(The Messenger) The Democratic Party is united — for now. Fear and loathing of Donald Trump keeps the various Democratic factions in a precarious peace. But labor v. environment, Jewish vote v. Muslim vote, and center-left v. hardcore progressivism cannot remain at bay forever. The fiercest battle may well be the looming civil war between Vice President Kamala Harris and California Gov. Gavin Newsom for the party leadership once President Biden leaves the stage.
And it won’t be pretty.
When Biden named Harris his running mate, he conferred on her heir-apparent status. The pick made sense. VP nominees are mostly about pulling together party divisions or offsetting the nominee’s weaknesses. As an old, white male Catholic, Biden running with a minority female checked some important identity boxes. And, in 2020 with a campaign hobbled due to covid restrictions, Harris did just fine. The “not Trump” campaign worked.
However, given an opportunity to establish herself as the next Democratic hope, Harris has proven rather maladroit. Something about her isn’t quite right. Her speeches are mediocre, with poorly thought-out ad libs. Her awkwardness with voters is positively Hillary Clintonesque. After spending her life in the progressive hothouse of California, Harris has shown little ability to build appeal in the other more centrist 49 states. Given the unpleasant portfolio of illegal immigration early in the administration, she failed to distinguish herself. If she has any real policy responsibility today, it’s not apparent.
But what must rankle Harris the most and speaks to how badly she must be viewed in Democratic power corridors is the utter lack of interest in her replacing Biden on the ticket. Joe Biden’s numbers are bad, very bad. His approval has been under water for the past two years. He is running behind Trump on multiple ballot test polls — despite Trump’s myriad problems. The double-minority woman Harris replacing Biden should be the talk of the town. But it isn’t.
Her polling tells the tale: While Biden is an abysmal 14 points negative on the RealClearPolitics approval average, Harris is worse at negative 17.6 — worse than Trump (negative 16.6). In YouGov polling, Harris is 13 points down on approval (Biden is down 10 points) with just 40% approval against Biden’s 42%. She has just a 3-point lead on approval among Black voters but lags 8 points with Hispanics. Independents approve at just 26%, against Biden at 31%.
Harris should take comfort in the fact that there is nobody in the D.C. political scene that is a real threat. The most popular Democrat, Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), is even older than Biden. The septuagenarian Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is getting there. Pete Buttigieg’s (D-Ind.) tenure at Transportation has been miserable. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) are nowhere to be found.
Enter Gavin Newsom
In the lead-up to the 2022 midterms, a passel of Democrats began cautiously circling what they thought might be the carrion of the Biden administration, none more prominently that Newsom. After the Republicans’ pathetic performance, Team Biden asserted themselves, and all the interlopers scurried back underground. Except Newsom.