December 4, 2019


"WINNING CAMPAIGNS HAVE A MESSAGE": THE SELF-SABOTAGING OF KAMALA HARRIS: Playing to Twitter and the political press, testing new messages seemingly every week, the perfect candidate couldn't help but get lost. (PETER HAMBY, DECEMBER 4, 2019, Vanity Fair)

It was obvious that women of color would be key to the Harris campaign, a theme you'd have to be blind to miss. Throughout that day, and during the campaign, her identity was the message. At her launch the campaign offered two versions of its "For the People" signage: one in conventional red, white, and blue, and another in purple, yellow, and red, a thoughtful homage to Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman to run for president in 1972. Harris's campaign stressed then, and every day after, that being a black woman would make her the obvious choice for primary voters in South Carolina and beyond, where African Americans comprise much more of the electorate than in Iowa and New Hampshire. [...]

An unfortunate byproduct of Twitter's chokehold on elite discourse is that it forces otherwise smart people to focus so deeply on niche arguments and savvy takes that we often forget things that used to be rather obvious in politics. Among them: Winning campaigns have a message. It's not a complicated or sexy piece of analysis, but the four Democratic front-runners--Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg--have all defined for voters and the media why they are running for president and what separates them from other choices on the ballot. Regardless of ideology or background, they can answer the question in a tidy and easy-to-understand fashion. No other Democrat besides Andrew Yang has done so. The front-runners have organizing principles. They get attention without relying on "moments." They can raise money. Their policies, personality, talents, and biography all gel together in a way that makes sense. Their ability to explain why they are each running for president gives them a permanent safe harbor-- an ability to change the subject, to go on offense, to ignore the utter smallness of Twitter, and to beat into the brains of voters an uncomplicated framework that they can carry with them to the caucus precinct or ballot box come Election Day.

Harris failed to do any of these things. Much like her slogan--"For the People!"--Harris came off as standing for everything and hence nothing. Her shifting positions on Medicare for All, abolishing private insurance, federally mandated busing, and elements of the Green New Deal reinforced the percolating idea that she was too calculating and too political--like Clinton before her--with no principled core beyond winning the next election. Her ideological squishiness offended Sanders ideologues, who roasted her for changing positions on a Sanders-crafted Medicare for All bill that she rushed to endorse in 2017. Her stumbles gave comfort to Warren supporters, who smartly understood that Harris and Warren voters are actually pretty similar: college-educated women who like the idea of a woman running for president. Harris staffers and surrogates, preoccupied with the permanent soul suck of Twitter and elite opinion, spent time complaining about sexism and publicly fighting with reporters, blaming the media for "erasing" Harris even after she had tumbled to low single digits on her own merits. Warren's campaign never engages in those fights: Its candidate has a message that prevents them from getting sucked into internet quicksand and squabbles over left-wing purity tests. On many days it felt like Harris's first and only audience was the political press and self-appointed Twitter pundits, not voters. Few people would say the same about Biden, Sanders, Warren, or Buttigieg, who are squarely focused on Iowa along with their own media strategies. Their poll numbers reflect it.

Posted by at December 4, 2019 5:51 PM