The Corner

Elections

Kamala Harris, the Juggernaut Who Flopped

Senator Kamala Harris is interviewed after the U.S. Democratic presidential candidates debate at the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. November 20, 2019. (Christopher Aluka Berry/Reuters)

Before reports emerged that Kamala Harris is dropping out of the presidential race, she was trailing Mike Bloomberg in her bid to be the Democratic nominee for the president, and stood at 2 percent in the latest national Harris–The Hill poll released Monday.

On paper, Kamala Harris was a strong candidate for the Democratic nomination: likely to boost turnout among women and African Americans, a relatively fresh face, access to a big network of California donors.

Last Friday, the New York Times ran a “pre-mortem” of her failing campaign, full of on-the-record quotes from campaign staffers, advisers, and associates pointing fingers. It’s an ugly portrait, and the role of the senator’s sister, Maya Harris, as campaign chairwoman is another indicator that candidates and lawmakers should not put relatives in important jobs, because it’s usually extremely difficult to fire a family member.

But just about every campaign has some amount of infighting, and it rarely proves to be the most important cause of a campaign’s troubles. President Trump went through three campaign managers in the 2016 cycle and won anyway.

No, the most glaring problem discussed in that Times profile was Harris’s repeated indecisiveness:

“Many of her own advisers are now pointing a finger directly at Ms. Harris. In interviews several of them criticized her for going on the offensive against rivals, only to retreat, and for not firmly choosing a side in the party’s ideological feud between liberals and moderates.”

“Extensive polling led her to believe that there was great value in the word “truth,” so she titled her 2019 memoir “The Truths We Hold” and made a similar phrase the centerpiece of her early stump speech: “Let’s speak truth.” But she dropped the saying out of a belief that voters wanted something less gauzy.”

Her team now wants a pro-Harris super PAC, after Harris previously said she rejects them.

In January, Harris said she wanted to eliminate private health insurance, then backed away from that position. In August, she said she wasn’t comfortable with Bernie Sanders’ legislation creating Medicare for All, but people pointed out she cosponsored that bill. Harris said the country should consider allowing convicted felons to vote from prison, then said she opposed the idea.

When Tulsi Gabbard spotlighted the most unpopular and controversial aspects of Harris’s time as a prosecutor in the August debate, Harris seemed to be caught flat-footed, insisting that she “significantly reformed the criminal-justice system” but never addressing the specific accusations. Her prosecutorial record was supposed to be one of her strengths, but Harris apparently didn’t want to defend certain past decisions and policies.

Most of Harris’s reversals suggest a campaigner who wanted to be the woke dream candidate, but then belatedly recognized that woke positions might not be as popular or workable as she initially believed them to be. She was asking people to have faith in her judgment, while she herself appeared to not trust her own judgment.

David Brooks got a lot of grief for stating the obvious: The traits that are ideal for winning in hard-fought Democratic primaries in California are not the traits that work best in a national primary. A lot of the Democratic primary voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina are not particularly progressive and don’t have the same priorities as columnists at Salon and MSNBC hosts and the Twitter Left. Harris had exactly the right set of skills and traits to come out on top in Golden State Democratic primaries — she cruised through her Senate election in 2016, and her state attorney-general reelection bid in 2014. Her last tough race was almost a decade ago in the 2010 state attorney-general bid. The candidate who was indomitable in theory proved to be pretty unappealing in the harsh glare of the national spotlight, stuck in a crowded field.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated.

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