The KHive Retreats as Kamala Harris’ Popularity Vanishes

·7 min read
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

To most of those paying attention, Vice President Kamala Harris appears to have hit the skids.

Her approval numbers are lower than President Joe Biden’s, as well as every one of her predecessors at this point in office. Her role has largely been limited to casting tie-breaking votes in the Senate or managing the administration’s stalled work on migration and voting rights—none of which is helping in the polling department. Fellow Democrats have begun openly fretting to each other (and to journalists) that she isn’t ready to lead the party’s national ticket, and at least one poll indicates that if a theoretical open primary were held today, she might command single-digit support.

But while they may not be as rabid as they once were, Harris can still count on the backing of one bastion of supporters: the #KHive.

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Years after the end of the knockdown-dragout Democratic primaries, the loose collective of digital warriors are still fighting on her behalf. And yet, according to some of the #KHive’s leaders, the vibe has shifted since the heyday of the 2020 campaign, when Harris’ fervently—sometimes recklessly—devoted fans earned compliments from the campaign and a request for support from Biden himself.

“The job of the vice president has always been to take on issues that may not be politically sexy or easy wins for the administration. She knew that when she decided to accept the president’s offer to join the ticket,” said Chris Evans, who under the handle @NotCapnAmerica has been one of the most visible members of the #KHive. “However, I think even the vice president herself has admitted for the first year or so of her tenure she’s wanted to spend more time getting out into the country and being face-to-face with the American people.”

“I am consistently seeing people ask, ‘Where is Kamala?’” Evans said.

The Daily Beast reached out to more than a dozen high-profile members and former members of the #KHive to see if, after 18 months in office, the vice president has lived up to their hopes. And while most still say that they have her back until the end, some quietly admit that the comedown from the high of a victorious campaign has been harsher than they’d expected—not that they would ever say so publicly.

“I would never, ever say that I regret supporting the first Black woman vice president, ever. But the disappointment is real,” said one self-described former member of the #KHive, who requested to speak anonymously so as not to alienate themselves from friends made through the movement. “I was obsessed with the idea of this person who could undo the systemic, the systematic racism and sexism and heterosexism in government with one fell swoop, and now I’m thinking to myself, did I just make up a person in my head who could do those things?”

By and large, the #KHive, being composed of the vice president’s most fervent—and, like most online fandoms, occasionally insane—supporters, does continue to largely support her. As they have since her relatively short-lived primary campaign, they still sport bee emojis in their Twitter handles and many who spoke with The Daily Beast pointed out that the vice presidency is an office that is, by design, second fiddle. Many feel that Harris is being held to a higher standard by dint of both her race and gender.

“The last vice president was in charge of a public health crisis and see what happened—we have over 1 million people dead,” said Chantay Berry, another prominent #KHive member and organizer. “He was handed a very complex portfolio, like she was, and he dropped the whole entire ball.”

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But even the #KHive has slowed its roll since 2020, with use of the hashtag on social media now being used to antagonize the vice president’s fandom as often as it is used to rally it. A Google Trends review shows that interest in the #KHive has decreased substantially since the 2020 election, and some of the biggest figures have left the movement, if one can leave a technically leaderless group of online stans.

Reecie Colbert, who was once one of the most visible and controversial members of the #KHive, told The Daily Beast that while she’s “a staunch VP supporter and always will be,” she hasn’t identified as a member of the community in nearly two years.

“I always understood #KHive as a rallying cry and hashtag, but after VP was selected the person who created it started talking about trademarking and ownership, so I decided to stop using it,” Colbert said. “I just don’t believe in answering to anyone in my advocacy… especially when I can be equally as effective without the hashtag.”

Some supporters, Evans said, have moved on to help other candidates and causes that they see as allied with Harris’ goals.

“Her supporters continue to defend her from unfair, baseless attacks, but now that she’s in office, they have largely pivoted to helping elect more Democrats at the federal, state, and local levels who will provide support for the Biden-Harris policy agenda,” Evans said.

The question of Harris’ political future still remains top-of-mind for many #KHive members, who remain confident that despite current polling indicating otherwise, she is best positioned to lead the Democratic Party whenever the opportunity presents itself.

“It’s been a rough year,” Evans said, ticking off the pandemic, inflation, the supply chain crisis and the Senate filibuster’s chokehold on much of Biden’s agenda as having bogged down both the president and vice president’s popularity. “There are very real challenges for the party in the coming years but I don’t think it’s specific to Vice President Harris.”

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Berry said questions about Harris’ role in the party going forward distract from the more pressing issue that has hampered the vice president’s ability to be more visible outside of the nation’s capital.

“We need to focus on winning the midterms and everybody is jumping ahead two years later—like, we’re still in the midst of a primary, people!” Berry said. “She broke ties about 13 or 15 times within the first year. We gotta vote this year so that she doesn’t need to spend every moment breaking ties.”

Internal disputes are almost as common as external disputes within online fandoms—political and otherwise. None of the #KHive members who spoke with The Daily Beast pointed to any policy disagreements between members that have led to major fractures, as happened with the #YangGang, avid followers of failed presidential candidate Andrew Yang who have been split over Yang’s own embrace of Joe Rogan, increased funding for the New York Police Department and, most recently, a centrist third party with no policy platform.

But some admitted they got caught up in the stan-ification of politics that became widespread in the extremely online political circles of the 2020 Democratic primaries. Coordinated harassment and doxing campaigns between supporters of Harris, Sanders, Yang, then-Mayor Pete Buttigieg and others caused increasingly frequent headaches for candidates, particularly when they targeted “rival” supporters, staff, and reporters who were seen as insufficiently based.

“We all went a little nuts during the pandemic,” said another member of the #KHive, who still uses the hashtag on Twitter but has their mentions turned off so as to avoid being drawn into “my ten-millionth flamewar with some #BernieBot that just gives us both palpitations.” Nearly 1,000 days since they were last rivals for the presidential nomination, the blood feud between #KHive members and supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) continues, to the member’s exhaustion.

“Let’s chill and let the Vice President do her job,” they said of their more laid-back approach. “Acting clownish on Twitter isn’t going to make her job any easier.”

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