The first big decision a presidential nominee makes is picking a running mate. In announcing his own candidacy for the White House on Monday, former Vice President Mike Pence made it official: "Donald Trump 2024" is running against his own first big decision from 2016.
Meanwhile Nikki Haley, a candidate herself, went on Fox News to remind everyone of the choice Joe Biden made in 2020 after he received the Democratic nomination.
"A vote for President Biden is actually a vote for President Harris," she said on Fox News. "Make no bones about it. … Every liberal knows … it's Kamala Harris that's gonna end up being president if Joe Biden wins this election."
Now, in case you didn't get the memo, Haley has this "generational change" narrative she's been workshopping on the campaign trail. The former governor of South Carolina started banging this drum back in February when she proposed a "competency test" for politicians over 75. It didn't catch on. She's apparently moved on to an updated version of a 2020 scare tactic: Biden's age will prevent him from finishing the term — hence a "President Harris."
Haley's comments are a bit silly. The reason we have vice presidents is in case something happens to the president — not in case they're old. Ideally, the vice president pick is someone the nominee believes can do the job as well as bring excitement (Harris) or stability (Pence) to the ticket.
The hope is that the selection is more about qualifications than politics. When it comes to Harris, conservatives like Haley remain hungry to test that out, because they see a political opening. Their hunt began in 2020, the moment Biden made it clear his pick would be a Black woman. The more crowded the GOP field becomes this time around, the more frenzied their rhetoric about Harris is sure to become.
So give them what they want.
If the point of having a vice president is having a backup in case the president is unable to serve, why not own Biden's choice? That doesn't mean dwelling on his age as much as it means not allowing Haley and others to turn Biden's choice of vice president into a negative. Especially given the current relationship between Trump and Pence.
We know Haley's scare tactic wasn't intended to sow dissension on the left, because … well, she was speaking on Fox News. So that "President Harris" specter was meant for Republican voters who would hate not only the thought of a Biden successor who could deliver on his promises, but also the image of Harris being the commander-in-chief doing it.
It's something comedian Roy Wood Jr. touched on while hosting this year's White House Correspondents' Association dinner:
"I think the most insulting scandal to fall to the feet of the Biden administration was placed at the feet of our Madam Vice President — the scandal of 'What does Kamala do?' That's a disrespectful question, because nobody ever asked that question of a vice president until a woman got the job."
Specifically, a Black woman. Critics were primed to attack no matter what she did or didn't accomplish.
But consider the source. Most of the barbs aimed at Harris come from Republican detractors, members of the party whose front-runner was recently convicted of sexual assault, the party with a habit of catering to white nationalists. With their racist and sexist baggage, using "President Harris" as a boogeyman is especially disgusting. Also effective.
There's no getting around it.
So Biden should not allow opponents to use a "President Harris" narrative as a sign of his frailty; it's a strength. His first big decision as the nominee was historic. Now, go remind voters why it was also right ... which is something Trump can't do.
LZ Granderson is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.