The world worries about America’s upcoming Presidential election between two aging contenders, Biden and Trump. The Republican Wall Street Journal editorialized last week that the 81-year-old Biden “running for re-election in his condition is an act of profound selfishness”. Polls show that voters worry about his ability to complete a second term and that Kamala Harris is not ready to be President. Trump, four years younger, is a worry because of his track record, anger, narcissism, 91 felony charges, and pledge to dismantle democracy as well as to upend the world order. Republicans are divided by Trumpism, but Democrats may have an elegant solution: Biden could enhance his chances by swapping California Governor Gavin Newsom for Kamala Harris as his Vice Presidential running mate. She is smart, but has little voter appeal. Newsom, by contrast, polls highest among Democratic Presidential ”possibles”. The gambit may seem far-fetched, but Biden recently went out of his way to lavishly praise Newsom at a rally. “I want to talk about Governor Newsom,” he said. “He’s been one hell of a governor, man. Matter of fact, he could be anything he wants. He could have the job I’m looking for.”

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In a contest between two old guys, the running mate is key because he or she will be, as the saying goes, “one heartbeat away from the Presidency” — or, in Trump’s case, one conviction away. Newsom is an attractive candidate. He polls well, is a seasoned leader, and is slightly left-of-center as is Biden and most Democrats. He also has experience running a gigantic government, as Governor of California since 2018, which is the largest jurisdiction in the United States apart from Washington. The Sunshine State’s GDP is bigger than the economies of India, Britain, or Canada and has grown at an annualized rate of 2.4 percent in the five years up to 2022, a growth rate that ranks it fourth out of all 50 states.

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Newsom is also a team player and pledged he would never run against Biden. Even so, he has worked hard to raise his profile outside California by waging media campaigns in Republican states concerning issues such as abortion, gay rights, and the lack of gun controls. He also upstaged other governors by organizing a “surprise” summit in China with its leader Xi Jinping -- weeks before Biden met with Xi in San Francisco. Interestingly, U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Burns accompanied Newsom to his summit with Xi and described the event as a “very positive, consequential day for the United States”. This certainly raised the stature of both Newsom and California, and was aimed at displaying that Newsom also has international “chops”.

Such high profile initiatives have led rival Democrats to take shots at him about running a stealth campaign to unseat Biden. But the reality is that he’s not running for President. I believe he’s running for Vice President with help from the Biden administration. After all, his meeting with Xi could never have taken place without assistance from Biden and his State Department. More significantly, polls show he would be the leading contender, should Biden leave, whereas Kamala’s support sags and is among the lowest in recent years for an incumbent Vice President. In essence, she may be a liability along with Biden’s age and Republicans are trying to capitalize on this by saying that a vote for Biden in 2024 is likely a vote for Harris as President.

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Replacing Harris with Newsom would be awkward and unprecedented, but the two are friends and have supported one another for years, she as a Senator and he as Governor. She is also a loyal and selfless VP, taking on troublesome tasks without hesitation and never upstaging or disappointing Biden. But for whatever reason, she hasn’t gained traction with the electorate, and would likely move onto her next job without a fuss. It’s also interesting that Newsom just appointed Laphonza Butler, adviser to Kamala Harris' 2020 Presidential campaign, to fill the U.S. Senate seat in California made vacant by the death of Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Biden and Newsom

On November 30, voters will see Newsom in action in a debate on Fox TV with Republican Governor Ron De Santis set up months ago by anchor Sean Hannity. Both men represent the next generation leadership in their respective parties and the contrast will be interesting. In one corner, will be Newsom, a handsome, confident, pro-business leader, and in the other corner will be the morose De Santis who is a popular governor but has picked fights with corporations, librarians, school boards, and Trump himself. As a result, De Santis struggles in the primaries and likely won’t get past Trump as a Presidential nominee in 2024. He also won’t be Trump’s running mate because the two have become sworn enemies. He steadily loses ground to Nikki Haley, another former Governor who also won’t run on a ticket with Trump.

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If Newsom was to run with Biden, he would have to resign as Governor and hand the reins over to lieutenant governor Eleni Kounalakis, another close friend of Kamala Harris. He would have the support of California’s Democratic “matriarch” Nancy Pelosi, who is distantly related by marriage. And funnily, Newsom is also linked by marriage to a Republican insider, but won’t get her support: He is one of the ex-husbands (2001-2005) of Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former Fox TV broadcaster who is now engaged to Donald Trump Jr.

If Harris resigned, she would become Attorney General, UN Ambassador, a cabinet minister, or a Supreme Court Justice should the tainted Justice Clarence Thomas have the decency to resign after his ethical lapses. Even so, a “swap” solution is a long shot, given Biden’s loyalty, but perhaps the two Californians agree with the idea. Clearly, the three admire one another and pushback from Biden’s supporters would be minimal, apart from the fact that he’s a white guy and wealthy. But he has earned the respect of black and Hispanic and liberal elements within the party as well as the admiration from the “Boss”. He’s been re-elected twice in California and is pro-choice and a proponent of strict environmental and gun controls. On paper, he ticks off a lot of boxes and if a swap could help insure that democracy won’t be dismantled by another Trump presidency, it just may happen. 

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The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

Reprinted from [email protected] - Diane Francis on America and the World

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