vision 2020

Kamala Harris Is the Sensible VP Choice for a Sensible Nominee

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Invariably, the veepstakes process, particularly when it is as extended and leak free as Joe Biden’s, goes through many twists and turns with rumors, back-stabbing, self-promotion, and all sorts of good- and bad-faith lobbying. There were all sorts of “booms” along the way for this or that prospect, though not as many as there might have been had Biden not announced he would choose a woman from the get-go. But in the end, the sensible centrist Biden chose the running mate who seemed most sensibly safe, and the front-runner for the gig all along.

Kamala Harris’s strengths as a running mate are quite real: a solid résumé of electoral success and steadily ascending responsibilities at the local, state, and federal levels; experience with the rigors of a presidential campaign (back when campaigns weren’t largely Zooming-from-the-basement affairs); a position on the ideological spectrum smack-dab in the middle of Democratic viewpoints (she’s a few ticks to the left of Biden himself, which doesn’t hurt party unity); and identification with not one but three important Democratic constituencies (college-educated women, Black Americans, and Asian Americans). More superficially but helpfully, Harris is telegenic and comfortable before cameras and the media generally.

Perhaps just as important, Harris has fewer vulnerabilities than most of her rivals for the position on the ticket. As noted above, she’s not ideologically off-putting to anyone other than stone ideologues. As a former presidential candidate vetted by the media and opponents, she is assumed to be free of skeletons in the closet or major personality defects. She lacks a history with the many mixed legacies of the Clinton and Obama administrations. There’s nothing about her that invites effective Republican attacks other than her party identity. And her selection avoided the cries of betrayal that might have emerged from Black political and social activists had Biden chosen not to discharge his moral debt to the Black voters who saved his candidacy in the presidential primaries.

The one concern about Harris raised often during those primaries — that as a local and state prosecutor she had a dubious record on criminal-justice reform (reflected in the derisive slogan “Kamala is a cop!”) — faded thanks to her outspokenness during and after the George Floyd protests. And the contrived complaint (attributed to Biden vetter Chris Dodd) that Harris never apologized to Biden for going after his civil-rights record during her big debate moment in June 2019 never made much sense; what else was she supposed to do when faced with Biden’s powerful support among the Black voters she desperately needed to win over? The whole incident was in fact a testament to the trust Black voters had in Biden, so why should he be resentful? He clearly wasn’t.

If it’s unclear which if any voters Harris will bring to the ticket, it’s clear that, unless she makes some unforced errors, she shouldn’t lose many, either. She is qualified to serve as president by any objective measure, and she must have developed some chemistry with Uncle Joe.

Perhaps the biggest question about this choice is whether Harris deserves to be instantly made the prohibitive front-runner for the 2024 or 2028 presidential nomination, assuming things go well this November. But that’s true of her rivals as well. On the campaign trail, she will now get a quick rehearsal for four to eight years of trying to establish her leadership characteristics without upstaging the Boss. One definite thing we can say about the Biden-Harris ticket is that it won’t be based on the kind of embarrassing toadying that Donald Trump expects from Mike Pence. And as the highest-ranking woman in electoral office in American history, Harris would have good reason to be patient about her presidential destiny. If Biden-Harris isn’t a match made in heaven, it’s a pairing made by the best political matchmakers.

Kamala Harris: the Sensible VP Choice for a Sensible Nominee