When she first ran for president in 2020, Vice President Kamala Harris was seen as a rising star with tremendous upside. She checked the box on important jobs from a large state – serving as attorney general and U.S. senator from California. She had confidence and political chops. Harris also had an admirable personal story as a woman of Indian and Jamaican descent who rose to a heartbeat away from the presidency – the first woman to be vice president.
Historic Running Mate
She ran a lackluster campaign for president and was forced to drop out, but there is nothing wrong with losing in a crowded primary to a candidate with more experience. Biden picked her as a running mate, even though she had once scorched him in a debate over desegregation.
Could Kamala Harris Best Pence on the Big Stage?
The big test for Harris was going to be another major debate – this time against Vice President Mike Pence. Pence probably won the debate on points, but he threw no knockout punches and Harris hung in there without embarrassing the ticket.
Vice President Is a Thankless Job
Fast forward to an election win and her ascension to vice president, Harris did not have a defined role in the administration. A vice president’s influence in the White House waxes and wanes during a presidency depending on who is in the Oval Office. George W. Bush gave Vice President Dick Cheney a substantial role in national security during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Alternatively, Franklin D. Roosevelt ignored his vice president, Harry Truman, and kept him in the dark at the end of World War Two.
She Gets Stuck with a Difficult Job
As a former prosecutor, Harris was looking for a role in which she could grow into an effective executive with important responsibilities. Instead, Biden gave her an impossible task – somehow lead the administration’s policy on illegal immigration at the southern border. Harris quickly displayed that this job would satisfy no one and the difficulty and stress of being in the international limelight showed. She took a long time to even visit the border as apprehensions and “got aways” quickly spun out of control.
Things Start to Slip for Kamala Harris
One interview stuck out in everyone’s mind. This was her sit-down with NBC’s Lester Holt where Holt pointed out that Kamala Harris had not visited the border. She said she hasn’t visited Europe either in an unlikely counterpoint. This was a cringeworthy response and Holt had done damage to her brand. She seemed flat-footed in the interview and did not approach the give-and-take with confidence.
Something Is Wrong with Her Speaking Ability
Voters also saw a personality tick that was concerning. Harris often had a nervous laugh that seemed to be an annoying cackle. It presented itself at the worst times. She also had trouble on the stump in low-pressure situations in which she was conducting simple ceremonial duties. Detractors accused her of a propensity to engage in “word salads” in which she spoke in rambling paragraphs and not pithy sound bites, and worst of all, she would use word repetitions like “Community banks are in the community,” and other incongruous statements.
Office Turmoil Doesn’t Help
Then some communications staffers began to resign showing there were problems in her office. There were whispers that her staff would prepare briefing papers that she ignored, according to a recent book about Biden and Harris. She wasn’t doing her homework and this lack of preparation hurt her communication efforts.
Ratings Go In the Toilet
Harris wasn’t ready for prime time and voters have noticed. As of January 3, Harris had a 39 percent approval rating and a 53 percent disapproval rating, according to the Los Angeles Times. This is lower than Biden’s approval and displays a reticence that some people have about the future of Harris’ career. At one point, she had an approval rating of only 28 percent in a poll conducted by USA Today in November of 2022.
Work on Improving on the Stump
The first thing Harris needs to improve upon is her communication skills. It is not difficult for politicians to memorize bullet points in a briefing book and stick to the script. She should speak in short, declarative sentences and refrain from improvising and speaking off the cuff. Laughter is not necessary, no matter how nervous she is.
Give Her More Exposure
Another problem is the way she is stage managed during photo ops. Harris is usually seen standing silently in the background during announcements from the White House. This adds to the belief that President Biden and his handlers see her as a lightweight. Is there a way in which they could put her out front more? Do they not trust her in public?
Set Her Up for Success
To build her confidence, why not give her an important issue that fits her talents and experience? She could work more closely with White House policy director Susan Rice and devise a plan for a new job to shake off the sting of failing with immigration. How about criminal justice reform or narcotics policy? This would fit in with her background as a prosecutor.
The Bet on Harris’ Future
Harris must become her own advocate and fight for relevance if she is ever to run for president. The word around Washington is that she runs a chaotic office and cannot retain employees. She needs to avoid those word salads and get out of the shadows. If she is nervous during appearances, then write better speeches for her. Encourage her to refrain from deviating from talking points. Build up her confidence with public policy where she is comfortable. To accomplish these requirements, she will need help from the White House, but it may be too late to change what the public thinks about her. Above all, do not waste Harris’ talents because she still has potential, even though things look dark now.
Author Expertise and Experience: Serving as 19FortyFive’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.