At the start of this year, Kamala Harris’ supporters believed they would be popping champagne in 2020. Now the only question facing Harris is when to put a cork in her campaign.
Should Harris drop out of the 2020 presidential race? Yes.
At 55, she’s young. She can run again, but humiliating wipeouts in primary states will damage her permanently. They’ll mark her as a loser in the minds of voters and donors.
If she stays in the race, her failure becomes a liability. If she gets out, her endorsement becomes an asset. She has a careful calculation to make – and she should make it before the panicky behavior of her campaign staff renders it all moot.
Sensing disaster, Harris’ staff has begun to turn on itself. A blistering Politico story by Chris Cadelago depicted a campaign in full collapse.
“No discipline. No Plan. No strategy,” read the Politico headline, summing up Kamala 2020.
There’s always a blame game when a campaign fails. Advisors point fingers and leak nastiness to the press. In Harris’ case, some pin the blame on her campaign manager while others point to her sister/campaign chair, Maya Harris, as the problem.
“The whole campaign has been a bunch of people sitting around a table giving opinions and then not backing them up when it comes down to it,” one anonymous sycophant told Politico. “The apparatus wasted her talent more than she blew it.”
Reality check: When a campaign fails, the responsibility lies with the candidate. The candidate has all of the power and makes all of the decisions.
To her credit, Harris apparently disagrees with the “blame staff” strategy.
“I am very supportive of my campaign, of the people who are working on it,’’ said Harris, according to Politico’s Carla Marinucci. “They’ve done great work which has gotten us to the point where we are today.”
Unfortunately, Harris appears to be testing out a different excuse for her failure.
She calls it “the donkey in the room.” It’s the metaphorical suggestion that her campaign failed due to the racism and sexism of American voters.
“Are they ready for a woman of color to be president?” Harris recently “wondered aloud” in Iowa, according to Politico’s Cadelago.
Racism and misogyny are serious problems, and they do explain some voters’ preferences. They don’t, however, explain Harris’ collapse in California.
Over 60 percent of California voters supported Harris’ U.S. Senate bid in 2016. They also twice elected her state attorney general. In the 2010 AG race, she triumphed over a white male from Los Angeles.
Now she’s running a distant fourth place in the Golden State – barely ahead of the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Did California voters suddenly lurch toward racism and misogyny? Nah. We voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
The hard truth: Harris was a weak presidential candidate.
True, she has one of the best campaign teams in the country. Yes, she was positioned to tap the enthusiasm of voters who believe it’s time to elect a woman president.
Yet her inability to stake out bold positions, stick to a plan or give voters a sense of her core values doomed her chances in a competitive race.
None of these shortcomings come as a surprise to anyone who has worked for Harris, as I did in 2013. Her lack of discipline, focus and decisiveness behind the scenes has always clashed with her beaming public image.
Her fabulous campaign launch in Oakland vaulted her into the top tier. Her ruthless attack on Joe Biden during the first debate also boosted her standing. But she followed up with flops and flubs, unable to maintain a winning trajectory.
It’s hard to become president. Many worthy candidates fail. This failure can be a great teacher for Harris, but only if she learns its lessons and uses them to become stronger. She can’t do that if she hides behind excuses.
Kamala Harris had a shot and blew it, but she’ll get another chance someday. Will she be ready?
Depends. Can she resist the temptation to blame “the donkey in the corner” and do some work on the candidate in the mirror?
Gil Duran is California opinion editor for The Sacramento Bee. Write him at email@example.com