The Increasing Attacks on Kamala Harris (2024)

Kamala Harris arrived at the Munich Security Conference earlier this month with no good news to share with her European counterparts. The sixty-billion-dollar security package for Ukraine that President Joe Biden had promised was stalled in the House of Representatives, where the Republican Speaker, Mike Johnson, had sent the chamber into a two-week recess without scheduling a floor vote. And then came the news that Alexei Navalny, the charismatic Russian opposition leader, had died in prison. While awaiting official confirmation, Harris said, at the top of her remarks, “Whatever story they tell, let us be clear: Russia is responsible.”

As she laid out the stakes of Ukraine’s fight against Russia, she laid into Republicans who “embrace dictators” and ignore the United States’ commitments to its allies. “Let me be clear,” she said, tapping her fingers on the lectern. “That world view is dangerous, destabilizing, and, indeed, shortsighted. That view would weaken America and would undermine global stability and undermine global prosperity. President Biden and I, therefore, reject that view.” She went on to make a campaign-style list of the Administration’s accomplishments and ambitions.

If Biden wins reëlection, he will turn eighty-six before he leaves office. An ABC News/Ipsos survey found that eighty-six per cent of Americans think that he’s too old to serve another term. That poll was conducted just after the report from the special counsel looking into Biden’s handling of classified documents called him a “well-meaning elderly man” with “diminished faculties.” Should Biden win again, a Harris Administration is not out of the question and, with more than half of Americans viewing her unfavorably—her ratings are even lower than Biden’s, according to FiveThirtyEight—Harris has work to do.

“People are going to start asking, ‘What am I really voting for here?’ And she’s it,” Scott Jennings, a Louisville-based Republican strategist, told me. Echoing a theme that I’ve heard in interviews with voters in the Midwest, he said, “The average Republican thinks Biden is not in charge of his White House. I suspect the Republicans are going to argue that Biden is running a scam by arguing that he is going to be the President, when no one believes he is going to serve that much longer in office.” That fits with what I recently heard from Republican voters in the swing state of Michigan. A man at a mall in Grand Rapids, who said that he works in construction, cheerfully told me, “We’re Trumpsters.” He said that Harris is “way over her skis,” and that she only has the job because Biden, who had promised to choose a Black woman as his running mate, wanted to “check the box.” His wife agreed, saying, “She’s not fit for the job. I think we’d be in trouble.”

The Biden-Harris campaign, of course, probably doesn’t expect to win over many committed Trump supporters, but it is certainly aware that many Democrats and independents, too, could look elsewhere in November—or just stay home. The same day, at a rally in Grand Rapids for the third-party candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., I interviewed three people in a row who said that they had voted for Biden in 2020 but now plan to vote for Kennedy. “Time is up with Biden,” one said. “Everything has become so corrupt and so broken,” another told me. Looming over all the calculations are questions about Harris, who offered her own response to doubters in an interview with the Wall Street Journal two days before the release of the special counsel’s report: “I am ready to serve. There’s no question about that.”

On the campaign trail, Harris is trying to cast herself as a leader and to burnish her bona fides, while connecting with voters who are less than excited about the Democratic ticket. She has been asserting herself on electoral strategy and very publicly defending Biden’s mental acuity, calling the special counsel’s depiction “gratuitous, inaccurate, and inappropriate.” In a speech on February 2nd at South Carolina State University, a historically Black institution, she spoke of threats to democracy posed by Donald Trump and said that the former President “has stoked the fires of hate and bigotry and racism and xenophobia for his own power and political gain.”

Harris is also the campaign’s strongest voice on abortion, the issue that, since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, in June, 2022, has likely galvanized more voters—including women in Republican-led states—than any other. She began a recent fund-raising e-mail by declaring, “I’m furious,” and launched a national tour in Wisconsin on the fifty-first anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. “These extremists want to roll back the clock to a time before women were treated as full citizens,” she said, standing near a big banner that read “TRUST WOMEN.” Recalling Trump’s comment that he was proud to appoint three Supreme Court Justices whose votes were critical to overturning Roe, she asked, “Proud that women across our nation are suffering? Proud that women have been robbed of a fundamental freedom? Proud that doctors could be thrown in prison for caring for their patients?”

In Republican audiences, though, Harris is readily mocked and dismissed. At a Nikki Haley event at the Thunder Bay Grille, in Davenport, Iowa, two days before the January caucuses—and before she started calling Trump unhinged—Haley said, “I think President Trump was the right President at the right time. I agree with a lot of his policies, but, rightly or wrongly, chaos follows him. Y’all know I’m right.” The crowd listened quietly, then erupted in applause at her next point, which was “And we cannot ever have a President Kamala Harris. She’d send a chill up your spine.” What, exactly, is so terrifying about Harris wasn’t clear, but Haley hit the note of Biden’s frailty again in a recent CNN interview, seeming to suggest that Trump, if nominated, would lose to Biden, and that Biden would not finish a second term. “There will be a female President of the United States,”she said. “It will either be me, or it will be Kamala Harris.”

Before Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, dropped out of the Presidential race, he also sounded the anti-Harris alarm, saying that Harris was Biden’s “impeachment insurance, because people know, no matter how bad Biden is, nobody wants Harris.” Others on the right see Harris as a figure in a deep-state plot. At last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference gathering, outside Washington, D.C., a group of white commentators chose to discuss the bizarre notion of Harris duelling Michelle Obama for the Presidential nomination at this summer’s Democratic National Convention. The panel was called “Cat Fight? Michelle vs. Kamala,” prompting the pundit Kurt Schlichter to ask, “Why are you ruining catfights for us?”

Yet a prominent Michigan Democrat told me that—wild conspiracy theories and racist overtones aside—it’s not unreasonable to question Harris’s leadership skills, following her disorganized campaign for President in 2020, and the difficulty she has had in defining a high-profile role for herself in the Administration. When Biden tasked her with addressing some of the causes of the surge in migrants from Latin America, Republicans successfully—and inaccurately—labelled her the “border czar.” (According to a recent poll, only twenty-nine per cent of Americans approve of how the Administration is handling immigration.) The Michigan Democrat said, “I don’t think Democrats hate her—they just can’t see her winning.” But he also thinks that Biden’s candidacy will rise or fall on its own in a contest marked by apathy. And he sees Biden winning Michigan, after “a very ugly, nasty campaign—trench warfare to see who can get their voters out.”

The Increasing Attacks on Kamala Harris (2024)
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