Will VP Harris help or hurt Biden’s reelection chances?

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

In the days since President Biden formally launched his reelection campaign, Vice President Kamala Harris has been the target of an unusual level of scrutiny for someone who’s not looking to become commander in chief herself.

Harris is an atypical vice president, though. She’s the first woman and, as the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, the first person of color to hold the position. She also serves under Biden, who is already the oldest president ever and, if reelected, would be 82 years old at the start of his second term. From the moment she was chosen as Biden’s running mate, Harris has faced more questions about her ability to run the country than any vice president in modern memory.

In recent days, some Republicans have centered their case against Biden’s 2024 campaign around criticizing Harris as much as the president himself. “If you vote for Joe Biden, you really are counting on a President Harris,” the Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley said on Fox News last week.

Once considered the clear heir to lead the Democratic Party once Biden’s tenure was up, Harris’s standing has slumped amid concerns that she has struggled while serving as vice president. Over the past two years, a series of news reports have portrayed her office as plagued by discontent, in-fighting and frustration at her difficulty to make her mark on the issues she was asked to lead on — most notably immigration. Her approval ratings have dipped significantly since Inauguration Day, mirroring Biden’s own decline in support.

In the leadup to Biden’s announcement, there was no shortage of think pieces calling for Biden to replace Harris on his reelection ticket. There’s no indication, however, that the White House ever gave the idea any real consideration.

Why there’s debate

Still, Harris has plenty of critics — from both sides of the political spectrum — who believe she’s a substantial liability as Biden heads into what will likely be a closely fought election next year. Many conservatives argue that the increased likelihood that Harris could become president at some point in a second Biden term will turn away swing voters who don’t believe she has the chops to lead the nation. Some on the left fear that she’s failed to establish herself as a worthy successor to the president, which could dampen enthusiasm among young voters and people of color — groups that need to turn out in huge numbers for Democrats to win in 2024.

Harris’s defenders argue that the campaign’s launch will finally give her a chance to show off the political talent that she’s been unable to display while carrying out the often unglamorous work of vice president. They say the emergence of issues like abortion and threats to democracy as a core issue in voters’ minds will make her an especially potent messenger for Democrats’ vision for the country during the upcoming campaign.

Others make the case that it’s the vice presidency, not anything about Harris herself, that has weakened her appeal over the past two years. They point out that every modern vice president — including Biden — has faced the same dilemma of trying to establish themselves without outshining the president, although Harris is probably facing more scrutiny because of her gender and race.

What’s next

The campaign will finally give Harris an opportunity to shine

“As the first woman and first Black and South Asian American to serve as vice president, Harris was destined to be held to an impossible standard. Now, as the reelection campaign begins, she gets to show the talent and drive that got her there.” — Eugene Robinson, Washington Post

The public doesn’t trust her to lead the country if Biden can’t finish his second term

“Because of Biden’s age, the chances of her taking the top job are substantial, and many voters will judge the Biden-Harris ticket on how confident they feel about Harris. How would I feel about President Harris dealing with a nuclear crisis in Korea or a Chinese invasion of Taiwan or another global financial crisis? Not good.” — Bret Stephens, New York Times

Harris just isn’t very appealing to voters

“Vice President Kamala Harris … stumbles through speeches and embarrasses herself when speaking to journalists. Unlike Biden, she can’t blame it on her age. Harris is simply a transparently inauthentic politician who desperately tries to sound smarter and more profound than she is. She couldn’t win the presidency on her own because she is even more unpopular than the already unpopular Biden.” — Zachary Faria, Washington Examiner

Harris can be a major asset if Biden works to bolster her image

“It’s Biden’s job to bolster Harris, elevate her and convince first Democrats, then the wider electorate, that his vice president is prepared for the top job in the event the actuarial tables scramble the political scene. Biden selected Harris in the first place because he needed the qualities that she brought to the ticket. He still does.” — Francis Wilkinson, Bloomberg

She hasn’t shown that she’s capable of leading her party into the future

“Given Biden’s propensity for awkward gaffes and misstatements, Harris should have been his foil. That’s not the case. Nor have the early predictions that she could outshine her boss come true. In fact, all this could be encouraging Biden to run again in 2024. … And I don’t think that’s what anyone – especially Democrats – expected with Harris as VP.” — Ingrid Jacques, USA Today

Biden is hurting Harris’s poll numbers, not the other way around

“The idea that her approval numbers are the problem when his numbers are underwater is kind of missing the forest for the trees. No vice president in modern history’s numbers are going to be better than the guy who’s at the top of the ticket.” — Cornell Belcher, a Democratic political analyst, to NBC

She’s been entirely ineffective as vice president

“Harris' time as vice president has been marked by the same sorts of stumbles and false starts that plagued her campaign. In her nearly two years since assuming office, Harris has failed to find a signature issue or define herself in any way. The biggest headlines she has garnered come from a series of silly gaffes and awkward interviews, and from turmoil among her staff.” — Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Reason

She can be Democrats’ most powerful voice on reproductive rights

“Harris has made abortion rights a central piece of her political identity. … She’s been subtly making herself the voice with a megaphone no one can ignore.” — Philip Elliott, Time

Every vice president struggles to make a mark

“Harris is hardly the first vice president to struggle in the shadows. Nearly every vice president since the creation of the position has complained about the job incessantly, starting with our first two — Thomas Jefferson and John Adams — and continuing more or less unabated through the historical record.” — Alex Shephard, New Republic

Harris, like all running mates, will have very little impact on the election’s outcome

“Voters have consistently shown their focus is on the top of the ticket, not the No. 2 position. Good or bad, the vice president can generally be summed up in a single word: afterthought.” — Mark Z. Barabak, Los Angeles Times

The GOP should think twice about aggressively attacking her

“Republicans may have no moral qualms about inciting racist and sexist concerns about the first Black person, first Asian American, and first woman to serve as vice-president, there are political risks as well. Whatever cynical Beltway reporters think of Harris, she is a highly sympathetic and historic personality to millions of voters. Going after Harris to take down Biden may be an irresistible temptation to the MAGA folk who hate everything about her, but it could be a fateful choice for Republicans.” — Ed Kilgore, New York

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Photo illustration: Jack Forbes/Yahoo News; photos: Eric Thayer/Bloomberg via Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images