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Why Did It Have to Be Kamala?

The most vapid of the 2020 Dems gets the vice presidential nod. What exactly is Biden thinking?

US Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) speaks during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled "Examining Best Practices for Incarceration and Detention During COVID-19," in the Dirksen Building in Washington, DC on June 2, 2020.(Photo by TOM WILLIAMS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

I really thought Karen Bass had a fighting chance.

The California congresswoman isn’t a nationally known quantity by any stretch of the imagination. But she has served in the House of Representatives for four terms and seemed to check every box on the Biden campaign’s wish list: African-American, able to shore up his progressive base, voted to impeach Donald Trump. Perhaps he got squeamish over her ties to socialist groups, which conservatives have been blaring about for days.

Whatever the case, the pick is in. And it’s Kamala. Why did it have to be Kamala?

I’m not asking that question as a conservative. I’m not even asking as a TV viewer, who found her debate performances absolutely unwatchable. I’m asking as a man adrift, as someone who genuinely can’t see the appeal here. Fifteen years ago, the late-term abortion-supporting, Green New Deal-loving Harris would have been too left-wing to get the Democratic presidential nomination. Today, at least among Democrats, she’s more like the Goldilocks candidate, only at a time when passions are running high and “just right” won’t cut it. She’s too liberal for the moderates and not liberal enough for the left-wing activists. She’s too soft on immigration for the law-and-order crowd and too tough on crime for Black Lives Matter.

She checks the identity politics boxes, to be sure, the first African-American woman and Asian American to ever be on a presidential ticket. But she’s also best known for having locked up a hell of a lot of African Americans at a time when police abuse is a nationwide sore spot. She hails from California, not a known swing state. She ticked off Catholics, whom Biden needs to win, when she implied last year that membership in the Knights of Columbus could be grounds for disqualification from a federal judgeship. She’s awkward for Biden personally, having once said she believed women who accused him of making them feel uncomfortable (this was before Tara Reade came forward—someone should ask her about that, too).

This is an instant reaction piece with all the limitations thereof. No doubt over the next week, we’ll be treated to endless paragraph-recycling reports at Politico that breathlessly relay every tidbit of gossip as to what the Biden campaign was thinking. And it isn’t like Harris doesn’t have her strong points. She’s by all accounts a success story. She can be a tough cross-examiner, which could translate into debate success, if only she can drop the habit of behaving like she’s perpetually auditioning for a GIF. She’s approved of by the Lincoln Project, which represents a wide array of Americans, from political consultants to political pollsters. A knowledgeable colleague sends along two other upsides: she’s popular among deep-pocketed California donors and any dirt on her is already out thanks to her prior campaigns.

In other words, it may be that she really does turn out to be Goldilocks: instead of repelling liberals and moderates, both will sigh and accept her. Maybe she’ll even help win over independents and less engaged voters, distancing herself from her more extreme positions, using her evident intellect and charisma to charm rather than confuse. Still, it’s hard to see this as anything other than an uninspired pick. During her last national outing, Harris didn’t even make it to the Iowa caucuses. Her Real Clear Politics polling average was barely 3 percent. Something went horribly wrong during that campaign, something Biden will have to make sure is rectified this time around.

Because there’s an uncharitable read on all this too. It goes something like this: the Democrats are so immersed in identity politics that they simply picked the most prominent black woman they had on deck. They confused clapbacks, which play well on Twitter, with amiability and openness, which play well in Toledo. They think relentless Trump bashing is what will win a national election. They assume they’re shoo-ins who can skate by on style rather than substance.

Whatever the case, now is a good time to rewatch Tulsi Gabbard’s brilliant takedown of Harris’ criminal justice record during the CNN primary debate. Observe how impoverished, superficial, and smug Harris’ response to Gabbard was. Listen to her pathetic dismissal of the exchange afterwards: “I’m obviously a top-tier candidate.” Which brings us to one final irony: as the streets fill with protesters, as police departments are defunded, the Democrats have offered up what is, at least so far as résumés go, their most tough-on-crime presidential ticket of my lifetime.

about the author

Matt Purple is a senior editor at The American Conservative.

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