Can Democrats Solve Their ‘Kamala Harris Problem’?

Kamala Harris is a living embodiment of the Peter Principle, where people keep getting promoted until they reach jobs for which they are clearly unqualified. More and more Americans think that describes our current vice president.

Harris is deeply unpopular with independents, who are essential for electoral success (fewer than one in three voters view her favorably), and she is losing popularity among Democratic Party leaders. They see her ineptitude, listen to her word salads, and watch the polls with dismay. The latest evidence of Harris’ fading position is a sharply critical article in the New York Times, of all places, filled with anonymous disapproval from senior Democrats, many of whom once supported her. Now, they are worried.

Their fear is that although she’d be a drag on the 2024 party ticket, she’s almost impossible to drop. To win, Democrats need enthusiastic support from African Americans, who are likely to be insulted if Harris is dumped. That problem might be averted if she were replaced by another African American. But there are no obvious alternatives. If Harris is replaced, it would likely be by a white or Hispanic candidate.

Such a change would roil a party deeply invested in the politics of racial and ethnic identity, where losing groups are seen as aggrieved victims, winners as “privileged” oppressors. Those divisions are most virulent when they center on America’s historic wound of race, and they would be turned inward on the party.

Normally, voters don’t care much about the vice presidential nominee, even when they aren’t wild about the choices, as we learned in 1988 when George H.W. Bush chose Dan Quayle and again two decades later with John McCain’s surprise selection of Sarah Palin. But 2024 is likely to be different if Biden runs again. He is already the oldest person to sit in the Oval Office, and he is showing his age. Although gaffes have plagued Biden throughout his career, they have grown worse in recent years. There’s a reason he refuses to hold press conferences.

Voters are not blind to this quandary inside the White House. It’s a reasonable inference that a man who would turn 86 during a second term in the Oval Office might not be able to finish the job. His vice president would be forced to step in. Polls show voters are not thrilled with the prospect of Kamala Harris doing that.

What’s the evidence voters are unhappy with Harris? The best evidence comes from the last two campaigns, as well as recent public opinion surveys. When Harris ran for president in 2000, she had to drop out before the first primary votes were cast. Despite a glamorous roll-out that included national magazine covers and glowing endorsements, her polling stood at less than 1% in the Democratic primary field. That failure is stunning because her résumé checked all the boxes Democrats love: She was a progressive, a woman, a racial minority (black and Asian), and a senator from a deep blue state, who could raise big money from wealthy California donors. But checking all those boxes wasn’t enough after primary voters got a closer look.

The 2022 mid-terms exposed Harris’ flaws yet again. Normally, the White House dispatches the veep to crisscross the country, appearing with candidates eager to be seen with such a prominent national figure. Not this time. Although candidates wanted her help in raising money, they wanted it behind closed doors. No joint public appearances, please.

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