NYT: Let's face it -- Harris has flopped as VP

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

The New York Times may not come right out and declare Kamala Harris a flop, but their headline almost does. “Heir Apparent or Afterthought”? it asks, then adds, “The Frustrations of Kamala Harris.” And while the NYT’s profile gives Joe Biden’s VP plenty of space to complain about gender- and race-based double standards on expectations, those tend to get swallowed up by the reality of Harris’ incompetence at her job.

And that was foreshadowed by her incompetence on the campaign trail, a point the NYT hits but doesn’t quite do justice:

An early front-runner whose presidential ambitions fizzled amid a dysfunctional 2020 campaign, Ms. Harris was pulled onto the Biden ticket for her policy priorities that largely mirrored his, and her ability as a Black woman to bolster support with coalitions of voters he needed to win the presidency. But according to interviews with more than two dozen White House officials, political allies, elected officials and former aides, Ms. Harris is still struggling to define herself in the Biden White House or meaningfully correct what she and her aides feel is an unfair perception that she is adrift in the job.

Harris had far more of a head start on the field than this suggests. California had moved its primary up last cycle, a clear advantage for a native candidate like Harris. The Democratic Party had wanted a candidate to demonstrate their diversity, and Harris checked several boxes for them, more than any of the other candidates on the debate stage. As a senator, Harris had one of the higher profiles among candidates as well. Even with all of these advantages practically offering her the keys to the Democratic kingdom, Harris botched the presidential campaign so badly that she didn’t even come within two months of the first vote.

That should have been an early clue to Harris’ competence. Instead, Biden bought into the diversity argument and narrowed his running-mate selection to black women, and chose Harris as the most high-profile candidate for the job. He might have done better choosing Val Demings; he could hardly have done worse.

In fact, the NYT profile has this stunning example of incompetence from a House Democrat:

Representative Henry Cuellar, a moderate from Texas and one of the more prominent voices on border issues in the Democratic Party, said his experiences with Ms. Harris’s team had been disappointing. When Mr. Cuellar heard Ms. Harris was traveling to the border in June, he had his staff call her office to offer help and advice for her visit. He never received a call back.

“I say this very respectfully to her: I moved on,” Mr. Cuellar said. “She was tasked with that job, it doesn’t look like she’s very interested in this, so we are going to move on to other folks that work on this issue.”

In the future, Mr. Cuellar said he would go straight to the West Wing with his concerns on migration rather than the vice president’s office.

Of the White House, Mr. Cuellar said, “at least they talk to you.”

Harris and her apologists can whine all they want about double standards. It doesn’t explain the basics of being responsive to one’s own allies, especially one as high profile as Cuellar. Nor does it explain why Harris sought out a leadership role for voting-rights legislation and then failed to do even the basic block-and-tackle work in getting support for it:

On voting rights, Ms. Harris, who asked Mr. Biden if she could lead the administration’s efforts on the issue, has invited activists to the White House and delivered speeches. But her office has not developed detailed plans to work with lawmakers to make sure that two bills that would reform the system will pass Congress, according to a senior official in her office.

The entire profile consists of Harris failures on one hand, and lots of excuse-making on the other. We hear quite a bit about how Harris consults with Hillary Clinton, for instance, whose entire repertoire boiled down to grievance politics in 2016, but Clinton at least had done some work on policy. Karen Bass, another candidate on Biden’s short list for running mate, also complains about “double standards,” but what’s the “double” here? Biden himself took tons of criticism for his failure to police the 2009 stimulus bill as proclaimed, and got absolutely torn to shreds over his foreign-policy acumen while Vice President.

The only unfair aspect about the focus on Harris’ lack of significance is that it overlooks the larger incompetence of her boss. It’s tough for a VP to be seen as a success when the president fumbles his job badly enough to end up crashing historically with voters in the first eleven months of a presidency. Given where Joe Biden’s approval ratings are headed, one has to wonder whether Harris might be well advised to keep her distance, but that’s impractical. The two of them are yoked together, a truth that Biden should understand more than most. The fact that he keeps Harris at a distance, as the NYT profile makes clear, suggests that Biden isn’t terribly impressed with Harris either.

Update: And just how “double” are those standards, anyway? Anyone remember Dan Quayle?