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Kamala Harris is the Reason Biden is Running Again
She's a political liability.
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There is a concept in the world of professional sports sometimes referred to as the “replacement level” player. Basically, this is the level of production you could get from a player that would cost you nothing but the league-minimum salary to acquire.
One would be hard-pressed to argue that Kamala Harris has been anything more than a below-replacement-level contributor to the Biden administration. All three of Biden, the Democratic Party, and the country would be much better off if some generic Democrat had been selected as our octogenarian president’s running mate.
Sure, Harris hasn’t been permanently relegated to the White House basement. But her “prominent role,” as the New Republic laughably calls it, is focused on two strategies that mirror the Democratic Party more broadly: “turning out Black women and emphasizing abortion.”
Let’s think critically about this. If you’re a Democratic president running for reelection after Roe v. Wade was overturned, what are the two demographics you can most likely count on for support? African Americans and pro-choice voters. Thus, tasking Harris with ensuring support among these two constituencies is just about the easiest assignment that the administration can give her. As Jim Geraghty notes, this is akin to “a Republican president asking a vice president to make sure support remains high among older, pro-life, evangelical, rural whites.”
And yet Harris appears to be struggling with this charge for the same reason she’s struggled her entire political career: the woman is a stunning mediocrity. Sure, she’s won a couple of elections, but these were almost entirely on the merit of California’s partisan tilt. Even in the nation’s largest blue bastion, Harris underwhelmed. Her 2010 victory in the attorney general’s race was decided by just 74,000 votes out of more than 9.6 million cast, and ended up being so close that it took three weeks before the result was finally clear.
There’s a reason that, having been picked as Biden’s running mate, Harris was quickly shoved offstage: Every time she goes off script (which she does far too often) we’re reminded that she has the mental agility of a small piece of furniture and the explicative ability of a toothless toddler. She makes Biden sound like a Goddamn Pericles by comparison.
Here she is in April speaking at a pro-abortion rally at her alma mater Howard University, which is pretty much the easiest gig you could give her:
According to Harris’s defenders, she gets a “bad rap” because of the right-wing media. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson recently claimed that the vice president’s critics are wrong about her being a gourmet chef of word salads. It’s not that she has a penchant for speaking in circulatory spirals and getting stuck in paralytic thought-helixes when called upon to speak or sit for an interview. No, she’s just “sometimes lost her way in the wilderness of syntax.”
“It is true that she often burdens her sentences with more dependent clauses than they can bear, and verbatim transcripts of her extemporaneous remarks can sometimes be hard to follow,” Robinson writes. “But she also connects powerfully with audiences and communicates her message, even if it might be hard to diagram.”
Lest I be accused of exaggerating about Harris being incapable of delivering remarks without descending into incoherence, I’ve gone ahead and collected some of my favorite examples:
“The significance of the passage of time, right? The significance of the passage of time. So when you think about it, there is great significance to the passage of time,” she said last year while speaking in Louisiana about bringing high-speed internet to communities.
In July, Harris responded to a question about the overturning of Roe v. Wade by saying: “I think that, to be very honest with you, I do believe that we should have rightly believed, but we certainly believe that certain issues are just settled. Certain issues are just settled.”
On what would have been the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Harris said, “I think of this moment as a moment that is about great momentum.”
In March she made the following comment about Women’s History Month: “So, during Women’s History Month, we celebrate and we honor the women who made history throughout history, who saw what could be unburdened by what had been.”
During a White House event with the Jamaican prime minister, Harris was discussing plans to help the country deal with covid when she said, “We also recognize just as it has been in the United States, for Jamaica, one of the issues that has been presented as an issue that is economic in the way of its impact has been the pandemic. So to that end, we are announcing today also that we will assist Jamaica in covid recovery by assisting in terms of the recovery efforts in Jamaica that have been essential to, I believe, what is necessary to strengthen not only the issue of public health but also the economy.”
Back in January 2022, Harris made a similarly nonsensical remark about the pandemic: “It is time for us to do what we have been doing. And that time is every day. Every day it is time for us to agree that there are things and tools that are available to us to slow this thing down.”
In May 2022, the VP offered the following plan for tackling the “climate crisis”: “That is especially true when it comes to the climate crisis, which is why we will work together and continue to work together to address these issues, to tackle these challenges, and to work together as we continue to work, operating from the new norms, rules, and agreements that we will convene to work together on to galvanize global action.”
Also in May 2022, Harris gave a speech about the mental-health crisis affecting American children and adolescents: “You know, when we talk about our children — I know for this group, we all believe that when we talk about the children of the community, they are a children of the community.”
In September, she observed during a roundtable discussion with students at Claflin University: “We invested an additional $12 billion into community banks, because we know community banks are in the community, and understand the needs and desires of that community as well as the talent and capacity of community.”
Tasked with promoting the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, Harris said “That’s why we’re here today. Because we have the ability to see what can be unburdened by what has been and then to make the possible actually happen.”
Months later, she spoke about expanding access to transportation. “It seems like maybe it’s a small issue; it’s a big issue. You need to get to go and need to be able to get where you need to go to do the work and get home.”
Last year, Harris was in Poland to discuss the war in Ukraine (why on earth would you send her of all people?) when she stated that, “I am here standing here on the northern flank, on the eastern flank, talking about what we have in terms of the eastern flank and our NATO allies, and what is at stake at this very moment — what is at stake this very moment are some of the guiding principles . . .”
You get the point. Every time Harris talks it sounds like a book report where she’s stretching to hit a word count. She does not give the impression of someone who pays close attention in her briefings and carefully reads all of her briefing materials. Indeed, former Harris staffers told the Washington Post that “one consistent problem was that Harris would refuse to wade into briefing materials prepared by staff members, then berate employees when she appeared unprepared.”
“It’s clear that you’re not working with somebody who is willing to do the prep and the work,” one former staffer said. “With Kamala you have to put up with a constant amount of soul-destroying criticism and also her own lack of confidence. So you’re constantly sort of propping up a bully and it’s not really clear why.”
Harris’s time as VP has been described by CNN as “entrenched by dysfunction and a lack of focus,” and her leadership is so poor that nobody wants to work for her. With her transparent insincerity, self-satisfied progressivism, trademark dismissive laugh, and habit of repeating clearly untrue canned statements (“The border is secure”) and farcical platitudes, she remains impressively unbeloved among the public and ranks among the worst vice presidents in modern memory, with historically low approval ratings. In a New York Times article from February, even some Democrats whom her own advisers referred reporters to for supportive quotes confided privately that they had lost hope in her.
That Harris has proven to be such an underwhelming VP shouldn’t be a surprise. Deep-blue California shielded her from serious criticism. Rarely forced to defend herself to voters or colleagues who weren’t already on her side, she never developed the persuasiveness and charisma necessary to succeed on the national stage as a politician, and she certainly didn’t hone her oratorical chops. These weaknesses were on full display when she ran for president in 2019. Unable to raise enough money despite coming from a state with one of the richest Democratic donor bases, Harris performed so poorly that she had to end her campaign1 — which was said to have been “paralyzed by infighting and an indecisive candidate” — before the first primary vote in Iowa. As one former aide bluntly told the New York Times, “you can’t run the country if you can’t run your campaign.”
And yet despite being a political lightweight and having next to no relevant policy or diplomatic expertise, Harris was springboarded up to within a heartbeat of the highest office in the land.
How? Her identity.
Just as Biden pledged to nominate a black woman for the Supreme Court, he promised to choose a black woman for his running mate, dramatically narrowing his pool of candidates.2 In This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America’s Future, Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns detail how Biden’s advisers were willing to overlook Harris’s weaknesses in favor of Biden’s immediate political interests and saw that her chief value came from helping to win the 2020 election.3
So while Harris’s apologists continue to claim that her widespread disapproval is “gendered” or “systemic” or “inequitable” or whatever other bastardized academic term is trending, the truth is that our VP isn’t disliked because she’s a non-white woman; she was chosen as vice president because she’s a non-white woman, and she’s disliked because she has nothing to recommend her beyond immutable traits.4 Ironically, Harris finds herself holding a position in which she’s ill-equipped to succeed precisely because of identity politics, which motivated Biden to pick a running mate so ill-suited to the job. Checking identity boxes does not a leader make.
The disesteem in which Harris is held is more than a mere inconvenience to Biden; it’s the reason he’s running again.
It’s easy to forget now, but Biden was expected to be a one-term president, a noble slayer of the Bad Orange Man who would then pass the throne to some promising rising star in Democratic politics, i.e. world-historic god queen Kamala. Politico reported in December 2019: “According to four people who regularly talk to Biden, all of whom asked for anonymity to discuss internal campaign matters, it is virtually inconceivable that he will run for reelection in 2024, when he would be the first octogenarian president.” Some unnamed adviser told the publication, “If Biden is elected, he’s going to be 82 years old in four years and he won’t be running for reelection.”
“Biden 2024” definitely wasn’t the original plan. The plan was for Harris to step up and for Biden to ride off into the sunset. But because the president chose a dud of an heir apparent, that plan is unworkable. Back in March, an anonymous White House official told Reuters that Biden is convinced Harris wouldn’t be able to beat Trump.
The concern is valid. Assuming that Trump still manages to become the Republican nominee, polls show he’s comfortably ahead in a hypothetical matchup versus Harris. Could you imagine those two on the debate stage? Trump would make Harris sorry her parents were ever even in the same room together.
And Biden is by no means alone in his reservations about Harris being up to the challenge. Back in January, the Washington Post reported:
Concerns about Harris’s political strength were repeated often by more than a dozen Democratic leaders in key states interviewed for this story, some speaking on the condition of anonymity to convey candid thoughts. Harris’s tenure has been underwhelming, they said, marked by struggles as a communicator and at times near-invisibility, leaving many rank-and-file Democrats unpersuaded that she has the force, charisma and skill to mount a winning presidential campaign.
That party leaders did nothing to dissuade Biden from seeking a second term is testament to how little faith they have in the VP. As Matt Bai writes, “A lot of Democrats will tell you that, while they had doubts about renominating a man Biden’s age, they could see no one other than Harris who might take his place — a prospect sufficiently ominous as to unify the party.”
John Adams famously described the vice presidency as “the most insignificant Office” ever devised. But it becomes a hell of a lot more significant when the president is an octogenarian whom a supermajority of voters do not want to run again in no small part because they’re concerned he won’t be able to handle a second term. The specter of Biden’s age — the actuarial data that looms over his candidacy — forces voters to confront the “Harris” question. A new Washington Post-ABC poll found that: “Today, 63 percent say [Biden] does not have the mental sharpness to serve effectively as president, up from 43 percent in 2020 and 54 percent a year ago. A similar 62 percent say Biden is not in good enough physical health to be effective.” Numbers for the soon-to-be 77-year-old Trump are substantially better.
Biden’s disapproval rating currently sits at 52 percent. Only 31% percent have a favorable opinion of the president. He has a lot of ground to make up before Election Day. This is hard enough for an incumbent. It’s twice as hard for an octogenarian incumbent handcuffed to a running mate who’s become a political liability.
Despite being theoretically well-placed to dominate the 2020 Democratic primary, Harris dropped out of the race in December of 2019 with just 3 percent support nationally and about 7 percent support in her home state of California. Perhaps the most memorable thing about her “girlboss” campaign, as the media fawningly referred to it, was how often she flip-flopped on big issues—abolishing ICE, sanctuary cities, Medicare for All, independent probes of police shootings, and banning fracking.
And within that pool, Harris was the only African-American woman with national name recognition and who had been elected to statewide office.
Even so, in the run-up to Biden’s selection, some of his closest advisers vehemently opposed picking Harris and tried to discourage him from going in that direction.
Rather than tout her policy acumen, accomplishments, or ability to help with tough votes on Capitol Hill, Harris herself prefers to remind observers of how historic she is because of her identity. We’re supposed to believe that this alone makes her vice presidency a great success.