Making ‘The Switch’

In the “Seinfeld” episode, “The Switch,” Jerry debates with George about the best way to end a relationship with a woman while starting a new one with her roommate. After considerable debate and strategizing, a plan is developed and the effort made, with a wonderfully comic denouement. Today, dominant figures in the Democratic Party are contemplating how to make a switch of their own. Tanking poll numbers and an obvious lack of enthusiasm for the Biden Administration have forced the Democrats to confront a series of hard choices. 

However difficult, these choices are subordinate to the fundamental necessity of keeping power—the unifying threat of their political calculus—and thus the requirement to hold the presidency. Given that Joe Biden is tanking, former President Obama and his agents in the White House—Ron Klain, Susan Rice, et al.—must find a way to make the switch from Biden and Harris to more popular figures who will allow them to win in 2024 and 2028. 

But as Jerry and George discovered, making the switch is nearly impossible to do. Obama and company face three difficult decisions. 

First, they must consider when to replace Biden with another candidate before 2024 and whether they can ride him out through the upcoming midterm election. If they ride him out, then the Democratic primary begins when polls close on November 8. 

Obama and company can do little to prevent a primary challenge to Biden from across the Democratic field, however, so they will have to back a candidate early and forcefully to avoid any internecine bloodbath. Of course, Biden would be a lame duck with no political capital and will be a sitting president rejected by his party. He would be ignored and held in contempt as he fades into history.

If Biden is going to be replaced, however, which appears likely given his physical frailties and mental disintegration are increasingly hard to disguise, ideally this should be done after the midterms. His replacement would then be eligible to serve a full 10 years as permitted under the Constitution and it would place the Democrats on the path to victory in 2024. That is the best way to sustain the Obama agenda. Circumstances—whether lingering ill-effects of COVID or something else—may compel his replacement sooner. But would be poor timing for the Obama agenda. 

A necessary condition for replacing Biden requires first replacing Vice President Kamala Harris, as she is clearly not up to the job she has, let alone the presidency. She consistently polls lower than Biden. Putting her in office would be like adding pure hydrogen to the Hindenburg explosion that is the Biden Administration. Given that they have Harris, the Democrats must make not one switch, but two. 

The second hard choice is when to replace her. There’s a strong argument for doing it immediately. Doing so before the midterms ensures that it is possible and it is the path of least resistance. To do so with Republican control of Congress guarantees a fight and the possibility that Obama and company don’t get their first choice. 

At the same time, no obvious replacement is guaranteed to be as pliable as Harris. Obama and his people may find that Biden’s replacement has a mind of his own as Lyndon Johnson did after Kennedy’s assassination. Once in power, the new president could clean shop and end Obama’s influence. But that is a risk they will have to take.

Once Harris is replaced by the necessary figure, however—say California Governor Gavin Newsom or perhaps even former First Lady Michelle Obama—then the push is on to evict Biden just as soon as possible, likely early in 2023. It would be impossible to have a young vice president like Newsom to contrast with Biden. Biden is likely to go willingly as the good foot soldier he always was. There would be some grumbling as Justice Breyer did when he was pushed out, but he will leave just the same. If Biden fights, it will get ugly. 

What are now whispers of the 25th Amendment will become a Vienna Boys Choir. Most likely he would resign due to his health, which is a choice most Americans could accept and support, even if they were rightfully angry at Biden’s handlers for masking this in 2020. Fundamentally, the outcome has never been in doubt, at the point Biden is no longer needed and is an impediment to advancement of the Obama agenda, he will go. 

Once a President Newsom or other pick is in power, then the third hard choice surfaces. “No more Kamala Harrises” will be the guiding principle. There will have to be a stable, loyal, competent selection for the new vice president, less a Stacey Abrams and more like former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos or New York Governor Kathy Hochul. Having done “the switch” once, unless essential, they would be loath to do it again so soon. Of course, if a Bezos or Hochul doesn’t play ball, anything is possible.  

Finally, as should be expected, these difficult choices will be made in bad faith. They will be made without reference to the American people, their political choices, and without regard to what is needed to sustain the health of the Republic. The cynicism of the Democratic Party is deep. Its contempt for the American people, political principles, culture, history, and institutions are absolute and profound. This is so because its positions mirror the beliefs of its leadership. 

About Bradley A. Thayer

Bradley A. Thayer is the co-author of How China Sees the World: Han-Centrism and the Balance of Power in International Politics, and author ofDarwin and International Relations and the forthcoming Understanding the China Threat.

Photo: Lacy Atkins/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

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