November 18, 2021 - 7:00am

“The president did not appoint the vice president to be the border czar,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on Capitol Hill this week. “He asked her to lead the effort in addressing the root causes of irregular migration. Those are two very different things.”

Let’s put aside Mayorkas’ on-brand, even fashionable sleight of hand of using word games to deny the reality that all concede privately: Kamala Harris was tasked with the border this past spring — and if she was addressing “root causes,” the public record on what exactly she was doing is sketchy beyond a June commandment to “do not come” to Central American migrants. The sentiment was captured by yesterday’s New York Post: “Mayorkas struggles to explain what Kamala Harris does in immigration role”.

The bad news is piling up. The centre-Left media has evidently turned on the vice president — at 28% approval in one survey — with fresh takedowns in CNN, the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. If (and it’s a big if), President Biden runs in 2024, would he ponder a ticket switch? Most recent presidents have. And if Biden doesn’t run, the California vice president’s heir apparent status is now greatly damaged. 

Harris will have competitors, but who are they?

The first, and most obvious, is Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, “Mayor Pete.” Long a Harris rival, Harris’ allies kept the former 2020 presidential candidate out of Turtle Bay. That is, the low-risk, highly-televised role of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, where Buttigieg could have prattled on by day and built donor contacts on the Upper East Side by night.

But Buttigieg has been able to maintain a public profile in spite of the backroom knifing. A rather hagiographic new Netflix documentary was just released, and the Transport Secretary is now point man on Biden’s new infrastructure programme. That’s a double-edged sword, but if he doesn’t mess it up — and Americans actually get and like their new roads and trains — it could be enough to make him a proper Democratic front-runner.

The list from there is a familiar cast: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobachur. But perhaps the most interesting, if provocative option is an even more longstanding rival of Harris’: California Governor Gavin Newsom, who survived a recall effort in September with the gusto of a 49er. Angeleno Bill Maher pumped him for president back in the Trump years, saluting his good-looking white guyness and management of what could be its own major country (the jury’s out on that one). 

When they were both in the lower ranks, Harris essentially muscled Newsom out of the running for both the Senate and Golden State donors’ attention. But maybe it’s Newsom’s turn for revenge, if he’s up to it (he never seems that enthusiastic about anything.

If I’m to end on a joke, defrocked former Senator Al Franken is making a comeback, but before his Kirsten Gillbrand-generated downfall, the ex-comedian was hailed as a great option to go up against Donald Trump. What’s old could be new again.

One last option: Rep. Alexandria Ocascio-Cortez turns thirty-five in 2024, just in time to be eligible for the presidency…

Curt Mills is a senior reporter at the American Conservative.