• Ryan O'Connell

Joe Biden Picked a Winner in Kamala Harris

August 16, 2020

Joe Biden has given his campaign a much-needed burst of energy and charisma by choosing Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate. Crucially, Biden has addressed legitimate concerns about his age: Harris is highly qualified to serve as President if he became incapacitated. Although the Senator carries some baggage, as any nominee would, Harris will be a major asset for the Biden campaign.

Furthermore, the former Vice President conducted the search process with dignity and discretion. This was a marked contrast with the chaotic and mean-spirited “Apprentice”-style approach that Donald Trump has followed in selecting high-level officials. Biden’s measured, judicious style should reassure the many Americans who are fed up with Trump’s antics.

Harris Will Fire Up Democrats

Sen. Harris should enhance Biden’s appeal to several key constituencies. The Senator will be a unifying force within the Democratic Party, since she is a centrist and a woman of color. Harris should also help Biden with moderate Republican suburban women--a key group in this election--who are repulsed by Trump’s sexist and racist attacks.

The issue of Harris’ race does cut two ways, though. Black Americans are a very important group within the Democratic Party, and Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 partly because of lower turnout among them. Harris should energize Black voters, despite some reservations about her because she was a prosecutor (and perhaps, in some quarters, because she married a white guy).

Still, it was not uplifting to witness the enormous pressure on Biden to pick a Black woman based on claims that Black women are the “backbone” of the Democratic Party. That is an exaggeration, and it reflects an attitude that might turn off some white Democrats. Black women are loyal Democrats and a core constituency—but one among several. After all, about 60% of Democrats are white, while 20% are Black. Another 12% are Hispanic.

But White Working Class Men May Not be Thrilled

It’s possible that Harris could hurt Biden’s chances in some crucial swing states, like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Many white, working-class men in those states voted for Obama, but they rejected Hillary Clinton in 2016, probably because she was a woman. For that group, voting for a VP candidate who is a woman and Black may simply be too much change too fast.

The very qualities that make Harris appealing to many liberals and moderates—her multiracial background, her storied resumé, her sharp questioning in Congress—could turn off some white working class men. They may consider Harris another snooty member of the “coastal elite”. Gretchen Whitmer, the charismatic governor of Michigan, might have helped Biden more with this group of voters. However, Harris might offset that possible drawback by attracting more support from Black voters and from moderate Republican women in the suburbs. They will be a key constituency in swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and North Carolina.

And when Trump launches bigoted, misogynistic attacks on Harris—such as claiming that she is “an angry woman” or not a U.S. citizen--those are likely to backfire among moderate Republicans, both men and women, and other swing voters. Many of them are disgusted by Trump’s racism and disparaging comments about women.

photo: Ryan O'Connell

Warren Would Have Been a Disastrous Choice

By choosing Harris, Biden has also avoided some landmines. If he had picked Sen. Elizabeth Warren, progressives would have been thrilled, but Biden would have alienated many moderate and conservative Democrats. They represent 52% of the Democratic Party…and a crucial fund-raising base. Warren would have scared off moderate Republicans, too. By contrast, Harris has emphasized that she does not have grand plans to “restructure society”, unlike Warren.

Trump could have attacked Warren somewhat plausibly as a “socialist”, because of her ambitious and detailed plans for massive government programs. (Warren is not a socialist, of course.) But Trump’s ludicrous attempts to label Harris a “member of the Radical Left” are likely to fall flat…particularly because in the next breath he accuses her of being too tough as a prosecutor. Trump can’t have it both ways.

Will Progressives Support Harris?

There is a risk that many progressives will not rally to the Biden campaign, because Harris is a moderate and a former prosecutor. But it will be very difficult for progressives to justify not backing a woman of color, particularly since Harris will likely have a good shot at becoming the first female President if the Democrats win this election.

Furthermore, Trump has reminded progressives how high the stakes are in this election, by unleashing Federal troops on peaceful protestors and trying to sabotage the election. Most progressives should realize that sitting out this election is not a luxury they can afford, if they appreciate living in a democracy. And some important progressive leaders, such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have come around to support Harris’ candidacy.

Biden could also mollify progressives through strong hints that he would appoint Warren to a Cabinet post, such as Secretary of Labor or Secretary of Education.

An Auspicious Launch for the Ticket

The kick-off event for the Biden-Harris ticket on August 12 was a virtual tour de force. Both candidates spoke well. The chemistry between them seemed good, and authentic. Biden delivered a crisp, dignified speech outlining his main themes—no “Slow Joe” here. He came across as warm and empathetic, presenting another sharp contrast to Trump.

Harris ripped off some terrific zingers, showing that she knows how to “prosecute the case” against a second term for the President. She mocked Trump’s main rationale for re-election, his supposed skill at managing the economy, saying:

"He inherited the longest economic expansion in history from Barack Obama and Joe Biden. And then, like everything else he inherited, he ran it straight into the ground."

So Joe Biden has made a wise choice in choosing Kamala Harris as his running mate, and they have a very good chance of winning in November.

The best proof of that? Donald Trump is clearly running scared…and he is using every dirty trick he can to avoid a fair election.

The Wall Street Democrat

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