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Rich Lowry: Harris v. Buttigieg GOP’s dream primary
Rich Lowry
Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review. - photo by File photo

The GOP has had plenty of reason for good cheer in recent months.

Nothing can compare, though, with the glad tidings of a potential showdown between Vice President Kamala Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to be Biden’s successor in 2024 should he decide not to run for reelection.

Surely, there would be other serious candidates in that circumstance, but there is no doubt that Harris and Buttigieg would be high on the list of potential contenders, as various journalistic outfits have noted over the past week.

As it happens, they exemplify the contemporary Democratic Party’s electoral deficiencies, while bringing their own flagrant personal political weaknesses to the equation.

If this is really the choice Democrats would face should Biden decline to run, they better hope he defies age, bounces back to robust political health, and is prepared to serve again well into his 80s.

Harris flamed out in the 2020 Democratic nomination well before the Iowa caucuses, unable to settle on a message or political identity. Her staff was obsessed with the progressive hothouse of Twitter, which is a powerful device for creating a false sense of what real voters, even Democratic primary voters, care about.

As vice president, she’s basically picked up where her desultory campaign left off. In the latest USA Today/Suffolk University poll, Harris had a dismal 28% approval rating. It’s difficult to rate that low without getting indicted or suffering some other embarrassing scandal.

Her allies, of course, complain that she’s being treated unfairly because she’s a woman of color. This fixation on race and gender plays much better with the left-wing activist class than with the public. The simpler explanation for Harris’ woes is that she’s a below-average politician serving under an unpopular president.

Pete Buttigieg has had a happier tenure. With his surprising success in the 2020 Democratic primary, he bootstrapped himself into a Cabinet position and is now enjoying a windfall of resources thanks to the infrastructure bill.

He embodies, to a fault, the party’s growing strength among college- educated whites. He’s smooth, credentialed, hyper-articulate and a quick study who knows enough — sometimes just enough — to charm and impress journalists and other white-collar creative types.

If a management consultant were to design a progressive white Democrat in a bottle, the result would look a lot like Buttigieg, himself a former management consultant.

It’s become increasingly clear, though, that the Democratic Party’s new base among college-educated voters is a trap if it is pursued to the exclusion of an appeal to working- class voters. The party’s poor standing with non-college-educated voters has begun to show up in eroding support among Latinos, a constituency that was presumed to be a key pillar of the Obama-crafted “coalition of the ascendant.”

A successful post-Biden Democratic future is more likely to be found in the likes of New York Mayor-elect Eric Adams than Harris or Buttigieg.

He is an African American former cop with a hard-knocks upbringing that gives him working- class street cred. He knows that woke bromides aren’t the way to appeal to African American voters, who put him over the top in the Democratic primary. He’s a standard progressive in many respects, but he has proven immune to fashionable left-wing causes. He not only defused a hot-button cultural issue — namely, crime — he campaigned on it and made it a strength, an ability that most national Democrats have lost as the party has moved left since 2016.

It’s far too early to know how his City Hall tenure will actually turn out, but Adams has the qualities and approach that, in theory, could be fruitful for Democrats nationally.

Meanwhile, even if the GOP is on a roll at the moment, it shouldn’t get its hopes up. At the end of the day, a 2024 Democratic primary dominated by Harris and Buttigieg is probably too good to be true.

Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.

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