The Corner

Politics & Policy

Who Fears Crossing Kamala Harris?

Vice President Kamala Harris stands next to members of the media as she arrives at El Paso, Texas, June 25, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

John, do you know what’s really jaw-dropping about that brutal Washington Post story detailing Kamala Harris’s management style? It’s not even this quote:

“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.”

It’s that a former Harris staffer — presumably, someone who still works in Democratic politics in one way or another — felt comfortable giving that quote to the Washington Post about a woman a heartbeat away from the presidency. Lots of staffers in Washington have bitter memories of bad experiences working for their high-profile bosses. Lots of them hold their tongues out of a lingering respect for the office, not wanting to create new problems for their party, or not wanting a reputation as a complainer. Or they don’t want to make an enemy out of someone who could become president someday.

Kamala Harris is, in theory, the second-most powerful person in the executive branch and a 79-year-old-man’s heartbeat away from the presidency. And yet clearly this former staffer does not fear the consequences of criticizing Harris in print, and apparently quite a few former Harris staffers are willing, perhaps even eager, to speak without attribution about her flaws. They apparently don’t fear the day when Harris is in the Oval Office and she, having figured out which former staffers were eager to blab to the Post or other publications, could effectively blacklist them from administration jobs. (Perhaps this former staffer either already feels blacklisted or thinks so poorly of Harris that he or she never wants to work under her in any capacity again, even if she were to become president.) The upshot of this story is that it seems no one really fears crossing Kamala Harris.

This illuminates one of the great contrasts between the hype and mythology surrounding Kamala Harris — “Making History,” smiling on the cover of Vogue, etc. — and the mundane reality. A surprising number of people who have actually worked with and for her not only don’t see her as a legend, an icon, or an inspiring leader, they walk away from their experience with her not thinking all that highly of her. She may well have been a talented prosecutor, but in a lot of ways she’s just a standard-issue pol who figured out how to climb the ladder of interest-group dominated California politics. She’s in over her head, her political instincts are terrible, and that’s even before the uniquely challenging dynamics of this particular presidency — unfamiliar staff, old president, few real friendships on Capitol Hill, and an unclear sense of priorities.

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