What if the Democratic Party were to pursue a volte-face on their candidate and choose a younger candidate?
Admittedly, the circumstances that would have to occur for this to happen are legion and the path byzantine. There is no serious candidate within the party who would even consider challenging a sitting Democratic president for the nomination, party out of fear of reprisal but mostly out of a genuine love and respect for his long record as senator, vice-president, and president.
The only way for it to happen would be for Joe Biden, prompted by pragmatism or taking Mitt Romney’s generational change hint, to take himself out of the running.
Who then steps up in his place?
Even at this relatively late stage, there are, surprisingly, alternatives.
Now, I have no great track record in predicting presidential candidacies.
In 2000, I thought for all money that John McCain was is an unassailable position to clinch an early nomination after a 19-point thumping of George W. Bush in New Hampshire and nearly 50 points in the lead two weeks out from the South Carolina primary. Trailing badly, the Bush campaign email-blasted every Republican voter and sympathetic news outlet to claim that McCain had sire a love child out of wedlock. Worse, the child was black. By the time the truth came out — that the child, Bridget, was a Bangladeshi orphan adopted by John and Cindy McCain — the damage was done.
In the modern liberal zeal to reappraise Bush Jr’s legacy as “at least he isn’t Trump” this should be remembered. George Bush and Karl Rove dragged down an honorable man, a war hero, with racist lies. In a just world, this act would be neither forgiven nor forgotten.
But it isn’t a just world, nor is it a predictable one. In 2004, for example, I predicted there was no way John Kerry could lose to Bush until the swift boat scandal derailed his campaign. Turns out, for a draft dodger, little George had a knack for taking down war heroes, though Rove again admittedly did most of the wet work.
Fast-forward to 2008, when I didn’t much rate Barrack Obama’s chances of defeating the Clinton machine or Hillary’s stranglehold on the party.
When it came to Hillary, of course, I was wrong again in 2016 though, that time, I was far from alone.
It wasn’t until 2020 that I correctly predicted a presidential nominee outcome. Joe Biden always seemed to have a staying power that would outlast Bernie Sanders and a once burning-bright Pete Buttigieg. In this, I was right in the way a stopped watch is correct twice a day.
Take all this with a grain of salt, is what I’m saying.
The Democratic Party has no shortage of relatively young, extremely capable candidates.
Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, and Cory Booker are tested and ready right now. Even Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez could potentially be in the mix. Famously the youngest woman ever elected to the United States Congress, Ocasio-Cortez is fixed in our memory as the youthful firebrand. It’s easy to forget that she will turn 35– the minimum age requirement to be president — in October 2024, a few weeks shy of the election.
Realistically, though, only one potential Democratic candidate could present a viable challenge to presumptive Republican nominee Trump — 55-year-old California Governor Gavin Newsom.
Newsom’s debating skills and his willingness to take the fight to conservative news outlets — as evidenced by holding his own on the enemy ground of Fox News against Sean Hannity — would put Democratic minds at ease and the contest in safe hands.
But Democrats demand an inclusive ticket, and Newsom is very much a white, heterosexual middle-age man. Kamala Harris out of the running. Even if her own poll numbers weren’t flagging, no candidate would want to be perceived as a career vice-president.
The solution for Democrats could be to turn the issue of age on its head by nominating a youth ticket led by Newsom paired with Ocasio-Cotrtez. While sometimes divisive, AOC bring energy and a commitment to press values, along with millennials, women, and Hispanic Americans, into the mix.
If not a youth ticket, how about a Gen X one that leans into diversity?
Quite since her ticket’s 2020 win, it’s easy to forget what a powerful debate performer Kamala Harris can be. She would be perfectly paired with New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, himself no stranger to tough political battles as evidenced in the Oscar-nominated 2005 documentary Street Fight, which covered his unsuccessful campaign for mayor of Newark.
Harris’ polling numbers — she has a 53% disapproval rating according to fivethirtyeight.com — are a sticking point, making Booker’s likeability and sunny disposition even more of an advantage.
If Newsom/Ocasio-Cortez is too much youth for the general electorate and Harris/Booker to diverse for white people, there is a precedent for mixing it up.
When the youthful John F. Kennedy needed to balance his relative youth on the ticket, he chose Lyndon B. Johnson, a man with almost twenty years’ experience navigating the House of Representatives, then the U.S. Senate.
This combination of youth back by experience was so successful that it became the model that led to George W. Bush choosing Dick Cheney and Barrack Obama picking Joe Biden.
Alongside Gavin Newsom, Pete Buttigieg would be at or near the top of the list of any viable candidate for the Democratic nomination should Joe Biden step aside. Having failed in the past to overcome concerns over his status as the first millennial presidential candidate, and his lack of executive experience at a state, national, or senatorial level, Buttigieg would need to follow the well-trodden path of a seasoned and experience running mate.
Enter Elizabeth Warren. Even at 74, the senator from Massachusetts still has, in the words of her SNL doppelganger, Kate McKinnon, “mom hosting thanksgiving energy.”
A Buttigieg/Warren ticket team would be the smartest, wonkiest team the nation has ever seen.
(As would a Warren/Buttigieg one, though that ship seems to have sailed despite Warren being my choice in 2020 and even 2016, though she chose not to run that year to clear the path for Hillary Clinton.)
All of this is moot, of course. Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee due to his unprecedented takeover of the modern GOP. Biden likewise is a lock, if only because it is too late to build a consensus around another option.
But, should the opportunity arise, Democrats and Republicans alike need to remember that they do have options.