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The Democrats’ Kamala Harris Problem

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eye on the news

The Democrats’ Kamala Harris Problem

Even New York Times readers are rejecting the identity politics that put her on the 2020 ticket. February 13, 2023
Politics and law

Few better ways exist to gauge the progressive zeitgeist than perusing the most popular comments on widely read articles in the New York Times. A new piece on Kamala Harris, for instance, reveals that many of the Times’s most ardent readers are no longer fans of the vice president.

A trio of Times reporters spoke to dozens of Democrats and concluded the obvious: Harris has become a problem for the party. Influential Democrats don’t want Biden to retire because they know Harris can’t win in 2024. But he can’t dump her from the reelection campaign, for fear of infuriating what the Times calls “key Democratic constituencies.” Nevertheless, keeping Harris as vice president may be even more risky for an 82-year-old candidate than it was for, say, a 68-year-old George H. W. Bush to keep Dan Quayle on the ticket when he ran for re-election in 1992.

The most popular comments on the piece were so savage you might have thought you were reading a Fox News piece, not the Times. It isn’t surprising at this point that many liberals want Harris off the ticket, but what was eye-opening was that many, if not most, of the top-rated comments criticized Harris as an identity politics pick, who lacks substance and isn’t up to the job.

The highest-rated comment, with more than a thousand likes, said, “This is what happens when you choose and elect a candidate because of their identity, and not their competence.” Another reader asked: “When will she and her media supporters realize she was an identity politics pick and nothing else?” One of the other popular comments concluded that Biden picked her “as a necessary tick box among very competent options.”

One reader wondered, “When are Democrats going to recognize that gender identity is NOT a winning issue?” Another opined, “Any boosterism in favor of Harris at this point requires one to ignore everything they’ve seen and heard in favor of a narrative that is built on identity rather than substance.” On and on the Times readers went, unloading on a woman regarded by the Left just a few years ago as a trailblazing heroine, likely to reshape the vice presidency.

Are Times readers going ultra-MAGA? Let’s not get carried away. Just days earlier, popular commenters were comparing Florida governor Ron DeSantis with “ayatollahs” and the Chinese Communist Party for daring to object to the College Board’s heavily politicized Advanced Placement African-American studies curriculum. But when Times readers are kvetching about identity politics, the Democratic Party has a problem, particularly since DeSantis, who boasts that Florida is “where woke goes to die,” could be the GOP nominee in 2024.

The Harris backlash may reveal the existence of a larger-than-realized group of un-woke Democratic voters that the party is neglecting, though its exact size is hard to quantify. Gallup noted the lack of polling on identity politics in 2020, while nevertheless commenting on its growing importance in Democratic Party politics.

Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign website, Gallup observed, contained targeted appeals to 19 different identity groups “for which he had specific plans.” The list included tribal nations, women, people with disabilities, African-Americans, military families, union members, rural Americans, older Americans, the LBGTQ+ community, veterans, Catholics, students/young Americans, immigrants, Asians, Indian-Americans, Jews, Muslims, Latinos, and Arab-Americans.

Biden won in 2020 while playing this identity-politics game. Yet there seems to be a growing public weariness with identity politics and a desire to move toward a more color-blind society. An April 2022 Pew Research Center report, for example, found that 74 percent of respondents think colleges should not consider race and ethnicity in admissions decisions. Likewise, 82 percent said colleges shouldn’t consider gender. The results, Pew concluded, “extend to every racial group and to Democrats as well as Republicans.”

Harris’s election was supposed to break down barriers. Instead, her legacy may also be to illustrate the folly of identity politics. A recent poll conducted by NBC News gave her a 35 percent approval rating, with just 15 percent of Americans viewing her very favorably and 37 percent very unfavorably. The media often write off her unpopularity as a product of racism and sexism. But many of the same Democrats who celebrated her rise are now calling her an empty suit, who needs to be dropped from the ticket.

The media hyped “one-heartbeat-away” concerns about Dan Quayle in the 1988 and 1992 campaigns, just as they did when Sarah Palin ran on 72-year-old John McCain’s ticket in 2008. In 1988, a New York Times/CBS News poll revealed that just 33 percent of respondents believed that Quayle was “qualified” to take over as president. Another NYT/CBS poll 20 years later found that 59 percent of Americans said Palin wasn’t qualified to be vice president. Any pollster today daring to ask if Harris was “qualified” would find themselves pilloried as sexist, but it’s increasingly clear that a majority of Americans would answer this unasked question with a resounding “no.”

Photo by Jacquelyn Martin-Pool/Getty Images

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