“Not since Vice President Spiro Agnew,” Politico intones, “has a vice president been such an outsider to Washington.” That might be news to some in the Senate, where Kamala Harris served for four years after scaling California Democrat politics for more than a decade as an up-and-coming insider. After a year of failure, though, the Veep’s new comms team is in desperate need of a reset. And Politico plays along with this lengthy lament about “the DC bubble”:
Sitting among some of the most influential Black women in America last month, Vice President Kamala Harris confessed to a stifling sensation that had fallen over her while in office. She was struggling to escape the D.C. bubble, Harris confided to the group, which had gathered in person and virtually for the private audience, according to multiple attendees.
Harris has grumbled at times about the customs of a town where she remains a relative newcomer. She is prone to lament the Beltway’s obsession with familiarity, the routine groupthink of its thought leaders; and the intense interest in collecting scraps of palace intrigue, according to more than a dozen aides and people familiar with her conversations. She’s repeatedly instructed her aides to stay focused on the work. At the same time, she’s allowed that her instinct to ignore the superficial elements of politics has created more work for her team, which is forced to operate aggressively in that world.
Gee, that must account for the stunning level of first-year turnover in Harris’ office! Apparently the departed staffers just didn’t want to match Harris’ pace of substantive work, such as on … what, exactly? Joe Biden tasked her with dealing with the border crisis, and had to be goaded into exactly one visit to the southern frontier … in an area far from the crisis points. What other projects of substance has Harris helmed, or even done any work to advance?
Jamal Simmons must have made one hell of a pitch to get Politico to write this, too:
Inside Harris’ office and among her advisers, confidants and close allies, there’s a near universal belief that she is mired by a contradiction: While she’s among the most powerful people in the world, owing to her swift rise in national politics, people still don’t know her at the levels they need to.
They point to instances where her work is either ignored or her policy portfolio misinterpreted, as evidence that she remains not just poorly defined but under-defined by the public. They’ve identified a spate of recent polls where voters give Harris and President Joe Biden similar marks for their disapproval rating, but where her approval rating falls several points below his. They explain the disparity not purely as a byproduct of her early, and at times self-inflicted struggles, but of Americans not knowing what she’s been up to. And aides and allies believe the D.C. press corps is obsessed with style over substance, especially when it comes to their boss.
First off, that litany of excuses has nothing to do with a “DC bubble” but incompetence by Harris. She’s VP in a Democratic administration that gets sympathetic-well-unto-nigh-sycophantic media coverage. If Harris and her team had a story to tell about her expertise and accomplishments as VP, national media outlets would leap at telling it. In fact, this Politico profile demonstrates just how little Harris can claim. If indeed she had a supportable narrative of accomplishment and competence, why didn’t Simmons and his team have Politico report those stories rather than this tired excuse about the Beltway?
Instead, we get this tired trope about Harris as a rebel:
Their conversations of late are not just an exercise in finger-pointing and blowing off steam. Harris’ refusal to, in the words of one close ally, “play the game” in Washington has likely cost her the benefit of the doubt from D.C. opinion makers.
In the words of Harris’ boss, this is nothing more than drizzly malarkey. Harris “played the game” in California, perhaps all too well. She came to the Senate in 2017 and immediately distinguished herself as a lock-step caucus member behind Chuck Schumer. Harris never had an original thought in her first two years as a senator, which the “DC bubble” kept quiet until Harris got it in her head to run for president. She certainly tried to play the game in 2019 in what should have been an easy reach for the Democratic nomination, attacking Joe Biden as a racist in a way that Biden himself would rehash against his own political opponents a couple of weeks ago. Harris ended up getting humiliated by Tulsi Gabbard over that attack, twice, when it turned out that Harris was just very very bad at “playing the game.”
Whenever someone breaks out the “I refused to play the game” line, it’s a tell. That’s the handy excuse for incompetents and failures. And as we have all seen in Harris’ understandably infrequent national media interviews, Harris is just bad at her job even as a second banana. She has become the reality of the false narrative the media created around Dan Quayle:
The Craig Melvin interview was such a disaster that even friends across the aisle told me to watch it. No one’s fooled by Harris’ “promise” any more, and no one’s buying her excuses, either.
Jamal Simmons earned his money this week slinging them, though. I’m not sure the same can be said about Politico’s decision to take them seriously.