Joe is bad enough, but many Democrats not thrilled with Kamala Harris either

Another week has passed, so it’s time for another “Kamala Harris is in trouble” piece from a major mainstream media institution. Last week it was The Washington Post, this week it’s The New York Times. What’s new about this one is the detail that even people who are supposedly Harris’ biggest supporters aren’t really that enthusiastic about her anymore.

But the painful reality for Ms. Harris is that in private conversations over the last few months, dozens of Democrats in the White House, on Capitol Hill and around the nation — including some who helped put her on the party’s 2020 ticket — said she had not risen to the challenge of proving herself as a future leader of the party, much less the country. Even some Democrats whom her own advisers referred reporters to for supportive quotes confided privately that they had lost hope in her.

How did Democrats get themselves into this mess? The broad outlines are clear: Joe Biden recognized that he was a particularly old white male, running as the nominee of the self-proclaimed “party of women” and party of diversity. He promised he would pick a “woman of color” as his running mate, and Harris was really the only African-American woman option with national name recognition and who had been elected to statewide office. Biden could have picked California representative Karen Bass, Florida representative Val Demings, Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms, or former Obama advisor Susan Rice, but for one reason or another, he did not deem those figures best prepared to be president in an emergency.

But what made Harris the lone “woman of color” with national name recognition? She had run for president in the 2020 cycle. Even though Harris hadn’t performed well and withdrew before any of the contests, her campaign made her more well-known and a more recognizable face than Bass, Demings, Lance-Bottoms or Rice. Biden likely concluded that even a Trump-weary electorate might have doubts about putting a little-known congresswoman or mayor a heartbeat away from the presidency – particularly when it was his heartbeat.

But the potential or likely weaknesses of Harris were obvious from the start. Representing California, she had never run in a competitive general election. Detailed investigative reports laid out Harris’ presidential campaign was dysfunctional and paralyzed by infighting and an indecisive candidate. She had started strong in the first debate – ironically by attacking Biden – but then flailed when Tulsi Gabbard raised the less flattering parts of her prosecutorial record. Few recall that in the run-up to Biden’s selection, some of his closest advisors vehemently opposed picking Harris and tried to discourage Biden from going in that direction.

There was this uncomfortable question for Harris fans inside and outside of the media: if she was such a sterling political talent, why had her campaign crashed and burned? If she was so great, why couldn’t Democratic primary voters see that greatness, never mind the overall electorate?

The answer is simple. Kamala Harris isn’t that good, and Biden, many other Democrats, and many members of the media largely chose to see in Harris what they wanted to see. No one wanted the first woman vice president to be mediocre or a flop.

They wanted to see that the first woman vice president was sharp, decisive, bold, a gifted orator, and a natural president-in-waiting. So Democrats told themselves that Harris was pure leadership greatness, just waiting to shine on the national stage, and she just hadn’t gotten the right opportunity to show what she could do.

We’re two years into the Biden presidency. With Harris, what you see is what you get. There is no better version of Harris waiting to be unveiled.

The Democrats’ dilemma around Harris reflects an inability to process accurate information. All of Harris’ problems were there from the start – the flip-flopping, the Hallmark card speech habits, the tendency to blame her staff and high turnover. The Kamala Harris of early 2023 isn’t all that different from the Kamala Harris of the late campaign of 2020, or her presidential campaign of 2019, or her arrival in the Senate in 2017.

Back in August, The Daily Beast checked in with the “#KHive,” ardent supporters of Kamala Harris during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, who are adjusting to the hard reality of watching Harris’s underwhelming performance as vice president. One former Harris fan said, “I was obsessed with the idea of this person who could undo the systemic, the systematic racism and sexism and heterosexism in government with one fell swoop, and now I’m thinking to myself, did I just make up a person in my head who could do those things?”


Democratic party officials and like-minded members of the mainstream media have created this closed circle of information, where Democratic party officials tell the media how great they are, the media echoes the assessment of how great they are, and Democrats walk around convinced they’re doing terrific. Any negative assessments can be banished by accusations of disloyalty or “helping Republicans” or being unfair.

And this pattern happens over and over again. Joe Biden is not a wise and sage elder statesman. Former New York governor Andrew Cuomo is not the astute and empathetic hero of the pandemic. Lawyer Michael Avenatti is not the shrewd and righteous lawyer who believes in standing up for the little guy. Former Virginia governor Ralph Northam is not a sensitive racial healer. The Lincoln Project is not a team of patriotic and principled campaign operatives putting their country ahead of their former party. Stacey Abrams and Beto O’Rourke are not so astonishingly charming and charismatic that they’re going to turn red states blue.

But Democrats wanted to believe these figures were as great as they said they were, so they all enjoyed long stretches of generous and credulous press coverage. A better media and a better Democratic Party would recognize this recurring pattern and say, “enough!” and be much more skeptical of the next flavor-of-the-month that comes along.

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