Being vice president of the United States is a bit like working for Donald Trump or watching a reality show. It requires a high degree of tolerance for humiliation and abuse.
Work is inherently submissive — the only thing worse than embarrassing the president is to overshadow him — and office almost always belittles its occupant. He walks in as a respected governor or senator of the United States, and you soon turn into a lapdog, a nerd, or an anchor in the administration in the public eye.
(A notable exception is Dick Cheney, who, in caricature, has been portrayed as the puppeteer and power behind an inconsiderate President George W. Bush.)
Kamala Harris, a former U.S. Senator and Attorney General from California, is only the latest to experience the unnerving effect of the vice presidency, alternating between bouts of taunting and ignorance.
Now it’s her turn to suffer another humiliating rite: speculation that Harris will be kicked off the Democratic ticket in 2024.
There were scattered calls for the vice president to be replaced — a column here, a rambling talking head there — and some not-so-reliable news outlets reported that President Biden quietly decided, given the poor VP poll scores, to cut it loose.
Recently, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who challenged Biden and Harris for the 2020 Democratic nomination, caused one of those Beltway hyperventilation attacks by endorsing the president for a second term but misunderstanding when it came to keeping Harris as her own. running mate.
“I really want to defer to what makes Biden comfortable on his team,” said Warren, who soon followed up his conspicuously tepid remarks with a statement “fully” in support of reelecting Biden and Harris “together.”
Never mind that Biden has given every sign — both public and private — that he intends to seek re-election with Harris by his side. The conversations that have taken place regarding 2024 have all been based on the assumption that she will be on the Democratic ticket, according to several people familiar with those discussions. There was no talk, they said, of a replacement.
Still, it’s “virtually inevitable that any time a president prepares to run for re-election there is talk of dumping the vice president,” said Joel Goldstein, a law professor emeritus at St. Louis University and an expert on the bureau.
The chatter might be off base, but it’s happening for a reason.
President George HW Bush has come under pressure to replace Vice President Dan Quayle, who has suffered the same kind of bad approval rating as Harris.
Former President George W. Bush considered trading Dick Cheney as his running mate in 2004 as a way, he wrote in his memoirs, to “show that I was in charge” and that he, not Cheney , was head of the White House.
In 2011, when President Obama was at a low popularity rating, the White House chief of staff ordered a search into whether to replace Biden with Hillary Clinton ahead of Obama’s re-election bid. Some of those involved in the campaign later insisted it was never a serious option.
For much of the country’s history, Goldstein said, changing vice presidents wasn’t all that unusual.
The union of the president and the deputy was often a sort of shotgun wedding, arranged by party leaders to provide regional and/or ideological balance. The working relationship between alleged partners was practically non-existent. Vice presidents spent most of their time presiding over the Senate, one of their constitutional duties, rather than offering advice to the chief executive or helping shape policy.
That evolved, Goldstein said, over the course of the 20th century.
In 1921, Calvin Coolidge became the first vice president to regularly attend meetings of the president’s cabinet. Over the decades, other vice presidents have been increasingly integrated into the functioning of the White House. In 1977, Walter Mondale was the first to have an office in the West Wing, steps from the Oval Office, where vice presidents have resided ever since.
More significantly, by the mid-20th century presidents had begun deciding for themselves who they wished to run as, meaning that replacing their vice president would suggest, at least implicitly, that they had made a mistake.
Harris has his critics inside the White House and those around Biden. The relationship between the president and the vice president has been described as friendly but not intimate. Even so, the political cost of replacing Harris, if the thought ever crossed Biden’s mind, would far outweigh any gains.
Effectively firing the first female, first black, and first Asian American vice president would risk a major backlash from the Democratic base, especially black women, who have been crucial to Biden’s election.
Harris “was on the ticket for a reason. They won in 2020 for a reason,” said Aimee Allison, founder and head of She the People, an organization working to empower women of color. In 2024, she noted, “it’s still the same dynamic.”
Pushing Harris aside “would definitely have bounced back to black America” — and not in a good way, agreed Aprill Turner, a spokeswoman for Higher Heights for America, a group that advocates for black women in politics.
In 1976, facing an uphill battle in the elections, President Ford chose to replace Vice President Nelson Rockefeller as a way to strengthen his position with restive conservatives. Even with a different running mate, Kansas Senator Bob Dole, Ford lost and regretted the move.
Voters have consistently demonstrated that their focus is on the top of the ticket, not the #2 position.
For better or worse, the vice president can generally be summed up in one word: afterthought.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.