Putting oneself forward for high office is never easy, especially because the professional imperative to emphasize strengths while minimizing weaknesses becomes that much more difficult as every potential voter is, in effect, the one conducting the job interview. Even some of the most iconic politicians have had to hide their achilles heel.
Famously, Franklin D. Roosevelt would pose in photos while seated in order to deemphasize the paralysis in his legs as a result of polio. For George H. W. Bush his patrician upbringing in Connecticut was always a weak point with voters, so much so that a story about him apparently being amazed to see a supermarket price gun made headlines and brought with it accusations that he was out of touch with average Americans.
And let’s not forget one of 2020’s many also-rans, Pete Buttigieg. Media organizations openly worried that one of their favorites would be roundly rejected by black voters for being gay. This proved to be true as in South Carolina he clocked in with only 8 percent of voters.
But for some candidates, their innate disadvantage is so severe that it simply torpedoes their candidacy.
Will the Real Kamala Harris Stand Up?
Worse than a candidate having obvious flaws is when she and her campaign cannot acknowledge them. Such is the case with Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), the Democratic nominee for vice president.
Until 2016 Harris was only known in California, due to her being that state’s attorney general. When she ran in that year’s U.S. Senate race to replace Barbara Boxer she faced scarcely any GOP opposition; in the state’s jungle primary, candidates of all parties run for the top two spots. She received three million votes, six times as many as the closest Republican and faced fellow Democrat Loretta Sanchez in the general election.
In her state races, Harris had faced serious Republican opponents but in such a down ballot position it attracted little attention, and the debates were only covered by local newspapers. While Harris is considered a hard driving, no-nonsense prosecutor among mainstream Democrats, she has effectively alienated every other constituency in the Democratic Party.
With the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, the real Kamala Harris could be thrust front and center by virtue of her position on the Senate Judicial Committee that holds confirmation hearings for court appointees. Such sudden and unforgiving exposure could very well implode her already lethargic ticket with Joe Biden.
The Democrats have only one precaution available to them in order to avoid this humiliation: Ask Harris to remove herself from the confirmation hearings on the pretext that she needs to concentrate on campaigning.
The immediate response to this proposal would be “isn’t this the opposite of what she should do? Wouldn’t the confirmation hearings give Harris an opportunity to showcase her real rhetorical skills honed as a prosecutor?” But that’s exactly the point. In 2018 Americans got a a taste of her “skills” during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings and she was a flop. One need not be a practicing attorney or legal scholar to understand why (I’m not).
While the media and Twitter sycophants fawned over her domineering and hostile questioning of the nominee, many viewers found her to be tedious as she repeatedly asked Kavanaugh whether he had discussed the Robert Mueller investigation with a lawyer from the same firm as one of Donald Trump’s defense attorneys, Marc Kasowitz. The minutes-long back-and-forth was portrayed by Democrats as Harris trapping the judge and him dodging the question. But in reality it was a meandering and aimless stab in the dark, since Kavanaugh repeatedly requested that Harris name the person he allegedly spoke to since he insisted that he had only discussed the Mueller investigation with fellow judges.
Who was the person Harris was alluding to? Even now a full two years later no one knows. It was the classic tease with no big reveal.
Harris’ snarling questioning of Kavanaugh had one saving grace; it wasn’t quite as over the top as Cory “Spartacus” Booker’s (D-N.J.) grandstanding was, so she didn’t become a meme as he did. But she did join in on the chorus of would-be feminist politicians trying to drum up outrage at Kavanaugh over the Christine Blasey Ford allegations of sexual assault, calling the confirmation a “sham” and “disgrace.”
Again, Harris’ outlandish behavior was overshadowed by that of others like Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) who exclaimed that all men in the country should “shut up and step up.” For those who would dispute this characterization of her role in the Kavanaugh saga, can they explain why none of the footage of it has been used in her campaign’s commercials? And let’s not forget that once Biden included her in the 2020 veepstakes, Harris buried her previous statement—“I believe them”—concerning Biden’s accusers like former Senate aide Tara Reade.
Kamala at Bat
But this time, if she is on the committee during confirmation, Harris basically will be playing the role of cleanup hitter in the 9th inning with two outs and trailing by one run. Yes, there are nine other members on the committee. But who else will get the focus that she will? The dinosaurs Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) who have no political future? The bland and uninspiring Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.), or Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) who hilariously focused on a reference in Kavanaugh’s high school yearbooks to “boofing” (meaning, farts) during those hearings? Or perhaps Democrats think that the two other failed 2020 candidates Booker and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Hirono (sure to engage in a histrionic tirade) can be relied upon to dominate the headlines. But none of them have much to gain (or lose) in a year when only Booker is up for reelection, a race that he is sure to win handily.
So with the spotlight on her, what will be Harris’ line of attack? If the exchange between the two lawyers becomes too bogged down in arcane legal discussions, she risks putting the viewers to sleep. Maybe that’s the least harmful option she can take. If she attacks Barrett on the grounds of her religious beliefs, she risks providing an avenue for Trump to pry away more Catholic votes. Democrats are struggling to hold on to Catholic support, as it is one of the most evenly divided religious affiliations in the country in terms of voting intention.
And if she veers into matters of race and gender identity, Harris risks providing the country another highlight reel exposing one of the biggest gulfs in terms of social attitudes.
While Harris represents the pinnacle of the corporate-approved racial and feminist advocacy template, Barrett is the perfect foil. Married at the age of 27 and the product of a traditional Catholic education, she has raised seven children in a conventional marriage with her similarly devout husband and attorney Jesse Barrett. In contrast Harris’ religious faith is ambiguous (Baptist and Hindu), and she is married to attorney Douglas Emhoff, who is Jewish and the father of two children from his previous marriage.
Bizarrely, in August America, a Jesuit magazine, republished an article claiming that “Kamala Harris is the future of American religion.” To those who actually worship at any church, synagogue, or mosque this doesn’t play. An admixture of all religions is a true representation of none of them. Does anyone really believe Kamala Harris—the same presidential candidate who claimed to smoke weed while listening to Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dogg before either rapper had released an albums—could explain competently to her stepchildren the differences between any of the different religions she and her husband claim to follow?
And of course, there will be those who draw the contrast between Barrett’s life of marriage and parenthood and Harris’ careerism that included a professional affair with her patron, former California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, who appointed her to two positions on state boards. While this may rest on unequal social expectations for men and women, generally attitudes toward marital infidelity skew negatively among both sexes apart from those who may themselves have had an extramarital affair.
Is anyone really going to be impressed by Kamala Harris, a running mate chosen chiefly for her skin tone and chromosomes, berating the nominee because she checks only one of those boxes?
The Barrett confirmation presents many potential snakes for Harris and only a few ladders. Every confrontation risks being turned into a new campaign ad by the Trump campaign: “Kamala Harris thinks this is how you talk to a federal judge; is this the person you want on deck when Joe Biden calls it quits?” “Does Kamala Harris think the church you worship is a disqualifier? How can she claim to represent all Americans?” “If Kamala Harris treats public officials this way about their beliefs, how do you expect her to respect the Bill of Rights for average Americans like you?”
Fair or not, Harris is at an extreme disadvantage here. Mike Pence will not have to face the same task. And while she has been hyped for years as a great prosecutor, even touted as a potential attorney general in a future Democratic administration prior to receiving the nod for vice president, her toxic personality if put on display may put those opinions to rest. It already has caused the coddlers in the media to focus on the more banal aspects of her personality such as her husband, favorite living rapper (Tupac, she said, though he’s been dead since 1996), and for a whole week her Converse sneakers.
On September 24, the Biden-Harris campaign was mocked by Trump for calling an early end to the day at 9 a.m.. If Harris ends up cross-examining Amy Coney Barrett, voters may get to see firsthand why she’s been ducking both the cameras and the press just like her geriatric running mate.