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  • Writer's pictureArmstrong Williams

Armstrong Williams: President Biden’s most important campaign decision | STAFF COMMENTARY

February 16, 2024 |

Kamala Harris was sworn in as vice president by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. FILE (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)

What will be President Joe Biden’s most important campaign decision as he seeks re-election in November?

It is not obtaining military aid for Israel or Ukraine from an obstreperous Congress.

It is not ameliorating the flood of immigrants across our border with Mexico.

It is not moving to all-out war with nuclear-ambitious Iran.

It is deciding whether to keep Vice President Kamala Harris as his running mate.

The American people did not need Special Counsel Robert Hur’s report on Mr. Biden’s mishandling of classified information to know he is in advanced stages of senescence featuring a dimming memory and grip on reality. He mistakes the president of Egypt with the president of Mexico. He insinuated a conversation with a dead German Prime Minister. He speaks robotically and looks mummified.

President Biden’s intellectual gaffes are not going away. They will continue to handicap his re-election aspirations. When citizens enter voting booths in November contemplating a Biden vote, they know the likelihood is overwhelming that his vice-presidential running mate will become president through Mr. Biden’s death or disability before the conclusion of a second term. If voters lack confidence in the competence and leadership of Mr. Biden’s vice-presidential partner, they will shy away from voting for him.

Ordinarily, American voters give little weight to a presidential candidate’s vice-presidential choice — even though the vice president is only one heartbeat away from the presidency. In 1956, for example, voters decisively reelected President Dwight D. Eisenhower despite his questionable health, unconcerned about the qualifications of vice president running mate, Richard Nixon. President Eisenhower memorably said during the 1960 presidential campaign between his vice president and Sen. John F. Kennedy that, “If you give me a week, I might think of one” major idea of Mr. Nixon’s that I adopted.

President Biden’s case is unique in the history of the American presidency. He is currently 81, the oldest age of any president. His senescence is obvious even to a school child. Alzheimer’s disease is around the corner.

Has Vice President Harris exhibited the competence and inspired the confidence needed to get voters to stick with Mr. Biden, despite his diminishing mental capacities knowing his backup is fully capable of the presidency?

Her credentials are solid: an accomplished lawyer; former Attorney General of California; star performer as California’s United States senator on the Senate Judiciary Committee; and steady discharge of her vice-presidential responsibilities with no material blunders. Her youthful age, 59, and vigor are also plus factors. Ms. Harris would be the first female president of the United States, a prospect that might push women voters toward Mr. Biden.

Early in his term, President Biden tasked his vice president with controlling a surge of immigration along the southern border — akin to Napoleon’s handing the baton to Marshal Ney to conduct the disastrous retreat of the French Army from Moscow. Her efforts have proven an incomplete success, and the issue has returned to the White House, where it continues to chagrin and vex.

President Biden has kept his vice president on a tight leash. He has created the misleading appearance that she is consumed by race and transgender issues but nothing more. He has kept her punching below her weight, like a sprinter handicapped by shackles.

But giving his vice president more prominence and underscoring her youth and mental acuity to convince voters that she is made of presidential timber would be problematic for President Biden. It would remind voters of his frailties and diminish his stature on the political stage. Presidential candidates are by nature proudly narcissistic and fiercely resist playing second fiddle to anyone else. Moreover, presidential assistants characteristically seek to build a wall between the president and vice president to protect their own parochial turf. That explains why Vice President John Nance Garner, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, bemoaned that his office was “not worth a bucket of warm spit.”

President Biden’s passionate conviction that neither the country nor the Constitution could survive a second Trump presidency may overcome his scruples against boosting Vice President Harris’ profile and competency to discharge the duties of the presidency to win a second term, albeit under Ms. Harris’ shadow.

Mr. Biden might be willing to make this sacrifice not because he would love his ego less, but because he hates Trump more.

Time will tell at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August.

Armstrong Williams (; @arightside) is a political analyst, syndicated columnist and owner of the broadcasting company, Howard Stirk Holdings. He is also part owner of The Baltimore Sun. This column is part of a weekly series written from “The Owner’s Box.”

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