Kamala Harris the Ten Year President
In two weeks, Joe Biden will fulfil a lifetime ambition as he is inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States of America. This election has been historic for many reasons. Firstly, there was the long slog and blistering battle between more than a dozen candidates in the run up to and during the primaries. Secondly, this was a hotly contested election between Donald Trump fighting to retain incumbency, and a lifelong political operative, Joe Biden. Thirdly, this election was fought against the backdrop of a once in a generation global pandemic which fundamentally reshaped almost every facet of public life. As if that wasn’t enough the candidates were both septuagenarians decreeing that they had the plan for the future of America.
Joe Biden made a commitment early on to nominate a female running mate and has since committed to nominating a cabinet and building an administration that will reflect the broader American society. His choice of Kamala Harris as running mate wasn’t all that surprising — she was a top contender during the primaries, although she didn’t go easy on Joe during the debates. Harris’ ascendancy to the becoming Vice-president-elect Harris is especially important because she’s the first woman to do so, and the first woman of colour to do so.
More important, however, is what comes next.
When Hillary Clinton was nominated as the democratic candidate in 2016 there was lots of speculation whether or not she could convince enough Americans that a woman could hold the office of president. Of course, she definitively proved that she could convince enough Americans when she won the popular vote — what she didn’t do though was convince enough of the right Americans. This is where Harris has an opportunity to differentiate herself.
That question is, by and large, moot, simply because Harris will hold high-office. And, given her personal gravitas and ambition it’s likely that she will have more of a partnership relationship with president-elect Biden than any other VP in history.
Given Biden’s advanced years and the demands of the office of president (we’ve all seen the “before they took office/after they left office” photos, right?) it’s got to be unlikely that Biden will seek a second-term. So, the question that’s on many lips is whether or not Harris can play the dual role of loyal and subservient VP whilst also positioning herself as the heir apparent. However, I wonder if the United Kingdom political leadership model could provide a framework for Biden and Harris?
In the U.K. it’s quite common for Prime Ministers and Leaders of the Opposition to step aside and throw their support behind their chosen successor. For example, Blair standing aside to allow an unchallenged Brown to become Prime Minister. Or, David Cameron standing aside and allowing the party to choose a new leader in Theresa May, or indeed, May standing aside and allowing the party to choose Johnson — all of these happened without a general election. Therefore, it’s reasonable to wonder whether or not Biden will ‘stand down’ from the presidency to allow Harris to assume the role before the 2024 presidential election cycle. This has got to be a win/win/win for Biden, Harris and the Democratic party, right?
For Biden, he has checked the box…he’s been the president of the U.S. fulfilling an ambition he’s harboured for at least 32 years since his first run. He’ll forever be, Mr President. For Harris, she is not just the heir apparent trying to prove she can “step-up” again in 2024, she will have done the job, she’ll have a track record and she’ll most likely be appointed as the candidate rather than contesting it. And, for the democrats they have a dynamic, comparatively young, mixed-raced, woman to lead them through the decade.
Now, of course, this is unconventional by American standards. Nixon is the only president to ever resign and that was of course shrouded in scandal. The American presidency is currently more akin to the British Monarchy than the British prime ministerial role where people serve as long as they can. However, it’s worth considering for Biden. He could be both King and Queen-maker, he could leave an intergenerational legacy and his presidency could become note-worthy not just for being the most inclusive of all time, but also for being the most legacy-laden of all time. If Biden stood aside just over 2 years into his term Harris could serve as POTUS for 10 years — the remainder of the Biden/Harris mandate and two further election cycles.
So, is it likely that Biden will stand-aside and pave the way for Kamala Harris to be a ten year President? Probably not, but it’s certainly interesting to consider.