Senator Kamala Harris was, to quote Marvel’s Thanos, 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.
To be clear, those flaws are not her ambition or desire to be president. Rather, Harris flip-flopped 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 got on in the first place. She appeared to try to get viral moments, as opposed to presenting defining policy platforms, and her record as a prosecutor prevented any progressives from supporting her.
Kamala Harris was unable to carve out her own path in the primary, so it’s fair to ask why she was the “obvious” choice. I was there too. Back when I first typed up my ranking of the 13 potential picks, Harris placed 12th, for all of the reasons above. She may have been the frontrunner, but I was fervent that Biden needed someone else.
From my perspective, Harris didn’t really add anything to the ticket. Yes, she was a woman, but we knew Biden was going to pick a woman regardless. Yes, she was Black, but her record as a prosecutor was under stark criticism by both progressives and Black Lives Matter. Back in May, I thought Biden needed someone who would expand his base, and Harris simply did not appear to do so. She maintained the status quo.
While I am not a staunch progressive, I firmly believed that Biden needed to appeal to the Sanders supporters who felt they lacked an incentive to vote for a moderate. My top pick was Stacey Abrams, with Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Sen. Elizabeth Warren close behind. A unity ticket that would make Biden exciting.
But in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the pressure to select a Black woman overpassed that to win 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 that it would be impossible for him to win in November. And to be clear, as the backbone of the Democratic Party, it was a fair demand to have.
This not only crossed off white women, like Baldwin and Warren, but also women of color, like Michelle Lujan Grisham and Tammy Duckworth. The latter, in particular, I think would have been an excellent choice for the ticket, had Biden been able to win the trust of young Black voters. His ability to make racially insensitive remarks continued to put him at too much risk.
Still, this left plenty of Black women in the running to be VP. From what has been reported, these women included Stacey Abrams, Susan Rice, Rep. Val Demings, Rep. Karen Bass, and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. But as time passed, it became clear that each of these women had serious risks attached to their selection.
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 association with taking the fall for Benghazi would have made her an easy target for Republicans and would have made moderates reconsider supporting Biden. Whatsmore, she is certainly less progressive than Harris, turning off even more on the other side.
Abrams and Bottoms both appeared to walk middle ground, giving them an underdog status that initially led me to support their consideration. But when Coronavirus didn’t become manageable, continuing to spread throughout the country, it increased the need for a VP with experience. This wholeheartedly ruled out Abrams, whose claim to fame was almost becoming the Governor of Georgia.
Bottoms, on the other hand, had a decent amount of experience, and dealt with both COVID-19 and race riots in her city. But still, going from Mayor to a heartbeat away from the presidency is a BIG leap. Since Biden would be the oldest president to be sworn in 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.
Let’s not forget that 72-year-old Sen. John McCain’s choice of Gov. Sarah Palin severely hurt the ticket. Her inexperience and subsequent failure to assure the American people that she could rise to the occasion doomed them. Herein lies another attribute of a VP candidate I underestimated: national vetting.
When Karen Bass was rumored to be rising in the ranks of Biden’s campaign, I had no idea who she was. I googled her, read about her career and policy positions, and came to the conclusion she was an excellent choice. 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 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 fervently progressive beliefs. She seemed perfect.
Then, as the 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 both far-left and put Florida at risk with its large Cuban-American population. This, along with a speech she gave at a Church of Scientology in 2010, took her off the board as well.
At the end of the day, Kamala Harris was vetted on a national stage, meaning there likely won’t be another skeleton in the closet before election day. That which did come to light, including her prosecutor record, have faded from view all these months later. As a Senator, she was the most traditionally qualified Black woman for the job.
Quite 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 she is too moderate appear to be able to stick. She’s such a blank slate that both sides can convince themselves that she won’t go too far one way or another.
And that, my friends, is the beauty of Harris on the ticket. Harris 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 a campaign that’s a referendum on Trump, during a pandemic and economic catastrophe, that’s all Biden needs.