The First Shot Missed

The GOP should have been prepared for Kamala Harris. They weren’t.

Illustration by Peter Grabowski.

From the beginning days of the meandering veepstakes, Kamala Harris was the consensus frontrunner. As a woman, a person of color, and a politician who has held the Trump administration accountable, her appointment was as groundbreaking as it was logical. If the Biden — Harris ticket is successful, her vacant Senate seat would be safe in deep blue California.

She was no dark horse. Behind the scenes, Harris was actively working to boost the Biden campaign. It would appear her efforts were noted and appreciated.

Republicans should have expected a Harris vice presidential announcement and been ready. In the crucial anabolic window immediately following the breaking news, Republican efforts to label or attack her could have been magnified. The seeds of her political framing could have been planted.

Instead, the GOP botched the prologue to The Story of Kamala Harris. There was no unified portrayal of her, no consensus line of attack, no comms strategy. What ensued immediately after the Harris announcement instead resembled a haphazard, throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach. Frankly, even calling such a poor effort an “approach” would be unwarrantably rewarding.

The first line of attack emanated from Brad Parscale, the recently demoted member of Trump’s reelection campaign team. “Bernie Bros get burnt!” he tweeted, apparently referring to the idea that a Harris ticket would be insufficiently progressive for the Democratic Party. He wasn’t alone. Other conservative figures, hoping to foment division among the left, were quick to highlight Harris’ background as a prosecutor.

Then, attacks started pouring in that Harris was a leftwing communist. Sean Hannity, the Fox News host, stated that Harris has a “radical extremist record” who “solidifies what’s the most extreme radical far-left out-of-the-mainstream ticket of any major political party in American history.”

First, Kamala Harris was was a tough-on-crime former prosecutor, whom the radical left would surely find distasteful. Now, she’s a card carrying member of the radical mob and the self-appointed ruler of Antifastan. Which one is it?

The right wing duality of Harris being both too moderate and too liberal is exemplified in the Republican National Committee’s approach. As the New York Times points out, “hours after calling Ms. Harris the ‘most liberal’ member of the Senate, the Republican National Committee sent out an email blast saying that progressives hated her because she was not progressive enough.”

Nailed it.

Four years ago, the moniker “crooked” was so devastating to Hillary Clinton because for once Trump was able to exercise message discipline. He repeated it incessantly. The name-calling invoked the scandals of her husband’s presidency. It tied her to previous scandals, both real and imagined. And corruption is one of the few remaining issues that remain unpopular to both parties.

For Trump and his followers, perhaps it was a mistake to talk about Harris’ political leanings anyway. It doesn’t matter if her ideas are too moderate or too liberal. Why discuss policy when racism and sexism are readily available?

Following the Harris announcement, President Trump was quick to call her “nasty,” a familiar refrain he saves for women who dare challenge male authority. Harris’ major violation, of course, was challenging Judge (now Justice) Kavanaugh to think about any law that gave the government the power to make decisions for the male body during his confirmation hearing.

He couldn’t.

“She was nasty (to Kavanaugh) to a level that was just a horrible thing,” the president said. “And I won’t forget that soon.”

The racial attacks on Harris soon followed. Fox News host Tucker Carlson purposefully butchered her name. When one of his guests corrected him, Carlson retorted, “so what?” Internet trolls have flooded social media with racially disparaging filth. According to Media Matters, right wing social media pages “have been laying the groundwork to attack Kamala Harris online.”

Trump seems to have settled on the name “phony” for Harris, but he reportedly is still working on new ideas. Maybe a weekend in the bunker — in-between inspections — is all he needs to produce something better than “phony.” Trump, a noted non-phony, twice gave money to Harris’ campaigns.

“Not liberal enough,” “too liberal,” “nasty,” “phony.” Allow me to offer my own nickname for Harris.

How does “future vice president” sound?

political science researcher. former valedictorian. reader/writer. host of “Politics Mostly” podcast.

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