Earl Ofari Hutchinson
It started almost the instant that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden announced that California senator Kamala Harris was his VP pick in 2020. The “it” was the sniping, rumor-mongering, and flat-out attacks on Harris. The knock-on her was that she was the perennial “angry Black woman.” This ancient stereotype types Black women as bossy, loud, outspoken, domineering, and emotionally high-strung.
A parade of GOP officials and candidates have snatched at that hit tag on Harris since she assumed office. The latest being Alabama senatorial candidate Jessica Taylor who vented her spleen on Harris in a series of campaign ads. There’s the perennial charge that Harris is supposedly a poor organizer and a hard taskmaster. This made it easy for some in the press to run with stories from unnamed purported disgruntled staffers that Harris’s VP office breeds a climate that’s “toxic” and “reactionary.” This subtly reinforces the image of Harris as an ill-equipped and unfocused administrator.
The hit job on Harris is more than simply a case of the GOP playing the subtle gender and race card to pick at her. Though a strong dose of both underlays the attacks. No, Harris will be the GOP’s perennial whipping woman for two very transparent reasons. Both have one, and only, one aim. That’s to take back the White House in 2024.
The first reason Harris is a prime target is Biden. He’s a tough nut for the GOP to crack. He’s white, male, a very mature adult, from a border state, and has a lot of GOP friends in the Senate from his long tenure there. So far, he hasn’t said or done much that will give the GOP attack squad much to flail him with. The attackers would have loads of ammunition to fire at him if he had moved to dump the filibuster or to plop more liberal Democratic friendly judges on the SCOTUS. Biden has pretty much closed the door on either of these possibilities.
He’s generally gotten high poll marks and his likeability generally remains high. Barring any earth-shattering controversy, the politically cautious image of Biden is likely to remain intact.
Harris is a far different story. This points to the second reason for targeting her. The speculation on the possibility that Biden may not be the Democrat’s presidential candidate in 2024 continues non-stop. His age and questions about possible health challenges fuel the talk about 2024. Biden has repeatedly made clear that he intends to seek reelection and intends to serve two full terms.
This hasn’t stopped the speculation about his running again. And more importantly for the GOP, the hope that he will pack it in after one term. The GOP will exaggerate and magnify Harris’s vulnerabilities at every turn no matter how small, trivial, and just downright silly. The GOP, for instance, made much about her not touring the border and then when she did go, beat up on her for supposedly not doing anything to solve the problem. Some dredge up the old charge that her presidential bid in 2020 was largely a flop. That she was a poor campaigner and a candidate who had limited appeal to the general voting public.
The comparison is oft made to Obama. Harris unlike Obama supposedly did not stir any excitement among Black voters. The criticism from some Blacks that during her stint as California Attorney General she was too law and order, pro-police comfy is cited. Her admirable reform record in office is ignored.
Harris certainly broke barriers in being the first female of African American and Indian ancestry to bag the vice presidency. However, the vice-presidency is still largely viewed as a ceremonial, take the back seat to power post, to the president. The other Harris vulnerability is the same one the GOP played on to tar Hillary. Strong, tough, decisive, and, yes, aggressive, are the exact qualities that voters and millions of Americans want and expect in their leaders. For many, that means the presidential office is a man’s office. Polls still show that a significant number of voters say they have reservations about a woman president.
Trump exploited that sentiment to the hilt. He was the biggest sexist, misogynist, female abuser that ever sat in the White House. But he was still seen as brash, tough, and outspoken. For many women, that seemed to mark him as having the right stuff to be President. 73 million-plus voters still thought that about him in his losing bid for reelection. Millions of those voters were women voters.
So far, the GOP’s shots at Harris haven’t done much harm. One June 2021 poll shows that her favorability rating is still high. But in the months ahead she will have the hard-up hill task of assuring millions in the general voting public that she has the experience and political savvy to handle the wheel of governing.
The GOP isn’t taking any chances on 2024. The vice president who could well be the Democrat’s candidate for President in 2024 will be under its harshest looking glare. Their watchword on Harris will be attack and attack hard now just in case it’s her and not Biden for President in 2024.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is Bring Back the Poll Tax!—The GOP War on Voting Rights. (Middle Passage Press) He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network. His political affairs commentaries can be found weekly on thehutchinsonreport.net.