WASHINGTON (The Hill) — Progressives are openly frustrated as the Biden administration flounders on issues across the board. But they are dismissing outright suggestions that previous party leaders–or, worse, Republicans–could be the solution.
The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Week all devoted real estate in their opinion sections this week to potential big names, including Hillary Clinton, to replace either President Biden or Vice President Harris on Democrats’ next White House ticket. The problem? They have essentially no new relevance or natural links to 2024.
“Democrats have a rich history of bringing old-school politicians out of the stables for a comeback and having them get slaughtered,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Campaign Change Committee. “Not just Hillary Clinton in 2016, but Senate candidates like Ted Strickland in Ohio, Russ Feingold in Wisconsin, Phil Bredesen in Tennessee, and Walter Mondale in Minnesota,” he added.
“We need forward-looking leaders who stand for a new vision and not the politics of yesteryear that everybody hates,” Green said.
The Times’s most well-known foreign affairs columnist, Thomas Friedman, raised eyebrows when he argued for a Biden-Cheney general election ticket, in which Biden would theoretically push aside his current vice president, the first Black woman to hold that position, for Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), a white Republican conservative and staunch anti-Trump lawmaker.
When Harris was asked about that prospect, she dismissed it nonchalantly, likening the question to senseless chattering from media elites. “I really could care less about the high-class gossip on these issues,” she told NBC News on Thursday.
While Harris has never been top on progressives’ lists for a strong running mate, the thought of Cheney, who voted along GOP party lines during much of Trump’s presidency, replacing her is too much for those on the left to entertain. “They need to find new content to write,” said Michael Ceraso, a progressive consultant and alum of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) first national campaign. “It can start by these writers moving beyond the past and imagining a future where progressive ideas are front and center.”
In the Journal, which has promoted a Clinton candidacy multiple times over the years despite its opinion pages’ overt conservative slant, Democrats’ last presidential nominee could present herself as “change candidate.” Douglas Schoen, a former Bill Clinton campaign pollster, and Andrew Stein, a local New York official who has long been critical of progressives, wrote that Biden’s troubles were piling up so severely that the former New York senator and secretary of State should step into the mix to fix them.
“President Biden’s low approval rating, doubts over his capacity to run for re-election at 82, Vice President Kamala Harris’s unpopularity, and the absence of another strong Democrat to lead the ticket in 2024—have created a leadership vacuum in the party, which Mrs. Clinton viably could fill,” they wrote. “She is already in an advantageous position to become the 2024 Democratic nominee. She is an experienced national figure who is younger than Mr. Biden and can offer a different approach from the disorganized and unpopular one the party is currently taking.”
The wish casting–or nightmare scenario, depending on how you look at it–comes as Biden faces arguably the toughest hurdles of his presidency to date. And progressives have been among the loudest to voice their displeasure.
Biden’s Build Back Better (BBB) agenda is flatlining amid negotiations that have gone essentially nowhere, culminating in Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) saying he would not vote for it late last year. Opposition from Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) to changing the filibuster also has Democrats’ voting rights efforts on the ropes, causing public skepticism about the direction of the party.
Liberals are also dissatisfied with what they see as a lack of meaningful progress on police reform, student loan debt and climate change. All of that has led to a sense of aimless hypothesizing about what else could be out there, one senior progressive aide said. But few take it very seriously. “None of this is real,” the aide said. “It’s just no one knows what to do since voting rights is dead and BBB is in complete stall.”
There is “no hero that can save Democrats from themselves,” another progressive strategist added. “There is no amount of posturing future candidates that can help pass BBB or get pieces of legislation without full caucus support over the finish line,” said Marcela Mulholland, political director of the left-wing think tank Data for Progress. “We need President Biden and Sen. Manchin to come to a deal–or Biden can spend his State of the Union address caucusing for candidate for President Kyrsten Sinema.”
Those problems, as dire as many Democrats acknowledge, are further compounded by omicron, the COVID variant that the administration has not been able to effectively stop despite making some headway on vaccines and testing. The disappointment is borne out in recent polling. A Quinnipiac University poll taken between January 7 and January 10 places the president at his lowest point to date in the survey, with 54% of registered voters polled saying they disapprove of how he is doing at this point, compared to just 35% who approve.
Worse, that trend has dropped significantly over the past year. In early February 2021, 50 percent of voters said they approved of Biden’s job in office. For all the bad news for the party, however, some progressives see even more of an issue with other possible candidates who were splashed across opinion pages. They view Hillary Clinton and Cheney, in particular, as unacceptable options to bring the country toward a better future.
In The Week, meanwhile, writer Damon Linker offered another option for removing Harris from the ticket. The vice president, who spent much of 2021 battling her perception in the public, has been trying to turn things around. But with her polling about as grim as Biden’s, some have openly considered the idea of the president ushering in someone else to replace her.
Linker wrote that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, another Republican officeholder who reliably opposes Trump, could possibly switch parties and be selected as Biden’s No. 2.“Let’s assume Hogan flips to the Dems,” he wrote. “And Biden continues to flounder. And Harris’ approval numbers continue to flag. And polls reveal Biden’s surest path to broader popularity involves tracking away from the progressive left and boldly embracing the ideological center. If all of those conditionals line up just right, isn’t Biden bound to dump Harris and tap Hogan instead?”
Linker suggested, however, that not even he believes such a situation is at all likely. Progressives see these types of lists that puff up GOP figures or parts of past political dynasties as a mix of laughable and insulting. At best, they are deflecting from the goal of electing new Democrats who can actually move the ideological agenda forward, some suggest.
“This is just one big distraction,” said Kelly Dietrich, who leads the National Democratic Training Committee. “All of this infighting and speculation is hurting our electoral prospects.”
“Democrats need to stop thinking that politics of the past can save us from the future,” he said. “The political world has changed, if Democrats can’t acknowledge, and adapt to this new reality, I have grave concerns about the future of our Democracy.”
Ceraso agreed, comparing the situation to star athletes who don’t know when it’s time to get out of the game. “These recommendations are akin to Michael Jordan coming back from retirement to play for the Washington Wizards,” he said. “Like Jordan coming back to play past his prime, we don’t want or need these leaders to come back and take up the spotlight. Jordan didn’t take the Wizards to the playoffs!”