By now, you’re likely well familiar with the GOP’s current 2024 election party line—the one about how a vote for (too old, nearly dead) President Joe Biden is really a vote for (too unprepared, heartbeat away) Vice President Kamala Harris.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) kicked off his podcast earlier this week by pushing the same tired mantra—but then road-tested a prediction seemingly crafted for maximum fear mongering effect.
“In August of 2024, the Democrat kingmakers [will] jettison Joe Biden and parachute in Michelle Obama,” Cruz stated. “That ought to scare the hell out of anyone who is unhappy about the direction this country is going and doesn’t want us to go even crazier, in an even worse direction.”
I’ll spare you the details of Cruz’s nonsensical conspiracy theory, except to say that his explanation for how a shadowy cabal of Democratic power brokers will force Biden to drop out at the 11th hour in order to pull off a dramatic switcheroo during the party’s national convention rested precariously on his admission that, “how the Democrats execute that exactly, I don't know.”
Nonetheless, Cruz claims the former first lady’s selection as the Democratic nominee is “the most likely and most dangerous” outcome. This is, in no small part, likely due to Cruz’s certainty that former President Barack Obama is “the puppet master” who is “already running the Biden administration.”
As it turns out, Cruz wasn’t floating brand new nuttery he invented himself, but reading from a script Republicans have been passing among themselves for months, hoping it will gain traction with conspiracy-minded GOP voters.
Back in May, Fox News host Rachel Campos-Duffy described the same delusional vision—in nearly verbatim language, no less—stating, “I think that Biden’s not gonna make it to the end and that Michelle Obama will be brought in. After all, the Obamas are pretty much running this administration.” She’s one of a lengthy roster of conservatives doing their part to help the completely baseless rumor gain legs, including Republican dirty trickster Roger Stone, Bill O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly, Newsmax’s Eric Bolling and garbage U.K. newspapers such as The Telegraph.
How convenient that this emerging talking point comes after party boosters have used every given opportunity to malign Kamala Harris, Biden’s obvious and constitutionally ordained successor—and also a Black woman—as unfit to serve.
Republican presidential contender Nikki Haley, ostensibly running against Biden, has instead campaigned on the idea that the president’s age makes him a dead man walking, and that a resulting Harris presidency would be an existential threat to the country. “This is really me running against Kamala Harris,” Haley said recently, adding in yet another Fox News interview that “the thought of Kamala Harris being president should send a chill up every American spine."
It’s all too predictable that the GOP—which is today less of a political party than a vehicle for racial grievance—has settled on an electoral strategy that in large part consists of galvanizing white voters with the “threat” that a vote for anyone but a Republican will end with a Black woman, any Black woman, as the next president. (This is not an overstatement; both U.S. and U.K. conservative rags from the New York Post to the Daily Mail have lately been trying to make the idea of President Meghan Markle stick.)
On the one hand, the strategy allows conservative operatives to play on well-established, overtly misogynoir fallacies about the inherent incompetency of Black women.
There’s Haley relentlessly pushing the idea that Harris—who rose from being San Francisco’s first Black woman district attorney, to being elected California’s first woman attorney general, to becoming only the second Black woman to ever serve in the Senate, to being picked as Biden’s running mate—has somehow “failed at every job she’s been given.” (I’d be remiss not to make special note of Haley’s semantic implication that Harris was “given”—meaning “handed”—any of those roles.)
Not to be outdone, Fox News host Stuart Varney made the disingenuous and outlandish claim that Donald Trump’s four indictments and 91 charges are, “above all,” part of a larger Democratic scheme to “distract from the obvious danger of a Kamala Harris presidency.”
Clearly, there’s insecurity among the GOP ranks about the efficacy of using Biden’s age, which will be 82 on inauguration day, as a dissuading factor for voters—an issue they’re only pretending to care about anyway, considering Trump is just three years younger.
So they’ve instead focused on exploiting the anti-Blackness and misogyny that’s rampant among their base to get out the vote by heightening their misgivings about the first Black woman to serve as vice president. And the only Black woman Republicans hate more than Harris? The otherwise beloved Michelle Obama—whose husband so triggered white fears about status lost that they voted in Trump the next time around and launched a white backlash so furious it now threatens to destroy democracy.
And while every day is a good day to exploit gendered racism among Republican voters, I can’t help thinking that the visibility of Black women in guiding Trump’s comeuppance—New York State Attorney General Letitia James, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, and U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan—has them extra primed for vengeance. They’re probably still brooding over the Supreme Court appointment of Ketanji Brown Jackson, a Black woman conservatives also risibly claimed—as if we couldn’t all read her stellar résumé—was gifted her job.
That’s likely why, in addition to using both Obama and Harris’s names as jump-scares for their base, they’re also blaming the whole undertaking on Black women overall. Cruz claimed that the only acceptable stand-in for Harris would be the ex-FLOTUS because “you don’t infuriate African American women, which is a critical part of the [Democrats’] constituency.” Stone suggested the same, claiming that “the only way in their party they can replace a woman of color is with another woman of color.”
Here’s former Fox News star Tucker Carlson making the case back in January:
“So here’s the problem for the Democratic Party. The current vice president is totally incompetent and universally loathed by everyone, including her staff and possibly her husband, who literally kissed her with a mask on. We’re not judging, but you can see it for yourself. So you don’t want her. But you can’t just ditch her for a white dude. Sorry, that’s not equity. So where do you go from here? Ooh, good question. And it turns out it’s a question that Michelle Obama seems to have been thinking about recently.”
Reader, it is not, in fact, a question that Obama has been thinking about recently. Perhaps no one has said in more ways that they have zero interest in holding office than Michelle Obama, who as recently as April told Oprah she’d “never expressed any interest in politics. Ever.”
The whole thing is a huge charade, in any case, and every conservative engaging in spreading this fable knows it.
Biden committed to running for reelection, with Vice President Harris by his side, over a year ago. Sure, Harris’ approval ratings have hovered around 40 percent, but that’s because they’re inextricable from Biden’s, rising and falling in tandem. And anyway, among Democrats, Harris’s approval ratings are at nearly 80 percent, just like the president’s.
I’m not ignoring the many other white-guy naysayers, including those writing from the left—like The Washington Post’s David Ignatius, who inexplicably suggested that Biden should retire due to age, and that Harris should simply be exchanged, as if interchangeable, with other women in politics.
But I am saying, while these “allies” might not be using Harris’ race and gender to stoke fear in the hearts of voters, they are likely unwittingly acting on misogynoirist assumptions, just like the other guys.
The ticket is set. Move on with your lives.