Harris vs Buttigieg in 2024?

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Are we really so tired of 2021 already that we need to skip over the midterms and start looking at the next presidential race? Some of us are, apparently, including the Washington Examiner’s Naomi Lim. Observing the various appearances that Biden administration officials have been making around the country, Lim looks into her crystal ball and sees a pattern developing. Two of the most vocal advocates for Joe Biden’s agenda and most frequent faces to appear on cable news interviews are Vice President Kamala Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. And in that pairing, Lim sees the potential for a primary battle in 2024. What is perhaps the most intriguing thing about these speculations is that nobody really seems to be thinking for even a moment that Joe Bide will be running for a second term, assuming he manages to finish this one.

President Joe Biden may be touring battleground states, but it is Vice President Kamala Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s 2024 White House hopes that have been on display of late.

The split-screen news media coverage last week with Harris’s highly anticipated southern border trip to Texas on one side and Buttigieg’s Pride Month East Room event at the White House on the other event previewed a rematch of the 2020 Democratic primary — either in 2024 if Biden opts against seeking a second term or four years after that.

Despite headlining the Pride event and continuing to be a central voice in the administration’s infrastructure sales pitch, Buttigieg’s climb will likely be a steep one, experts say.

Harris may outrank Buttigieg, but the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor is not letting hierarchy prevent him from preparing for his future, according to Republican strategist and Prime Policy Group Founding Chairman Charlie Black.

Fine. If we must, I’ll play along with this. The first question is whether or not there actually will be a Democratic presidential primary in 2024. Given how Joe Biden has looked (and acted) thus far, I would actually be rather surprised if he opted for a second term. He just seems to be continually tired and frequently confused. Does he really want to put himself through yet another presidential campaign and then four more years in office if he manages to win? I suppose he could still surprise us, but if I had to bet a dollar today I would put it on Biden being one and done.

But that creates a problem for both Biden and the rest of his party. Normally, the assumption is that the POTUS will always try for a second term, so there’s no need for the rest of the hopefuls to waste their time getting ready. But if Biden isn’t going to run again, he would need to make that announcement no later than next November after the midterms are over and somehow keep it a secret until then. The fight to replace him will already be well underway among the Republicans and the Democratic candidates will need time to catch up. But that timetable will effectively turn Joe Biden into a president who didn’t even manage 24 months in office before becoming a lame duck.

The speculation about Harris and Buttigieg is interesting but probably premature. They both clearly have ambitions to take a seat in the Oval Office since they both entered the 2020 primary. But there’s never a guarantee that a sitting Vice President will get the nomination for the next race, and if they do, they are rarely a shoo-in to win. The last Veep to make the leap was George H.W. Bush, and he only wound up lasting one term. Harris has very little in the way of a resume thus far and the tasks that have been put on her plate (border issues) haven’t exactly been going swimmingly.

Buttigieg has even less of a resume, being a mayor of a relatively middling-size city and now a guy who is the Transportation Secretary largely on the weight of saying that he’s always really liked cars. But you have to give him credit for one thing. There were a lot of Democratic voters who really did seem to like him. He made it much farther in the primary race than Harris did. (She didn’t even stick around for the first primary election.) Buttigieg has proven he can go the distance, even if he came up short in the end. Harris generated no heat in the 2020 primary and was basically ignored by voters until Joe Biden whisked her up from the also-ran basket and gave her a new job.

I think narrowing the field this much so far in advance of the primary (if there even is a primary) is impossible. There are probably some dark-horse candidates out there waiting to surprise us all that aren’t even coming to mind yet. And how they do will also depend on who the eventual Republican nominee ends up being. Will it be Trump 2.0? Ron DeSantis? Nikki Haley? Now I’ve given myself a headache and I should probably go take a nap for a while.