Kamala Harris becoming the vice presidential nominee was inevitable. Despite months of vetting and speculation, the most predictable choice was made. But while there are many in her corner, she was rarely anyone’s favorite option, especially when considering how Harris’s own presidential campaign imploded.
She has many flaws as a candidate. To be clear, those flaws do not include her ambition or desire to be president. Harris flip-flops on issues, often jumping on the bandwagon of a progressive policy idea without knowing exactly why she was getting on, then struggling to get off and explain why she hitched a ride in the first place. She focuses on viral moments, as opposed to specific policy platforms, and her record as a prosecutor prevents many progressives from supporting her.
Senator Harris was unable to carve out her own path in the primary, so it’s fair to ask why she was the “obvious” choice for VP. I certainly did. Back when I first made my rankings of the VP contenders, Harris was low on my list. From my perspective, Harris didn’t really add anything to the Biden ticket. Yes, she’s a woman, but we knew Biden was going to pick a woman regardless. And yes, she’s Black, but her record as a prosecutor was under staunch criticism from Black Lives Matter. Biden needed someone who would expand his base, and Harris simply didn’t.
I firmly believed that Biden needed to appeal to the Sanders supporters who lacked an incentive to vote for a moderate. My top picks were Stacey Abrams, Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. With any of the three, Biden would have created a unity ticket that made his candidacy exciting.
But in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the pressure to select a Black woman surpassed that of winning over progressives. Black leaders in the party were demanding representation on the ticket. If Biden didn’t pick a Black woman, I truly believe the backlash would have been so bad it would be impossible for him to win in November. And to be clear, as the backbone of the Democratic Party, Black women had the right to demand it.
This not only crossed off white women, like Baldwin and Warren, but also non-Black women of color, like Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Sen. Tammy Duckworth. The latter, in particular, would have been an excellent choice for the ticket, had Biden been able to win the trust of young Black voters another way. It was his inability to steer clear of racially insensitive remarks that made these selections too much of a risk.
Still, this left plenty of Black women in the running to be VP. From what was reported, these women included Rep. Val Demings, Susan Rice, Stacey Abrams, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Rep. Karen Bass. But as time passed, it became clear that each of these women were greater risks than Harris.
Demings was the Chief of Police in Orlando, running a police department with a reputation for excessive use of force. While Harris’s record had already come to light, Demings’s reputation was fresh and, to be frank, worse. It would have been even more insulting to Black protestors to choose her.
Rice, on the other hand, came with serious Obama administration baggage. Her taking the fall for Benghazi would have made her an easy target for Republicans and led moderates to reconsider supporting Biden. Additionally, she is certainly less progressive than Harris, which would have angered even more of those on the left.
Abrams and Bottoms both appeared to walk middle ground between moderates and progressives, giving them an underdog status that initially led me to support their consideration. But once it became clear the pandemic was going to be a lasting crisis, the need for a VP with experience became essential. This wholly ruled out Abrams, whose only claim to fame was almost becoming the Governor of Georgia.
Bottoms, on the other hand, had a decent amount of experience and successfully dealt with managing both COVID-19 and riots in her city. Still, going from mayor to a heartbeat away from the presidency is a BIG leap. Since Biden would be the oldest politician to be sworn in as president on Inauguration Day, the American public would certainly have reservations about a recently elected mayor possibly having to step in with a pandemic at large.
Bass’s inclusion as a candidate was surprising, as she was fairly unknown outside of her district. Once the news began reporting she was a real possibility, I started doing research on her, read about her career and policy positions, and immediately understood why she made it onto Biden’s radar. She was a progressive Black woman, who reached across the aisle and was willing to work with Republicans. Before entering politics, she was a civil rights leader who worked for a cause, not an elected office. As Speaker of the California State Assembly during the 2008 financial crisis, Bass showed she could make tough decisions about the budget, despite her fervent progressive beliefs. She seemed perfect.
However, as the national media started to focus on her, the seemingly ideal background of Bass severely cracked. Bass’s strong ties to Cuba, which she visited several times, made her a far riskier choice. When Fidel Castro died, she tweeted of how this was a loss for the Cuban people. This type of relationship with a communist country would have made the ticket seem far-left and put Florida at risk with its large Cuban-American population. This, along with a speech she gave for the Church of Scientology in 2010, took her off the board.
Herein lies another attribute of a VP candidate I underestimated: the need be vetted on the national stage. At the end of the day, Harris was already put under the national spotlight during the primary, meaning there likely won’t be another skeleton in her closet dug out before election day. She was able to withstand the intense scrutiny that comes with a campaign of this size. That which did come to light, including her prosecutorial record, had long since faded from view.
Amazingly, the way she has flipped back and forth on progressive issues means that it’s harder for her to be attacked for her ideology. Neither Republican attacks that she is too liberal nor progressive accusations that she is too moderate appear to be able to stick. She’s such a blank slate that both sides can convince themselves she won’t go too far one way or another.
And that, my friends, is the beauty of having Harris on the ticket. She checks all the boxes that need to be checked, while also not giving any group a good enough reason not to vote for the ticket. In an election that’s a referendum on Trump, during a pandemic and economic disaster, that’s all Biden needs.