Trump’s Team Preparing for Possible Kamala Harris Candidacy if Biden Drops 2024

Trump’s Team Preparing for Possible Kamala Harris Candidacy if Biden Drops 2024

There is an unattributed maxim in sports that says the backup quarterback is the most popular man in town. The idea is that fans will inevitably begin to pick apart the starter and blame him for everything that goes wrong. If the team starts losing, fans start fantasizing about the backup and imbuing him with abilities he likely doesn’t have. See that interception the starter threw across the middle? The backup would never have thrown that because he’s not a glory hog like the starter. The problem, of course, is that the backup usually is much worse at football than the starter, even if he has provided some tantalizing glimpses in the short stints where he takes the field. If he actually has to play the starter’s role, he will quickly remind you why he’s the backup.

Like pretty much everyone who watched the first Presidential debate between President Joe Biden and Donald Trump, I was stunned by Biden’s incoherence and his inability to put together sentences on air. It was hard not to immediately think back to the clips we had been seeing on social media throughout the past few months—the ones that many said had been selectively edited and were misleading. Those snippets showed the President in what appeared to be a state of distress and unable to finish many of his sentences. We saw him frozen during a photo opportunity, much like Mitch McConnell last year. We also saw him looking confused and almost scared onstage before being gently escorted away by Barack Obama. For Democrats, the debate was ninety minutes of crushing confirmation that those clips were, in fact, depicting reality.

The conclusion seemed clear enough: Biden has to drop out. If this column had been written right after the debate, I certainly would have joined in on that chorus. (I am on vacation this week.) But, a few days after the President’s disaster, it seems just as clear to me that the Democrats don’t have any other option than to hurtle toward November with him as the nominee.

There is another maxim in sports that says if you have two starting quarterbacks, you really have none. This means that, if you’re deciding between two players and can’t commit to one, it likely means that both can’t get the job done. Democrats might want to consider an amended version: If you have five or six backup quarterbacks, you have none. That is all to say, the Party and its adherents are currently in a position where they have justifiably lost all hope in the starter. The problem is that they can’t even figure out who the backup could possibly be. Is it Gretchen Whitmer, Kamala Harris, J. B. Pritzker, Gavin Newsom, or Raphael Warnock?

This is a terrible situation to be in, but, the day after the debate, Biden went to Raleigh, North Carolina, and delivered an energetic speech, in which he sounded both defiant and aware that the debate had not been a good moment for him. This constituted a quick shift in the Party’s messaging, which, on Thursday night, included a bizarre scene in which Jill Biden congratulated her husband for answering “every question” and knowing “all the facts,” as if the President was a nervous ten-year-old who had just named all fifty state capitals. Barack Obama then weighed in on X, reminding people that he, of all people, knew that “bad debate nights happen”; his first debate against Mitt Romney, in 2012, had also gone poorly, causing consternation among Democrats. The powerful figures within the Party, it seemed, had decided to rally around their man.

This is the math that the Party is up against: Prior to the debate, Trump was generally considered the favorite to win the White House. Nate Silver gave Trump a sixty-six-per-cent chance of winning the election. Many measures, however, suggested Biden was closing the gap. Flash polls that were taken after the big event showed a wide range of outcomes, though these surveys are often thought to be unreliable. But the best-case scenario for Biden seems to be that his support has dipped only slightly, as opposed to cratering. Nevertheless, the task has clearly got harder.

Biden’s debate performance also carries the potential of affecting other races. Democratic-leaning voters with genuine concerns about how an infirm man will handle running the country might choose not to vote in the election, which will hurt all the other Democratic candidates on the ballot. And, aside from the electoral concerns, it might be immoral to allow an entitled octogenarian to handle foreign policy at a time of global crises. It’s one thing when you can’t get your elderly father to stop driving their car because you’re worried they will run over a child. It’s quite another when the elderly father has the power to invade another country.

These are all extremely compelling reasons to ask Biden to step aside or to start an insurgency leading up to the convention in August. But if the point of this election is to defeat Trump—and I imagine for many Democrats it is—then you have to do some dirty calculations and realize that you don’t have a Plan B because all the backups aren’t ready yet, and because introducing one of them in the middle of the game is a risky gamble, at best. There are countless problems that would come with the process of choosing a new candidate—if you bypass Kamala Harris, for example, does she just go quietly? And how do you sell the optics of nullifying the logical norms of succession for the first Black person and first woman to ever serve as Vice-President? If you’re a supporter of Gavin Newsom, are you even sure he will agree to take on a potential losing and chaotic run at an office he could much more credibly run for in 2028? If you believe Gretchen Whitmer has the best chance of defeating Trump, because of her advantage in the “blue wall” states, does her relative paucity of national connections tank her chances in a convention setting? Perhaps none of these are as weighty of a concern as Biden’s bad debate, but every road you go down with any of the possible substitutes kicks up potentially endless questions like these.

Can you invite such chaos when you can’t even decide on the successor? Or are Biden’s chances so dismal that any warm body would be preferable to watching him decline in public, get mercilessly ridiculed by Trump for the next four months, and then ultimately lose a low-turnout landslide that also takes out Democrats in the House and Senate? What are the chances that the Party can actually coalesce around a plan, whatever that might be? There is also a question of timing: How do you litigate a potentially toxic battle for the candidacy and settle on a coherent message? How do they prepare candidates who haven’t been vetted for possible October surprises? A Biden replacement would not have the benefit of a primary season that would have increased their name recognition. Though it’s true that a bake-off convention might generate a lot of positive press coverage and excitement, it’s also possible that there just might not be enough time to craft any sort of pitch to the American people other than “This is the understudy for Biden and you should vote for them because they are not Donald Trump.”

At this moment, Biden’s odds of winning the upcoming election don’t seem great, but I also think that Trump comes with his own chaos and that it might just be better to present the most stable and well-known option, which, unfortunately enough, is still Biden. Democratic voters should be furious about what certainly seems like a manipulation of the public’s trust and the arrogance of an Administration that tried to push a diminished Biden into a campaign season in the vain hope that maybe they would just get lucky and all the highest-profile moments would magically line up with his good days. And, if people want Biden to step down because he has betrayed the voters who put him in office, I think that’s a justifiable argument. But, if the point is for the Democrats to figure out their best shot at defeating Trump, we should realize that the duplicitousness, incompetence, and arrogance of the Biden Administration and Democratic Party leadership is actually a case against a seismic shift. These are still going to be the same people who decide on the process for a successor. Do we actually trust them to get it right? And are the chances they can field and support a new candidate higher than the chances that Biden has a series of better days and can regain some of the trust he has lost?

I don’t think it’s possible to clearly say one option is much better than the other, but I would argue, almost by default, that acting in a rash manner without a real contingency plan tends to lead to bad results, especially when you’re dealing with inept actors. I would feel differently if there were one obvious replacement for Biden or even two but the task of whittling down a field of contenders in four months feels like a principled protest rather than a measured and pragmatic strategy. By the slimmest of margins, I find myself opting for the known bad candidate over the chaos of the unknown. The Democrats have to hope that Biden can keep giving speeches like he did in North Carolina and that the debate will become an unpleasant but fading memory. They have to believe the polls are wrong. They need Trump to remind the country why they rejected him in 2020. The situation is certainly dire, but the irony here is that the Party’s foolishness and Biden’s arrogance, stubbornness, or blindness, means that we are stuck with him. There is no realistic Plan B.

For much of the past year, Donald Trump and his allies have speculated that Joe Biden would not end up as the Democratic presidential nominee – suggesting without evidence that he would step down before the convention and be replaced by another candidate.

Now, with Biden facing an increasingly uncertain political future amid the fallout from his shaky debate performance, Republicans are trying to determine what the Democratic incumbent stepping aside would actually mean for the Trump campaign. And some believe the path back to the White House would likely be easier with Biden at the top of the ticket.

Trump and his allies have relished the extended spotlight on Biden this week, with the former president making the rare decision to lay low at his New Jersey club and allow Biden to be the story. Trump has no public events on his schedule, and his campaign surprised some aides and advisers by telling them to enjoy the Fourth of July holiday.

“Chaos is our friend,” a person close to Trump said.

Meanwhile, campaign advisers and key allies have been calling reporters and friendly Democrats, hunting for any clues into what might happen next should Biden ultimately walk away from his reelection bid.

Until now, the campaign and its allies have largely ignored Vice President Kamala Harris in waging their attacks against the Biden administration. But there are signs that posture is changing. On Wednesday, a super PAC aligned with Trump, MAGA, Inc., launched its opening salvo against Harris by attacking her oversight of Biden’s border policies in an email. It asked if Harris is “The Best They Got?”

Trump’s campaign insists that nothing will change in its calculations, whether Biden is at the top of the Democratic ticket or not.

“President Trump will beat any Democrat on November 5th because he has a proven record and an agenda to Make America Great Again,” co-campaign managers Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles said in a statement.

Even if Biden is not the Democratic nominee, the Trump campaign believes the issues likely to decide the election will remain the same.

“The issues are the issues, and that’s what people care about,” one adviser told CNN.

However, the reality may not be so clear-cut. Polling has shown a lack of enthusiasm around both the major parties’ presumptive nominees for president, and it’s unknown how a change could alter Democratic turnout or affect the opinions of swing voters. And while Democrats face a time crunch to make a decision before their August convention, so do Republicans, who have spent months building out a carefully crafted data operation, attack ads and general campaign infrastructure focused specifically on beating Biden.

As one Republican pollster put it, Trump would “rather go with the devil he knows than the devil he doesn’t know.”

Behind the scenes, the Republican National Committee already had “rolling books” of opposition research on prominent Democrats who could succeed Biden in 2028, Trump advisers told CNN, including Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, among others.

The books “are constantly being updated, because, you know, they’re perpetual candidates, and they’re always running for something,” one senior Trump adviser told CNN.

Still, two advisers to Trump said they would not be changing strategy or shifting research and plans until the situation with Biden had played out.

“We just don’t know what this looks like at the end of all of it,” one of the advisers said. “We’re not going to change anything until we know.”

Some Republicans had publicly floated, if not anticipated, a Biden exit from the race as the president’s physical decline became increasingly apparent. During the GOP presidential primaries, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley made it a focal point of their campaigns, arguing that Democrats would replace Biden and Republicans couldn’t risk putting Trump up against a more youthful and energetic challenger.

Trump himself had broached the prospect, saying repeatedly that he didn’t think Biden “makes it.” In an interview nearly a year ago, Trump and conservative commentator Tucker Carlson opined on what would happen if Biden left the race.

After Carlson suggested Harris would replace Biden on the Democratic ticket, Trump predicted: “Not really. I mean, I guess they’d have maybe a free-for-all. A lot of people say she has to remain for certain reasons. I don’t think that’s true actually. … I don’t think other people would stand for it.”

But in the aftermath of the debate, Trump’s team did not anticipate such lasting Democratic panic surrounding the viability of Biden to continue as the party’s presidential nominee. One Trump adviser told CNN the Democratic handwringing had been expected to blow over within a week.

Now, Trump’s team is scrambling to prepare for any outcome, including whether it may need to mount a new campaign focused on a different opponent.

“Every Democrat who is calling on Crooked Joe Biden to quit was once a supporter of Biden and his failed policies that lead to extreme inflation, an open border, and chaos at home and abroad,” LaCivita and Wiles said in their statement. “Make no mistake that Democrats, the main stream media, and the swamp colluded to hide the truth from the American public.”

Republicans are now plotting how to hit Harris, with early discussions focused on her past statements defending Biden’s fitness to serve.

“She going to constantly be forced to answer a very simple question: Why were you hiding Joe Biden’s lack of mental acuity from the American people?” a person close to Trump said.

Most people close to Trump continue to believe that a change is unlikely, citing the relative low name recognition of the prospective Biden replacements and the legal challenges of moving the president’s campaign war chest to a new candidate. Biden, too, continues to insist he isn’t going anywhere. In a defiant campaign call Wednesday, he told staff, “No one is pushing me out” and vowed to stay in the race.

“I’m not leaving,” he said, sources familiar with the call told CNN.

Efforts to keep Biden on the ballot may come from the right as well. The Heritage Foundation, a Trump-aligned conservative organization, has been readying for this moment since the spring and recently revealed a playbook to challenge attempts by Democrats to remove Biden from the ballot in certain states with statutory deadlines for naming nominees.

In a memo released last month somewhat presciently titled “Can they replace Biden if he freezes at debate,” the organization singled out three swing states – Georgia, Nevada and Wisconsin – where Republicans could file lawsuits to challenge efforts by Democrats to change course.

Mike Howell, executive director of Heritage’s election oversight project, acknowledged that any winning case would heavily depend on the circumstances of a Biden departure.

“The timing is so key,” Howell said.

Rick Hasen, an election law expert at UCLA, rejected the idea that Democrats would have any legal trouble putting forward a new name before Biden is even officially nominated.

“I don’t put any credence into it,” Hasen wrote on his website. “Joe Biden is not the party’s nominee now, and states generally point to the major party’s nominee as the one whose name is on the ballot.”

CNN’s Betsy Klein and Kate Sullivan contributed to this report.

Source: CNN

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