In American Football, there’s a term “bridge quarterback”: a quarterback that is only meant to be around for a year or so, until a rookie quarterback can get ready to take over the franchise.
The 2019 NFL Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs revolutionized football with their freakishly-fast offense powered by young transcendent talent signal-caller Patrick Mahomes. In his second full year under center, Mahomes is on pace to smash NFL records for his prodigious play. But the decision to turn to him as their full-time QB at first appeared to be a bit odd. Why? Because the Kansas City Chiefs were already good when they made the switch.
Between 2012 and 2017, the Kansas City Chiefs racked up an impressive 50–26 under Smith. They made the playoffs each season. He was one of the top-rated quarterbacks in all of football, and made three Pro Bowls, but after being unceremoniously bounced in the postseason, and trading up to draft Patrick Mahomes in 2017, Head Coach Andy Reid made the switch to Mahomes. The new Chiefs ran circles around the NFL the past two seasons, and Mahomes just signed the richest contract in United States professional sports history.
Biden is the Presidential version of a “bridge quarterback.” A source from inside the Beltway who declined to be named in this report told us in the spring that Joe Biden does not intend to seek a second term, and would prefer to hand off the keys to Kamala Harris for a full two terms starting in 2024. In fact, this same source made this same prognostication in the fall of 2018.
The Biden/Harris ticket could be a trojan horse for broader, sharper progressive inroads in the coming two decades for the US. The younger democratic base (under age 45) leans far more to the left than their older counterparts, yet that’s clearly not where the party’s top brass’ priorities lie this cycle.
This entire campaign, from the jump — with its Obama-era nostalgia and low profile — is designed to merely stop US free-fall into authoritarian implosion, and keep the lights on long enough so that wholesale change in Washington can come to fruition. He’s running as a caretaker, and polls suggest enthusiasm for the Biden brand — including yesterday’s high-quality Monmouth poll — is lukewarm, at best, yet enthusiasm for defeating Trump is sky-high.
The selection of Kamala Harris as VP, two decades younger, with a mother from India and a father from Jamaica, signals a short-term plan with the potential for a longer-term vision.
While she may not pass ideological purity tests, she does a few important things that support this line of thinking:
- She’s a bit more liberal than Biden but not so liberal that it scares off the more moderate Democratic wing.
- She checks three demographic boxes (Asian, Black, woman) that are important at least symbolically, if not policy-wise, and representative of the democratic electorate as a whole and of this moment in history in particular.
- She’s a highly known quantity relative to the others who were on the shortlist — Rice, Duckworth, Demmings — meaning there isn’t a lot of extra opposition research that can be done to shock and surprise the general public (beyond the racist, sexist overtones that will no doubt accompany the attack ads, playing to the fervent Republican base).
- She’s a sitting two-term senator in by far the largest state in the US, and while that doesn’t give a ton of electoral advantage in reliably blue California, it does show she can build a sizable coalition.
- She could provide a strong and smooth transition towards 2024, should Biden win, and buys the Democrats time to flesh out a full-throat endorsement of more progressive ideals and the policy planks and candidates that could champion them.
There’s plenty to nitpick with Harris, sure, from her tough-on-crime prosecutor background in California, yet she’s the “least bad” option given the stakes in play and the gentle, low-risk style of campaign being run.
And, indeed, there’s reasons to support a caretaker administration over something more focused on revolution: with the US already facing a triple-barreled blast of an uncontrolled COVID-19 pandemic, an economic depression and the greatest civil unrest in half a century, a steadying, hyper-competent administration may be the balm that stops the bleeding.
Harris is a classic “don’t overthink this” pick, and I really don’t think this was over-thought. This is a great stop-gap until broader, more sweeping recalibrations of the Democratic party and American Democracy can be made in the years and election cycles to come.
Yet, it’s not out of the question to think we’ll see the ticket move to the left as the race takes shape, or in the event of a decisive Biden-Harris victory, towards the tail-end of a first term. That’s, of course, the all-or-nothing question left to be answered: will the safe choice pay off?
If played right (and, you know, if they win), the Biden/Harris United States will be something akin to the Mark Jackson-led Golden State Warriors, or the Alex Smith-led Kansas City Chiefs: strong and solid, yet not quite as revolutionary as their next iterations. Respectively, the Warriors won two titles in their first three years under Steve Kerr (and an NBA record-setting 73 regular season wins in the year they didn’t take home the title), and the Chiefs, with Mahomes under center, upended the NFL entirely.
Maybe that feels like settling. Yet it’s clear from the past four years of the current administration that we’re faced with a fork between that road forward and a US descent into illiberal fascist kleptocracy.
It’s a clear choice, and while the selection of Kamala Harris as VP does nothing to suggest whole redrawing of the US social contract is imminent, it does present us with a capital-P professional to fill out the ticket — and a historic selection— that can step in at a moment’s notice and perhaps take the reigns in 2024, when the more imaginative work more reflective of the increasingly diverse, stratified and impoverished American electoral base will begin in earnest.