I’ve made no secret in these pages of the concerns I had if presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden selected U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate. I acknowledge that this note is primarily lament.
Given Mr. Biden’s age, Sen. Harris will clearly be assessed by voters as someone who could be President. Ms. Harris isn’t qualified. Three-plus years as a United States Senator after a career as a prosecutor does not prepare one for the presidency. Fans of former President Barack Obama might point out that Mr. Obama assumed the presidency after the same period of Senate service. I would counter – while having complete respect for Mr. Obama’s rectitude and offering tremendous credit for his lifting the national mood at the lowest point of the Great Recession and leading us to the Affordable Care Act – that comparing Ms. Harris to Mr. Obama is as much indictment as endorsement; Mr. Obama consistently stumbled in foreign policy, lacked the canniness to master Congressional relations, and showed no ability to establish rapport with or address the needs of the disillusioned citizens in states like Iowa and Ohio who voted for him in hope and later turned to then-candidate Donald Trump in despair. Ms. Harris has no notable foreign policy expertise and evinces no greater affinity for these dispossessed citizens than Mr. Obama had — while lacking the former President’s charisma.
Ms. Harris’ oft-repeated phrase during the Democratic presidential debates – “I will prosecute the case against Donald Trump” – brought to my mind another potential weakness. Any trial lawyer on a major case does exhaustive discovery to learn all s/he can about the dispute and then attempts to conceptualize the appropriate response to all variations of all aspects of whatever might come up at trial. A daunting task – but even in complex litigation, the variables are finite. In a presidential campaign, the variables are infinite, and cannot all be anticipated. Presumably, Mr. Biden saw Ms. Harris’ political experience as an asset when compared to (for example) former U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice. While Ms. Harris is good when scripted, I saw her clutch several times in the early months of the presidential campaign when reporters asked her questions she did not expect. In one of the debates, Ms. Harris blanked when U.S. HI Rep. Tulsi Gabbard claimed that Ms. Harris, when a prosecutor, withheld evidence of innocence against a defendant in a capital case. (Different issue: if Ms. Gabbard’s claim is substantially true — I haven’t seen any fact checking on it – I expect the Republicans to use it to attempt to suppress turnout in this George Floyd era.) In the next three months, Ms. Harris will be asked everything from her favorite brand of running shoe (Is it made in China with child labor?) to whether we should intervene to protect the citizens in an obscure Yemen town under siege. How she holds up will be pivotal to the Democratic ticket’s chances. (To see what havoc an uninformed answer can wreak, do an internet search on the phrase, “Gary Johnson Aleppo”.) Ms. Harris also proved predictable; I do not look forward to the many times we will hear in the coming months that she ran the nation’s second largest Justice Department, and that she’s been to more funerals than she can tell us.
Ms. Harris has indisputably softened some of her more conservative “law and order” prosecutorial positions as she has sought the Senate and the presidency, which seemingly makes her vulnerable to Republican attacks both that she’s too soft on crime and a flip-flopper to boot. I consider her California residence a weakness: many Americans will viscerally accept the Trump Campaign’s allegations that Ms. Harris is a “radical California leftist” and perhaps pay heed to the Trump claim that Mr. Biden is under the control of the “radical left.” On a more objective note: Mr. Biden is going to win California’s electoral votes no matter whom he picked, so a chance to establish additional affinity with a swing state through the VP selection has been forfeited.
Finally, there remains the internet search, “Willie Brown Kamala Harris.” I don’t expect to see the Republicans use this line of attack until after Ms. Harris is formally nominated. If they do, one would have to be Pollyanna on steroids not to believe that it will suppress the Democratic vote of “Me Too” advocates and swing state suburban Republican women heretofore leaning against President Trump.
Presumably, in addition to Ms. Harris’ political experience, Mr. Biden was attracted to her relatively more aggressive style – as contrasted again, for example, with Ms. Rice – for a contest that I have recently heard predicted to be “a knife fight in an alley.” If so, in this way the pick calls to mind Dwight Eisenhower’s selection of Richard Nixon in 1952 and Gerald Ford’s selection of Robert Dole in 1976; in both instances, the presidential nominee sought to remain above the fray while selecting a brawler as his running mate. If this was indeed Mr. Biden’s thinking, I hope it is correct. Sitting in a swing state, my instinct is that the citizens of these states seek less contentiousness and more calm competence. I am genuinely concerned about how Ms. Harris’ style will fare in her debate with the somnolent Vice President Mike Pence – despite Mr. Pence’s unblemished record as a sycophant, toady, fawner, bootlicker, lickspittle, and kisser of Mr. Trump’s … er … rear. In the 2016 Vice Presidential debate, Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Tim Kaine tried to be aggressive with Mr. Pence, and, contrary to all expectations, Mr. Pence won – handily.
In a note a while back, “The Right Choice,” I suggested, “There is no [potential Vice President] candidate whose record will not contain some vulnerabilities that will have to be explained. [Mr. Biden] might as well do his explaining on behalf of the running mate that he considers best equipped to serve all American people and their interests.” As one who truly feels that the fate of the nation depends upon getting Mr. Trump out of the White House and will vote for the Democratic ticket no matter who the Vice Presidential nominee is, I am disappointed in Mr. Biden’s selection of Ms. Harris. I can only hope that he didn’t make … the Wrong Choice.