There is a fascinating piece in The New York Times this morning on the apparent failure of U.S. Senator Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign. The exposé is quite stunning because it reveals the major issues the California Democrat has failed to address and the chaos it caused for advisers and campaign operators.
Yet, even to some Harris allies, her decline is more predictable than surprising. In one instance after another, Ms. Harris and her closest advisers made flawed decisions about which states to focus on, issues to emphasize and opponents to target, all the while refusing to make difficult personnel choices to impose order on an unwieldy campaign, according to more than 50 current and former campaign staff members and allies, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose private conversations and assessments involving the candidate.
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. She also created an organization with a campaign chairwoman, Maya Harris, who goes unchallenged in part because she is Ms. Harris’s sister, and a manager, Mr. Rodriguez, who could not be replaced without likely triggering the resignations of the candidate’s consulting team. Even at this late date, aides said it’s unclear who’s in charge of the campaign.
Harris always seemed to have two things running against her in her personality and her record. She always seemed uncomfortable in bigger settings, something NYT noted, which seems odd for someone involved in the debate team, courtroom settings, and politics for almost two decades. It appears Harris recognized this problem and tried to correct it…with horrid results.
Some of Ms. Harris’s aides said she had better instincts than her brain trust. One official recalled that during the flight from Oakland to Iowa on the night she announced her campaign in January, Ms. Harris told senior members of her campaign team that she wanted to “go stealth.” However, instead of pursuing retail politics and introducing herself to voters in more intimate settings, as Ms. Harris suggested she preferred, her senior aides determined it was more important to cement herself in the top tier and play for “big, television moments,” as one put it.
“If you go big like that, you’ll never get a real understanding of the American people,” said Minyon Moore, a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton and a longtime admirer of Ms. Harris. “Because we don’t live up there.”
Those, “big, television moments,” could be those one-liners Harris attempted to slip into the Democratic primary debates. They failed because the jokes came off so forced and unfunny. Although it’s possible Harris went for the television moments because she can’t afford TV spots due to lagging donations.
The bigger issue is her record. There’s a reason why “Kamala Harris is a cop” is a thing, especially with justice reform advocates. Harris fought to keep someone locked up in prison, even though it was proven he was innocent and received ineffective counsel at trial, while she was California Attorney General. Elizabeth Nolan Brown at Reason also noted Harris’ penchant for campaigning on one thing and doing something else.
She would eventually abandon her anti–death penalty stance too. In 2014, as state attorney general, she appealed the decision of a judge who had ruled that California’s capital punishment scheme was unconstitutional, arbitrarily applied, and plagued with inexcusable delays. Curiously, she said the ruling “undermines important protections that our courts provide to defendants.”
Harris’ supporters argue that as A.G., she had a duty to defend the laws of the state as they were, regardless of how she felt about them. But just a few years prior, she had declined to defend another California law facing a federal challenge: Proposition 8, which prohibited same-sex marriages in the state. “I had no intention of spending a penny of the attorney general’s office resources defending Prop 8,” Harris writes in her 2019 book. Defending the death penalty did not provoke such resistance.
Politicians are wont to change their minds, however, this hypocrisy should not be ignored which is why Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard really stung in her takedown of Harris in the August debate.
There’s more to Harris’ problems than messaging and past history. NYT noted there are two factions fighting for prominence in her campaign.
From the start, the campaign structure seemed ripe for conflict. Ms. Harris divided her campaign between two coasts, basing her operation in Baltimore but retaining some key advisers in the Bay Area. She bifurcated the leadership between two decidedly different loyalists: her sister, the chair, and Mr. Rodriguez, a trusted lieutenant who had managed her 2016 Senate campaign. Mr. [Juan] Rodriguez was a central figure at the San Francisco-based consulting firm, SCRB, that had helped direct Ms. Harris’s rise for a decade; all of the firm’s partners were lined up to advise the presidential race.
The two camps were soon competing, each stocked with people who shared a tight bond with Ms. Harris but who regarded each other with suspicion or worse. The setup cost Ms. Harris opportunities to recruit some of her party’s most sought-after outside strategists and left her reliant on a team less experienced in national politics than in California, an overwhelmingly blue state where campaigns often turn on factional infighting within the Democratic Party.
Harris’ campaign dysfunction was also due to, wait for it, social media.
There are also generational fissures. One adviser said the fixation that some younger staffers have with liberals on Twitter distorted their view of what issues and moments truly mattered, joking that it was not President Trump’s account that should be taken offline, as Ms. Harris has urged, but rather those of their own trigger-happy communications team.
Harris’ future appears hazier than most, and not just in the Democratic presidential primary. NYT wrote Tom Steyer may decide to turn his presidential campaign into a U.S. Senate campaign, specifically for Harris’ seat. Her only hope might be a Democrat winning next year and tapping her for Attorney General. Which no one should want.