Her bid for the 2020 Democratic nomination, which began with so much promise, has been marked by a long and painful pattern of self-inflicted lapses and growing disorder among her inexperienced staff.
…Harris undermined her national introduction with costly flubs on health care, feeding a critique that she lacks a strong ideological core and plays to opinion polls and the desires of rich donors. She was vague or noncommittal on question after question from voters at campaign stops. She leaned on verbal crutches instead of hammering her main points in high-profile TV moments. [When presented against this backdrop] The deliberate, evidence-intensive way she arrives at decisions—one of her potential strengths in a matchup with Trump—made her look wobbly and unprepared.
…[Fair or not, it’s a real thing that] her attempts to level with Americans over their concerns about her pioneering [gender/racial] status …[make it] look like Harris is making excuses when she’s given Democrats many other reasons by now to doubt her viability.
…Most of Harris’ advisers are sophisticated enough to know that the kvetching won’t win them broad sympathy. …It will backfire.
…A searing opinion piece by the law professor Lara Bazelon in the New York Times—published days before Harris formally entered the race and headlined “Kamala Harris Was Not a ‘Progressive Prosecutor’ ”—created a simple, effective template for critical assessments of her record.
…[Harris] assembled a cadre of top advisers without instituting a clear chain of command.
…Her aversion to risk on some major [criminal justice reform] issues as attorney general, which earned her a reputation as “Cautious Kamala” in California, cropped up throughout the early stages of the race.
…The red phone-evoking message may have tested well in polls, it wasn’t sharp enough to resonate in the real world.
…She pivoted to themes that she’d later come to see as having little connection to her personally or professionally.
…Early-state voters have consistently told me they were intrigued and even inspired by Harris’ historic candidacy—as some remain—but many also say they are underwhelmed by her uneven performances, issue walk-backs and failure to succinctly condense a clear rationale for why she should be president of the United States. They like her fine. But they like someone else more. A big part of Harris’ base—well-educated white women—has drifted to Elizabeth Warren, while Joe Biden remains dominant with older voters and African Americans.
…Some Harris staffers [and potential supporters] felt blindsided by a decision to lay off field organizers in New Hampshire when they previously were led to believe that they could be redeployed to Iowa. [After all, what does “for the people” mean if she doesn’t even look out for her own people?]
…After Biden said he wanted to keep busing a local decision, Harris told him schools where she grew up in Berkeley weren’t fully integrated until “almost two decades after Brown v. Board of Education,” adding, “and that’s where the federal government must step in.”
…[Biden’s] team hounded news reporters to press Harris over where she stood on busing. Some Harris advisers wanted her to keep her answers high level, suggesting that she say she would enforce the Civil Rights Act. The courts have tied her hands, she was counseled to argue, but she’d do everything she could, including using mandatory busing today, to address a situation where schools are more segregated now than they were then.
Instead, Harris cast busing as not the responsibility of the federal government, but a choice of local districts. “I believe that any tool that is in the toolbox should be considered by a school district,” she said. Harris shortly after clarified that she supported federally mandated busing in the kind of situations that occurred in the 1970s—when local and state integration efforts were rebuffed or proved ineffective. The situation in 2019, Harris argued, is different than it was then. In the end, her stance on busing became conflated with Biden’s past position, helping his campaign cement the impression that her attack was born of opportunism rather than conviction.
…When Harris’ staff was approached about CNN’s climate town hall in September—and told that the leading contenders already agreed to participate—higher-ups [with an apparent lack of understanding about optics and how to run a national campaign] instructed her communications aides to sit it out in favor of fundraisers in Los Angeles [which is a horrible look for a Democratic candidate running on her desire to fight “for the people.”]
…Harris has long been seen as a politician who tries to avoid taking positions on difficult issues, including those in her wheelhouse. Twice, in 2012 and 2016, she refused to weigh in on narrowly defeated ballot initiatives in California that would have repealed the death penalty. In 2014, she sat out the debate over an important criminal justice reform measure that downgraded several felony crimes to misdemeanors. She was mum on former Gov. Jerry Brown’s sentencing reform effort, which voters also passed. She wanted little to do with the successful ballot initiative that legalized recreational marijuana.
…Her reliance on big-dollar events …took her off the road in early states and ate into her time talking with voters and media.
Put it all together and you have a recipe for an underwhelming campaign.