Jonathan Chait, Benjamin Hart, and Ed Kilgore discuss whether the California senator still has a shot in the primary.
Ben: Kamala Harris’s campaign is in serious trouble. Amid increasingly anemic polling results and a middling financial outlook, Politico reports that the candidate is cutting staff at headquarters and in several states and deploying more people to Iowa to try to get some momentum going there. It feels like a desperate move — is this all but curtains for Harris?
Ed: Not necessarily, but let’s just stipulate it’s a really bad sign.
Jon: Does this require me to take the position that the news is good for Harris? That’s how the chat format works, right?
Ben: On the left, we have ED KILGORE, and on the … also left, we have JONATHAN CHAIT …
Ed: Boxed you in right away, didn’t we?
Jon: It’s a genius rope-a-dope strategy. Cut the fat from her payroll, make her opponents underestimate her, then BOOM.
Ben: But seriously, folks, is there really any way she comes back from this? I’m trying to envision a scenario where she does.
Ed: I’m sure she and her people (in the presence of donors and media) are propagating the idea that she’ll light up the boards in one of the upcoming debates. Politico quotes from an internal campaign memo in which Team Harris cites the Kerry ’04 and McCain ’08 campaigns as examples of nomination winners who went through this sort of “restructuring.” That happens to be the only two that exist.
Ben: Are the ’04 and ’08 situations analogous enough to this one to think she could be the third example?
Jon: Yes, in the following sense: Primaries are often hard to predict. Most voters could vote for almost any of the candidates under the right circumstances. So it’s always possible for some weird pinballing effect to change the dynamic suddenly.
Ed: Not exactly. Kerry and McCain were both early front-runners who got written off by insiders for various reasons (Kerry’s poll numbers plunged during the Dean boom; McCain mismanaged his money). Voters rediscovered what made them the early front-runners to begin with. Harris had a good basic strategy and one good campaign moment after the first debate. Not quite the same. But sure, weird stuff can always happen. Or not.
Jon: Harris wasn’t a “front-runner,” but this field never had one, and she was running as a candidate who could be acceptable to all factions. So in that sense, there is a parallel. But her campaign has been run pretty poorly.
Ed: Trouble is, there are several of those acceptable-to-all-factions candidates in the field who aren’t running out of money. And she’s not exactly tailor-made for Iowa, where she now has to do really well. She probably shouldn’t have let herself get quoted saying, “I’m f- - -ing moving to Iowa.”
Jon: It’s insane that we still have a primary where the first two states have massively disproportionate winnowing power and have almost no minorities. I mean, how does a fairly woke party tolerate this?
Ed: Sigh. Here we go again: People wanting to change the rules of the game while it’s being played.
Jon: I’ve always wanted to change the rules!
Ed: Propose fixing it all for 2028 and you might get somewhere.
Jon: Well, if I limited my comments to ideas that could go somewhere, I wouldn’t write much.
Ed: Far be it from me to restrain you, Jon, but when you call the status quo “insane,” that does call for us crazy people to push back.
Ben: Back to Harris: Her swing to the left at the beginning of the campaign, which included appearing to fully back Medicare for All and then retreating from it, is now viewed as a mistake. But would a better strategy really have mattered that much? To me (as I’ve said before), the main problem with her campaign is simply that she’s not very good at running for president.
As in, there is no clarity of vision or purpose, nothing to really excite people.
Jon: I found her campaign pretty exciting, thought her energy in set-piece situations, like her kickoff speech, hearings, and debate No. 1, was pretty great. She just made a lot of errors, like going back and forth on Bernie’s health-care plan like four times — ripping off the Band-Aid, reapplying it, ripping it off again.
Ben: True, she did seem more promising at the beginning. And no doubt she’s great in hearings.
Ed: On paper, she had a good electability argument, and, as I noted earlier, she had a solid nomination strategy and did have that one good debate moment. And yeah, Jon’s right, her campaign started well. My doubts about her initially mostly involved her meh reputation here in California. Never quite seen a candidate who keeps winning elections over and over instill so little joy in her voters. But then I guess that was true of John Kerry, who did nearly get to be president.
Ben: Seems true of many presidential candidates, in fact.
Ed: Anyway, I think we can agree that things went wrong, and yeah, the unforced errors on M4A seemed to be important. They were almost comically inept.
Jon: By the time she was calling for Twitter to suspend Trump, I was just face-palming.
Ed: To this day, I don’t understand what that was about.
Jon: People hate Trump’s tweets? So they decided to turn that into a proposal? I dunno.
Ben: If Harris’s campaign does flame out, as it seems on its way to doing, could you see her as a formidable candidate in a future presidential election?
Jon: Well, she could definitely be veep. Probably the front-runner if a white guy gets nominated. She might have trouble attracting donors and campaign talent to another race, though.
Ed: She’s 55, which means under the new Bernie/Biden age rules, she’s got at least five more cycles to think about it. Harris ’36!
Ed: Damn, she could f- - -ing move to Iowa for real and run for the Senate there, maybe against a 100-year-old Chuck Grassley!