Radical centrism in the year of our lord 2019. She’s a former prosecutor and drug warrior, she disclaims the label “democratic socialist,” now here she is suggesting that some barriers to entry by illegal immigrants are appropriate. Relative to the rest of the field, she’s a Republican.
“No, I believe that we need border security,” said Harris, who has opposed President Trump’s immigration policies in the Senate.
“But we need smart border security. We can’t have open borders, we need to have border security, all nations do,” she continued. “All nations define their borders, but we should not have a policy and perspective that is grounded in keeping people out for the sake of this nationalistic kind of thing this president is trying to push.”
The rebuke comes after O’Rourke told MSNBC last week that would “absolutely” tear down the border wall in El Paso, Texas, if he gets the chance.
She also refused to apologize for her career choice while chatting last night with Trevor Noah: “I will never regret having prosecuted people who molested children, people who raped women, people who murdered other individuals.” I … don’t think anyone’s asked her to regret any of that, just her drug prosecutions. But here too you can see her making a show of not pandering to the left while longshot candidates like Gillibrand scramble to tell progressives what they want to hear. How come?
I think it’s a combination of confidence in her position in the field and the belief that it’d be futile, and maybe counterproductive, to try to out-progressive everyone else. With the possible exception of Bernie Sanders, no one has more control over their “lane” in the primary than Harris does. She’s young, acceptably left-wing to most progressives, and the only black woman running. Unless and until Cory Booker somehow elbows into the top tier, Harris is the favorite in South Carolina and, of course, her home state of California. She doesn’t need to tack as far left as someone like Beto does to get attention; she can win the nomination without that. And if you can win without getting fringy, why not stay as close to the center as you’re able knowing that a more centrist electorate in the general election lies ahead?
Sanders has made this calculation easy for her, I suspect. Without him in the race, there’d be a temptation across the field to challenge Warren as the most ideologically pure leftist running. Now that he’s in, there’s no point. Cede that vote to him and concentrate on winning the many Democratic voters who find Sanders too extreme. It’s no coincidence that Harris rejected the term “democratic socialist” for herself so soon after he jumped in. You can’t out-Bernie Bernie. Reorient (a little) towards the center while taking care not to alienate progressives too much and trust that they’ll reconcile themselves to you once you’re the nominee in the interest of beating Trump.
It’s interesting, by the way, how she makes a point of describing the smuggling tunnels she saw firsthand at the border. She offers that as a critique of Trump’s border wall — they can always go under! — but it’s clever in signaling to centrist voters that Harris isn’t sanguine about cross-border crime. Not every stranger who enters illegally is “a friend we haven’t made yet,” which should go without saying but seems vaguely scandalous to hear from a top contender for the nomination of a party that seems increasingly to oppose the idea of borders in principle.