Abcarian: Who should replace President Biden if he leaves the race? The answer should be obvious

President Biden’s letter to his fellow Democrats in Congress on Monday was everything his debate performance should have been: a forceful, articulate defense of what he has achieved in his nearly four years as president and a warning about the existential threat to our democracy posed by his rival, former President Trump.

“I am firmly committed to staying in this race, to running this race to the end, and to beating Donald Trump,” the president wrote. “We have a historic record of success to run on. From creating over 15 million jobs (including 200,000 just last month), reaching historic lows on unemployment, to revitalizing American manufacturing with 800,000 jobs, to protecting and expanding affordable health care, to rebuilding America’s roads, bridges, highways, ports and airports … to beating Big Pharma and lowering the cost of prescription drugs, including $35 a month insulin for seniors, to providing student debt relief for nearly 5 million Americans to an historic investment in combatting climate change.”

Hear, hear.

The problem, of course, is that a written statement, however passionate, cannot dispel the bonfire of despair lit by Biden’s surprisingly weak debate performance and his subsequent uneven interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos.

I take Biden at his word: He intends to stay in the race. But if he bows out under pressure from his Democratic colleagues, I also believe the political scientists and pundits who say there is simply not enough time for Democrats to thoroughly vet a new candidate — with one glaringly obvious exception: Vice President Kamala Harris.

Despite right-wing caricatures portraying her as a lightweight, any deep scrutiny of her record as a big-city district attorney and U.S. senator will puncture the perceptions of those who (bizarrely) think her laugh or her syntax disqualifies her from running for president.

I would vote for Harris in a hot second. So, I wager, would many of the Black women who rescued Biden’s candidacy in 2020 and are often described as the backbone of the Democratic Party.

Overcoming the deeply embedded, often unconscious sexism and racism that afflicts a portion of the American electorate, however, would certainly be her biggest challenge. (“I just think he’s arrogant,” a conservative cousin of mine once said of then-candidate Barack Obama. She might as well have called him “uppity.”)

And yet the electorate has grown accustomed to presidential candidates who are not white men.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won nearly 3 million more votes than Trump despite losing the undemocratic electoral college. Voters weary of President George W. Bush helped Obama thump John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 in both the popular vote and the electoral college. And former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, a woman of South Asian descent, lasted all the way to Super Tuesday against Trump in this year’s Republican primaries.

If something terrible were to befall Biden, Harris — who now has almost four years of White House experience — is more than capable of stepping into the Oval Office. And Biden could proudly, if reluctantly, pass her the torch to lead the ticket; after all, at 59, she would represent the generational change that so many Americans keep telling pollsters they yearn for.

The former prosecutor can also be tough. In 2018, when Harris was a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, her grilling of then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh prompted Trump to call her “nasty.” I would love to see her debate Trump.

If Biden stays in, of course, he has my vote. He has built an administration around values that for the most part mirror mine. How could anyone committed to reproductive rights, sensible immigration reform, a fair tax system and a livable planet vote any other way? And even if you are furious with the way the president has handled the Israel-Hamas war, Palestinians will face an even more uncertain future if Trump retakes office.

In a second term, Trump would do metaphorically what he tried to do literally at the end of his first: overthrow the government.

The evidence includes Project 2025, a 900-page MAGA wish list written by Trump allies under the aegis of the Heritage Foundation. Though Trump has disingenuously tried to distance himself from the plan, it would be his governing blueprint: severely weakening federal agencies’ authority, undercutting LGBTQ+ Americans’ rights, abolishing entities such as the Department of Education, abandoning the fight against climate change and so much more.

“We are in the process of the second American Revolution,” Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts said on a far-right podcast, “which will remain bloodless if the left allows it to be.”

These people are sick.

Now that the Supreme Court has essentially elevated the powers of the president to those of a monarch, it’s even more imperative to keep the man who says he would be a dictator on Day One out of the White House.

It’s plain that Biden is no longer the man he once was, and running for president is probably more grueling than being president. As a reporter who has traveled with presidential candidates, including Biden, Obama, Romney and McCain, I have always marveled at their stamina. It’s a lot to ask of an 81-year-old to jaunt across time zones, meet with world leaders, deal with the other hefty responsibilities of the presidency and also run for reelection.

But I would rather have a president who works from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and needs to be in bed early than a 78-year-old convicted felon who lies, cheats, sexually assaults women, tries to steal elections and will not hesitate to demonstrate just how far above the law he is if Americans give him the chance.


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