’s go Joe” drew many entrants, but our winner was the one who put the joke in actual cutline form.

“The Biden campaign’s graphic design team takes matters into their own hands after Joe Biden’s poor debate performance on June 27th, 2024.”—Jonathan Mahlum, Orting, Washington

Winner, The Soft Bigotry Division:

“Educator Dr. Jill Biden posits debate grading on a ‘c

urve.’”—Linda McKee, DuBois, Pennsylvania

Winner, B, 81 Division:

“When Grand-Dad gets ‘Bean-o’ at the Thursday Night Square Dance and Bingo Call.”—Tripp Whitbeck, Arlington, Virginia

Winner, 4077th Division:

“‘Major Burns is tired of the lack of discipline in this camp. And Major Burns is tired of being disrespected,’ cried Major Houlihan.”—Jeff Tatusko

Winner, Garage Sale Division:

“Let’s start the bidding on a 1967 Chevy Corvette convertible Stingray at $90,000!”—Dave Rae, Aberdeen, Maryland

Winner, Woodrow or Wouldn’t Division:

“Dr. Jill Biden addresses the brunch crowd at the Edith Wilson School of Crisis Management.”—Jeremy Felden, Alpine, Colorado

Winner, Dance Party Division:

“Ok, Joe, you’ve had your fun as president.  Now it’s my turn to pursue my dream of being a DJ.”—Greg Akin, Sanger, California

June winner 

Our prize for June belongs to a surprising literary turn for what is usually a contest of deliberate and determined goofiness. Contestant Cannon Alsobrook of  Smyrna, Georgia scored a win with a reference to The Great Gatsby for this photo from our June 15 edition: “Over the ashheaps the giant eyes of Donald J. Trump kept their vigil …”

When it came to politics, F. Scott Fitzgerald was, at most, the kind of half-hearted socialist that fashionable artists and writers of his generation tended to favor. He did try his hand at political satire, spoofing then-President Warren Harding and the Teapot Dome scandal, but it was a flop.

But the writer did have his own brush with political history. When Fitzgerald dropped out of Princeton in 1917 to enlist for World War I, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and sent to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas for training, where one of his instructors was none other than Dwight Eisenhower. The young Fitzgerald wasn’t a fan, sleeping through Ike’s lectures and occasionally drawing his wrath.

So to this month’s victor go the spoils: A button from the 1952 presidential campaign that features “Ike and Nixon” against a very stylized, M\idcentury depiction of the Capitol. But even better, a ticket to our annual contest and the chance at a delicious ham. Please send along your mailing address, Mr. Alsobrook, so that you can reap your reward.

Stirewalt on Politics is taking a brief summer recess next week, but we shall return July 20, tanned, rested, and ready for the drive to November.


Associated Press: “To save the imperiled spotted owl from potential extinction, U.S. wildlife officials are embracing a contentious plan to deploy trained shooters into dense West Coast forests to kill almost a half-million barred owls that are crowding out their cousins. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service strategy released Wednesday is meant to prop up declining spotted owl populations in Oregon, Washington state and California. The Associated Press obtained details in advance. Documents released by the agency show up to about 450,000 barred owls would be shot over three decades after the birds from the eastern U.S. encroached into the West Coast territory of two owls: northern spotted owls and California spotted owls. The smaller spotted owls have been unable to compete with the invaders, which have large broods and need less room to survive than spotted owls.”

Nate Moore contributed to this report.

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, co-host of the Ink Stained Wretches podcast, and author of Broken News, a book on media and politics.