When Daniel Webster was offered the vice-presidency by William Henry Harrison, he reportedly said: “I do not propose to be buried until I’m dead.” Kamala Harris is already well acquainted with the downsides to what has historically been Washington’s least popular job. Unlike Webster, however, Harris really wanted the role. Having run a poor campaign for the Democratic nomination that she ended before the first caucus, the prospect of being on Biden’s ticket was too good. It was the political equivalent of a Hail Mary pass to set her up for the 2024 or 2028 ultimate prize depending on when Biden stepped down. On an actuarial basis, the odds also looked reasonable. Eight US presidents have died in office and Biden is by far the oldest to be elected to the role. But success requires two things — a close working relationship with the president; and skill at handling the awkward politics of being number two. At the moment Harris does not seem to have either.

In formal terms, Harris negotiated a central spot in this White House. As Barack Obama had granted to Biden, Harris is apparently the last person in the room before Biden takes a decision. Only since Walter Mondale was number two to Jimmy Carter has that been true — and by no means always (ask George HW Bush and Mike Pence). But having a seat at the important White House meetings does not guarantee a productive relationship. The general hunch, reinforced by my own conversations, is that Biden selected Harris to give demographic balance to his ticket, not because of her presidential potential, or their personal chemistry. The intraparty value she brought to the campaign outweighed whatever hurt Biden felt at having been portrayed by Harris as a semi-racist dinosaur in one of the Democratic debates. A few days after that, the otherwise serenely-mannered Jill Biden reportedly said: “With what he cares about, what he fights for, what he’s committed to, you get up there and call him a racist without basis? Go fuck yourself.”

All was clearly forgiven, if not forgotten, when Harris was invited to join the ticket last year. But it is hard to shake the suspicion that Biden is giving Harris enough rope to hang herself. Her two main vice-presidential roles are close to insoluble — to tackle the root causes of the US border crisis in Central America, and to persuade Congress to pass sweeping voting rights reform.

I wouldn’t ask my own worst enemy to fix the Northern Triangle. Without any US boots on the ground, marshalling the co-operation of countries such as Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and of course Mexico makes the US military’s clear and hold operation in Afghanistan look straightforward. Migrants and refugees will keep coming to the US border and Harris will be Biden’s lightning rod. The $4bn in US aid at Harris’s disposal is peanuts against the scale of the challenge. Yet it is unclear whether any amount of cash could help when the dividing line between organised crime and governments are so blurred.

Unfortunately, Harris is not handling the politics of this well. This week Harris gave a disastrous interview to NBC’s Lester Holt in which she tripped up over the fact that she has not yet visited the US-Mexico border. The simple answer to what ought to have been an easily anticipated question was: “My job is to tackle the root causes of migration in Central America, not to stage cheap photo-ops at the border.” Instead Harris responded defensively: “We’ve been to the border. So this whole thing about the border — we’ve been to the border.” When Holt pointed out she hadn’t, Harris replied: “And I haven’t been to Europe. And I mean, I don’t understand the point that you’re making.” Harris is now the main Republican target for any US border problems. During her visit to Guatemala this week, Harris also gave ammunition to the left by saying “Do not come” to potential refugees. It is a bad week when you have equally enraged both Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Fox News. White House officials told CNN they were “perplexed” by Harris’s “ill-prepared answers”, which they worried would overshadow her first overseas trip.

There is plenty of time for Harris to improve. But being Veep is a thankless undertaking. When things go right, your boss takes the credit. When they go wrong, you get the blame. Moreover, Harris displayed a scant learning curve during the 2019 primaries when, as I told Swampians at the time, she “kept hopping from one half-baked campaign theme to another, never stopping for long”. Rana, you’re a more generous-spirited person than me so please tell me where I’m wrong. If you had skin in the game, which Democrat would you back to succeed Biden?

Ed, I’d totally agree that Harris was necessary for demographic balance on the ticket. In some ways, I think she was probably necessary for ideological balance too. By the time November 2020 had rolled around, I’d argue it was becoming clear that Biden was much more a labour lefty than a centrist Democrat at heart, and certainly everything that’s happened so far in his administration is testimony to that. Corporate donors and what was left of the Clintonian middle wanted balance and Harris provided that — not only is she a woman of colour, she’s been supportive of Big Tech, Big Pharma and Big Finance. She looked like the new guard of the party, but acted more like the old guard.

I was never a huge Harris fan, but politically I think she was the right choice for the ticket. And I admired the way she had a kind of post gender politics quality. As I wrote in this Swamp Notes before the election:

Of course, being VP is very different from being a candidate. What happens post-Biden? The betting odds are on Harris, of course. And to be perfectly honest, there’s nobody else yet on the horizon that makes my heart sing. But if I were to create the ideal candidate for Democratic contender in 2024 from scratch (assuming it’s not Biden), I’d take Uncle Joe’s heart, add in Elizabeth Warren’s courage, AOC’s charisma, and the smarts of Pete Buttigieg. How’s that for a mash-up?

And now a word from our Swampians . . .

In response to: ‘Why Facebook can’t get it right’:

“The scraping of slivers (or chunks!) of our humanity by IT platforms to monetise its aggregation by the scraper is rampant. We’re all Zuboff-inspired Age of Surveillance Capitalism geeks now! What about paying for order flow? The latest UK example is the government-inspired egregious NHS handover of personal medical records, with commercial interests flagged. So little time to lodge my Opt-Out form, I’m doing it this week. Free markets are only free within the risk rules set by government and society. Biden gets this, Boris does not.” — Mike Clark, Oxfordshire, England