December 6, 2023

Democratic bench

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
The Democratic bench
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift         
          WASHINGTON — With questions swirling around about geriatric politicians from Pres. Joe Biden to former Pres. Donald Trump to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., the public rightfully looks to the bench, that athletic term describing backup players. And a deep bench offers team security.
          Take quarterback Aaron Rodgers who minutes into his first game with the New York Jets was sacked and tore his Achilles tendon, a season-ending injury. At 39, he is one of the greatest and most talented quarterbacks of all time. He is also getting a little old to be sacked.
          The Jets went on to win the game with a backup quarterback, and the team has as many as five more QBs on the bench if needed.
          There is a lesson here for the Democrats. Quit worrying about Joe Biden and Kamala Harris being up to the task and take solace in a Democratic bench with several likely contenders ready to go.
          Thanks to the Constitution, there is a process in place. It is called the vice presidency.
          Harry Truman became president when FDR died soon after he was elected to his fourth term. Truman did not have a working relationship with FDR and was not informed about the Manhattan Project to build an atomic bomb until after he was president. He had not been groomed. He was not ready.
          Jimmy Carter made his vice president a governing partner, allowing Walter Mondale and subsequent veeps to become more tuned into the job they might inherit.
          Kamala Harris just returned from a foreign policy trip to Southeast Asia, and the administration will be showcasing her more on domestic policy issues as well now that the reelection effort is getting underway.
          For those who might wish they could switch out Biden and/or Harris for someone more to their liking, there is no effortless process for that. As long as Biden is running for reelection, his potential successors are respecting his wishes and remaining respectfully on the sidelines.
          They are not challenging a sitting president, which history shows generally ends in failure for the challenger, and for the incumbent president. George H.W. Bush on the Republican side, who was challenged from the right by Patrick Buchanan, and Jimmy Carter who was challenged from the left by Ted Kennedy, are two examples.
          Still, Democrats should find comfort in their bench, which has at least three accomplished governors ready to go if needed.
          First among equals is California Governor Gavin Newsom, who defeated a recent recall effort mounted by Republicans with 61.9 percent of the vote. He is a leading surrogate for the White House and regularly reports into Vice President Harris, a fellow Californian and potential political rival.
          He is clearly running for president, putting the pieces in place for a national run – but perhaps not in this cycle with Biden in place. “The train has left the station,” he recently told The New York Times. “We’re all in. Stop talking. He’s not going anywhere. It’s time for all of us to get on the train and buck up.” Maybe.
          Republicans are getting ready regardless. “How would you like the President of San Francisco to be your president?” says a GOP strategist trying out an attack line.
          Michigan Governor Gretchen Witmer is another up and comer who has proven herself. She just won reelection 54 percent to 44 percent over her Republican challenger. A take-charge person who gets things done, she rose to prominence with her 2018 campaign slogan, “Fix the Damn Roads.” Her strong stands against right-wing provocateurs and for voting rights and ballot access helped Democrats gain control of the state House and Senate for the first time in 40 years.
          Completing the trifecta of Democrats who could step in and compete for the presidency is Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, who has checked many of the boxes on policy that Democrats support from raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour to banning assault weapons and legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes. He is independently wealthy and does not mind parting with his money, prompting some Democrats to call him the emergency “break the glass” candidate who could fund a last-minute presidential run should the need arise.
          In short, the Democrats have a deep bench should Biden choose to opt out.
          Eleanor Clift’s latest book Selecting a President, and Douglas Cohn’s latest books The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency and World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers).
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2023 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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