If Biden shows up, as a starter, he has an advantage. But if he chooses not to do so, that doesn’t mean Democrats are doomed.
A primary campaign between Harris and Buttigieg could pit two key Democratic constituencies against each other: African Americans, especially African American women, and LGBTQ voters. The impact of that fight would be even worse if it started in 2023 and took over the second half of Biden’s current term.
Fortunately, this is a problem that can be easily solved without any of the politicians having to give up anything lasting. Harris and Buttigieg might instead agree that, if Biden didn’t run again, they would run together in 2024, with Harris being the presidential nominee and Buttigieg being the vice-president. This could end any feuds that exist between them now, while also giving the Democratic Party a very solid ticket in 2024 that would appear to be a natural continuation of Biden’s first term.
A Harris-Buttigieg post would feature two dynamic politicians and represent the breadth and diversity of the Democratic Party, and indeed the entire country, without veering too far to the left and alienating the key voters Biden won in 2020.
This post would be balanced when it comes to geography: Harris is unmistakably Californian while Buttigieg is from Indiana, and brings with him a deep understanding of the Midwest.
Not all factions of the Democratic coalition would be happy with this ticket. The left wing of the party has long viewed Buttigieg as too moderate and distrusted Harris due to his work as a San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general. These concerns are legitimate, but by the time they served four years in the Biden administration, what Harris did as DA nearly 20 years earlier or as attorney general ten years ago will seem less relevant. Rather, the two will be seen as national leaders whose popularity will be tied to the Biden administration rather than anything they’ve done before that.
By taking second place on the ticket, Buttigieg would put his own presidential aspirations on hold, but he’s so young that he would still have plenty of opportunities to run for president. One way to look at this is that if Harris and Buttigieg were elected in 2024 and re-elected in 2028, Buttigieg would still only be 50 years old if he chose to run in 2032.
Harris-Buttigieg could prove to be a Democrats’ dream ticket while avoiding potentially damaging momentum both within the administration and in a possible Democratic primary. However, a lot has to happen by then to make this a reality. Along with getting buy-in from the two people directly involved, it’s also important to avoid the appearance of a behind-the-scenes deal.
This is something the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is particularly sensitive to. The way to do this is to quell any speculation about a deal while bolstering Harris and making it clear to Buttigieg that the administration will not abandon the vice president in the face of media criticism.
When Biden chose Kamala Harris as his running mate, he indicated that she was the future of the Democratic Party. It is natural that other politicians who see themselves as this future could be irritated by this. Still, regardless of how she is viewed by many now, Harris will be a solid favorite to succeed Biden. The best way to secure the party’s victory may not be a long-drawn-out effort to nominate another flawed candidate, but to put together a balanced ticket with two rising stars in the Democratic Party.