Kamala Harris is out of the Democratic race. But where does she go from here? I talked to staff writers Zak Cheney-Rice and Sarah Jones about the California Senator’s primary-campaign errors and her future path.
Ben: After months of deflating momentum, Kamala Harris dropped out of the presidential race on Tuesday — the highest-profile departure so far. It feels like both we and other media outlets have documented her problems exhaustively in recent weeks, but now that her campaign is officially over, I’ll ask one more time: What do you think was the primary reason that she stalled so badly after her high point at the first debate?
Sarah: If you asked me to describe what Kamala Harris the candidate stood for in a sentence, I honestly don’t think I could do it. Sanders has a clear message; so does Warren. So does Biden, even if that message happens to be nostalgia. But I don’t think Harris was ever as clear about her values or her vision of reform. There seemed to be no center to who she was a candidate. And I think that was obvious to voters.
Zak: I think it was a mix of not having a real reason for running and doing so in an election where Democratic voters needed to be sure she could win. Biden is leading in the polls because a lot of voters think he’s a sure thing, or the closest thing to it. A black woman candidate and relative newcomer with a muddled vision and no compelling case for her own electability is a gamble they weren’t willing to take.
Ben: In the aftermath of her announcement, I’ve seen some reaction like this tweet from Joy Reid: “The reality is that no 2020 candidate is perfect, but the extent to which people — including the media but also would-be voters — punished and refused to even consider Kamala Harris for flaws she frankly shared with other candidates, was telling and depressing.” There is no denying that Harris’s campaign was disorganized and muddled, and that her message didn’t really break through. But did she get an unfair shake on top of that? Or is there not much truth to this talking point?
Sarah: There’s a grain of truth to it. Harris was hardly the only candidate in the race to suffer from muddled messaging. Nor was she the only candidate to means-test her policy proposals to the point of absolute absurdity. It may be true that compared to candidates like Pete Buttigieg, Harris did receive a disproportionately high level of negative coverage. But she also had flaws that did set her apart from the rest of the field. This was not the year for a candidate to run on their record as a prosecutor.
Zak: Yeah, I think both can be true. Harris almost certainly entered the race with less room for error than her white and male counterparts, for some of the reasons I alluded to above and others that Sarah pointed to. I also don’t think she got an especially unfair shake. She ran a bad campaign, couldn’t get her talking points straight, and has a bad record as a prosecutor.
Ben: Harris wasn’t polling particularly well, but do you think her exit from the race might help any one candidate over another? And do you think she might endorse someone, or will she lay low (which could possibly be advantageous if she wants a VP-nominee slot)?
Zak: I don’t see any immediate benefits to her endorsing. If her feelings about who should be the nominee was important enough to voters that it could shape the race at this point, she probably would’ve had a more successful campaign.
Sarah: If her departure helps anyone, it will probably be Pete, but I don’t think she made enough of an impact in the race for her absence to benefit any candidate to a significant degree. And I also doubt she plans on endorsing anyone right now. Not sure what she, or anyone else, would gain from her making an endorsement until the memory of her very badly run campaign fades a bit.
Ben: Do you think the vice-presidency could be in her future?
Sarah: Maybe! It’s really hard to say right now. Again, she polled so badly that I’m not sure what someone would gain from putting her on a ticket.
Zak: I doubt it. I think she’d have been a natural choice for someone like Biden or Warren prior to running her own campaign. But now that she’s run, and run badly, it’s hard to see anyone still in the race concluding that there’s some vital constituency clamoring for her inclusion.
Ben: Is she the (fairly) rare candidate who hurt her reputation by running for president, or will she be just fine in the long run?
Zak: She’ll be fine. A bad race is a bad race. I don’t think anyone came away from this doubting that Harris has charisma and talent and a compelling profile. Her weaknesses are clearer now than before, but she can work on her overarching political vision over the next few years in the Senate and come back with a better campaign staff and make noise.
Sarah: In the long term? Fine, probably, but I do think her record as a prosecutor is a handicap.