Voices: What if it’s neither Biden nor Trump?

·5-min read
Donald Trump watches a video of Joe Biden playing during a rally (2022) (Getty Images)
Donald Trump watches a video of Joe Biden playing during a rally (2022) (Getty Images)

It is not exactly breaking news that Donald Trump faces an exhaustive list of legal troubles. Yet new reporting by CNN reveals that the National Archives is handing over damning documents to special counsel Jack Smith. In a letter to the twice-impeached former president, acting Archivist Debra Steidel Wall claims these documents “all reflect communications involving close presidential advisers, some of them directed to you personally, concerning whether, why, and how you should declassify certain classified records.”

Trump’s claims that he could declassify documents with his mind like some sort of malignant Professor X were always bogus. This latest news does, however, show that Trump may be in far more legal jeopardy than even he realizes, laying open the possibility that the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination may be campaigning from behind bars.

We all know of Trump’s myriad of legal woes. I do not think most Americans have stopped to consider what they mean for the future of our country, though. I am not talking about the implications of (re)electing a man who, whether being found credibly liable for sexual assault by a jury of his peers or attempting to overthrow the government of the United States of America, is manifestly unfit for office. I am talking about the fact that he might not be able to serve at all.

Donald Trump is 76 years old. President Joe Biden is 80. Whether because one of them is in jail or either of them is dead – something I sincerely hope does not happen, but think is a giant elephant in the room we are not discussing – it is entirely possible that neither of the current frontrunners for the presidency ends up being the next president. I hear pundits on the Sunday shows tiptoe around this conversation or euphemistically discuss Biden’s age (curiously, never Trump’s, though he is only four years younger). No one, though, seems willing to discuss it with the kind of frankness I think the conversation deserves.

That is understandable. Speculating about someone’s potential death is socially uncouth at best, downright macabre at worst. I don’t want either Donald Trump or Joe Biden to die. Aside from the disruption to our national life it would cause, both men are human beings like you and me and have family who love them. Regardless of what I think of their politics, it is important their humanity is centered as well.

Yet, to not acknowledge the chaos one or either’s inability to serve would cause to the country seems irresponsible. Even if whoever is elected survives their inauguration, there is every chance that they do not live out their entire four-year term. That makes their choice of Vice President even more important.

A poll from May 9 found Vice President Kamala Harris has a net approval rating of -12. That means more people dislike the job she has been doing than like it. A Fox News poll this month found that her approval rating with Democrats has dropped four points. And while readers may be loathed to accept the credibility of a Fox News poll, earlier this month USA Today reported that some top Democrats, speaking anonymously, “expressed concern that [Harris’ popularity] may be beyond repair.”

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to enter the GOP primary as early as next week. A poll from last week, however, shows DeSantis in second place but polling at only 18 percent support – more than 40 points behind Trump.

If Trump were to be indicted, voters’ calculus could change, which would benefit DeSantis. That seems unlikely though given just how devoted the GOP base is to Trump. If Trump were to die before the end of the primary, DeSantis would likely benefit. Even if he weren’t, though, Trump could unify the party by selecting DeSantis as his running mate the way Ronald Reagan did George H.W. Bush following the contentious 1980 primary.

Either way, a Ron DeSantis presidency scares the living daylights out of me, not least because of his authoritarian actions in Florida where he has banned books, taken over higher education and banned ideas he dislikes, and where he has persecuted LGBTQ people and stripped women of reproductive rights. He is every bit as bad as Donald Trump, except competent.

What scares me even more, though, is that Trump – emboldened by a third consecutive GOP nomination – selects a true believer to run alongside him. Imagine Vice President Kari Lake being sworn into the presidency following the death of President Trump. Or Vice President Marjorie Taylor Greene. Neither scenario is so far outside the realm of possibility, yet neither has been seriously considered by the American people.

Both scenarios need to be, as well as what a President Kamala Harris would mean. While I in no way believe you compare her to Lake or Greene, voters may disagree. Her approval ratings being underwater should concern any Democrat who is concerned about not only winning in 2024, but about the future of the party. There is every chance Harris could become president before 2028, which would make her not only the standard bearer of the party for several years, but the frontrunner for the next election.

Do we really want someone most Americans disapprove of in that role? Is that what is best for the party? Is it what is best for the country?

It is time we stop thinking solely of Trump and Biden and start answering these questions. We must begin to consider what the future without either of them looks like, for that future may be more imminent than we think. I hope it isn’t, because I’m not a ghoul who wishes ill on anyone – even my political opponents.

We cannot govern on hope alone, though, crossing our fingers and praying two old men stay healthy and alive – or even just out of jail – long enough to avoid a national crisis. Running mates always matter, but in 2024, they matter all the more because we may not just be electing one president, but two.