One of Harris’s greatest challenges is selling the idea that she can do more than just deliver inquisitions of Trump officials. Her cool, intense cross-examinations are pretty much the opposite of what typically works in a presidential campaign, where the winners are usually the candidates who reach voters’ hearts, not their heads. Harris has been methodically making the case for herself as a leader, unveiling a plan to raise pay for teachers and rolling up endorsements from local politicians in Nevada and South Carolina, trying to cast herself as bigger than a Democratic avenger. She is also becoming more attuned to the prevailing Democratic emotional winds.
Four days after her star turn in the Barr hearing, Harris traveled to Detroit to speak at an N.A.A.C.P. dinner. The introduction by Rev. Wendell Anthony (“Don’t try to cover up because Kamala will sure enough make you choke up”) provoked a standing ovation. Instead of basking in her recent prosecutorial triumph, however, Harris used the occasion to sharpen one line of attack and debut a second one. The first front was a sharpened verbal assault on Trump, using the kind of sound-bite construction that candidates often prepare for televised debates: “This president isn’t trying to make America great,” Harris said, “he’s trying to make America hate.” A majority of Democratic voters consistently cite defeating Trump as their highest priority in choosing a nominee, and Adams says that Harris’s jabs in Detroit were just the beginning of the candidate’s renewed focus on the president. “There’s a keen interest in holding the administration accountable,” Adams says. “And I think one of the core questions Democrats are asking themselves in this primary is: ‘Who do I trust when the bright lights are on to be on that stage to prosecute the case against the president and his policies?’ People who are rightfully horrified by an administration that continues to just lie flat out.”