The vice presidency is correctly perceived as a launching pad for the presidency itself. While the actual power and influence of a sitting vice president may vary from administration to administration, a VP invariably enjoys a high public profile – making him or her a default frontrunner when the time comes for the party to choose a succeeding president. Kamala Harris is no different. With President Biden still weighing whether to run again in 2024 – no matter what the White House is saying to the media – pundits are highlighting Harris as a top-three replacement option.
Harris would join a distinguished line of one-time VPs to eventually head their party’s ticket, including Truman, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Bush 41, Gore, and Biden. So, concerning precedent, Harris would make sense as the DNC’s presidential nominee. But concerning politics, Harris would be a misguided choice, a rote mistake.
Politics are important. In an ideal world, a politician’s policy choices, and their ability to govern, would be the only criteria on which they are judged or elected. That would be a merit- or substance-based evaluation system. In reality, “political ability” is a vital prerequisite – perhaps the most important aspect – to earning and maintaining office. Political ability is hard to define precisely – it relates to reading the room, marketing oneself, spinning everything positively, wiggling out from under criticism, and making every constituent feel like you care. Precisely defined or not, political ability is easy to identify. You know when someone has it. And you know when someone does not have it. Kamala Harris does not have it.
Past Candidates – And Presidents – Had It
To be president today, in the television era, you’ve gotta have some political game. Ronald Reagan had it. He was a generation-defining politician despite having a regular IQ and superficial policy views. Bill Clinton had game. Clinton was so talented that his staff called him The Natural in reference to the Robert Redford film. Clinton was a once-in-a-lifetime political talent. Consider this: during the 1992 DNC primaries, Clinton was a young contender in a crowded field. Right before the New Hampshire primary, authentic, verifiable allegations arose that Clinton was a voracious womanizer who had been involved in a 12-year affair with Gennifer Flowers. The story would have ruined roughly any other politician. Not Clinton. Clinton actually used the incident as a slingshot and boosted his campaign. Watch Clinton’s 1992 60 Minutes segment for a masterclass lesson in How To Sidestep.
Politics are important. Al Gore was a sharp, engaged, humble presidential candidate with an impressive resume. But Gore was stiff. He was awkward. He was a bad politician. He lost (“lost”) in the general election to George W. Bush – a man with a relatively spartan resume, history of DUIs, and poor speaking skills. But Bush made people feel like he was one of the guys, someone you could have a beer with. Gore, on the other hand, made people feel like he was there to audit their taxes.
Similarly, 2016 candidate Hillary Clinton was political royalty with a staggering resume. Yet, she lost to a carnival barking buffoon who had a superior feel for the zeitgeist. Hillary did not understand the zeitgeist. She was out of touch. She was a terrible, terrible politician. She came across as the type of person who enjoyed making life miserable for the waitstaff. More importantly, she lacked her husband’s ability to “wiggle.” Whereas Bill was able to spin his full-blown sexual affair into a campaign boost, Hillary let an email scandal plague her campaign for months.
With respect to political talent, Harris is more like Hillary than Bill; Harris is not politically talented – as her 2020 campaign demonstrated concretely.
Harris on the Campaign Trail
When Harris announced her candidacy on Good Morning America in January of 2019, she had enviable momentum. For years, Harris had been considered a front-runner to grab the 2020 ticket. Her moment was nigh. Yet, Harris’s campaign was a disaster. She withdrew from the race in December 2019, well before the DNC primaries. Despite its national prominence, the Harris campaign petered out before far less high-profile campaigns from low-tier candidates like Julian Castro, Marianne Williamson, and John Delaney.
Harris supporters, known as the #KHive, were quick to blame racism and sexism for Harris’s early exit. That’s an absurd argument – the preceding three DNC presidential nominees had been either black or female. And the left’s express desire for a black woman on the ticket is what ultimately earned Harris the VP nod. So, no. Racism and sexism did not doom Harris’s campaign.
It was her political inability; it was her equivocal messaging and resultant lack of funding; it was her reliance on a, “I’m A Badass Prosecutor” theme – despite the left’s calls for criminal justice reforms.
Let me reemphasize my last point. In a moment where the left was deeply critical of the criminal justice system, in an environment that would just months later give rise to the Defund The Police movement, Harris ran as Ms. Top Cop. That’s bad politics. And politics are important. I am skeptical that Kamala Harris can win a presidential election in 2024.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.