In retrospect, Harris’s campaign looks like a truncated version of Rubio’s 2016 effort. Analysts, reporters and pundits on the right had high hopes for Rubio in the early phases of the primary: He was telegenic, conservative but not too far right, a potential compromise for business conservatives and the religious right, and a symbol of a party that could expand and build a permanent majority. Rubio’s surge hit at a better time than Harris’s — right after Iowa, rather than in the middle of the summer — but he wilted under the spotlight. After getting hit hard by Chris Christie in a New Hampshire debate, many new supporters deserted him and his campaign spiraled. Rubio’s message was always something like “I’m a unifier, and I can win the election,” but it’s much harder to make that argument when you’re failing to unify your own party and losing elections.
Harris ultimately ran a high-risk, high-reward strategy. She had the potential to unify large chunks of the party, win the nomination and go on to win the White House. And she still might succeed in some future primary. But that strategy doesn’t always play out as planned, and Harris’s risk didn’t result in rewards.