What explains Kamala Harris’s collapse? Even before she withdrew from the presidential race, the pre-mortems had been written and published. Not just the one in the New York Times that Steve quotes, but also this one in the Washington Post.
There are a number of plausible explanations for why Harris sank. To identify the single biggest factor, I think we need to revisit the moment when the air began to come out — the moment at the end of July when Tulsi Gabbard tore into her during the second round of Democratic presidential debates.
Everyone who watched the debate remembers Gabbard’s attack and Harris’s limp response. Not everyone recalls the substance of the attack.
The substance was Harris’s record as a prosecutor in California. The problem wasn’t just that Harris was a zealous prosecutor at times. That’s to her credit as far as I’m concerned. The biggest problem was her over-zealousness. Some of her practices were offensive even to a die hard law and order type like me.
We flagged that issue at the outset of the campaign, but it remained largely dormant until Gabbard raised it in the debate. That’s probably why Harris wasn’t better prepared to defend herself.
Prepared or not, Harris was in a no-win situation. In the current environment, left-liberal Democrats aren’t going to back a zealous prosecutor, never mind an over-zealous one.
Harris’s problem was compounded by her decision to run for the nomination in the left lane, competing with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. In a way, the decision made sense. Harris could present herself as an electable alternative to her old, comparatively non-diverse competitors in that lane.
John Kerry made this approach work in 2004. He was almost as radical as Howard Dean came across, and seemed like a more stable and electable alternative.
But Kerry had established his left-liberal bona fides over many decades. Harris was a relative newcomer to the big stage. She lacked the credibility with the left that Kerry had and that Warren and Sanders possess now.
Once Harris’s record as a prosecutor became known, her credibility with the left was shot. And after she couldn’t fend of Gabbard’s attacks, her credibility as someone who could go toe-to-toe with President Trump in a debate, one of her big talking points, also vanished.
Harris then tried to tack away from the hard left. She wanted to find a middle ground between Warren-Sanders and Joe Biden. There may or may not be a meaningful middle ground. What’s clear is that Harris’s attempt to stake one out just made her look wishy-washy.
Harris’s collapse was probably good news for President Trump. Indeed, rumor had it that Trump at first regarded Harris as perhaps his most dangerous rival.
At one time, she seemed that way to me — less out there than Sanders and Warren, more dynamic and a better debater than Biden, younger and more attractive than all three. But that was ages ago — about four months, to be more precise.
STEVE adds—Here’s the video of the moment Tulsi Gabbard defenestrated Harris: