As expected, the attacks on Kamala Harris started immediately. What is surprising is that she has long been the favorite to be selected by Joe Biden and one would have expected any competent campaign to have carefully prepared a coherent and consistent line of attack. But the statements by Trump, his surrogates, and the Republican party have been scattershot.
Standing in the White House briefing room on Tuesday, Mr. Trump read from some prepared notes, assailing Ms. Harris for being against fracking and “very big into raising taxes.” At another point, Mr. Trump appeared unfamiliar with his own campaign’s line of attack. When a reporter with The New York Post asked the president about his own campaign ad calling Ms. Harris a “phony,” the president asked for clarification.
“She was a what?” Mr. Trump said.
And hours after the campaign and the Republican National Committee called Ms. Harris the “most liberal” member of the Senate, the R.N.C. sent out an email blast saying that progressives hated her because she was not progressive enough.
Trying to pry progressive voters away from the Democratic ticket by saying that Harris is not progressive enough seems like a futile strategy. Even if they agree with Trump on this particular point (as I do), being attacked by Trump is seen by progressives as a badge of honor to be worn with pride. Trump may be better served by saying nice things about her. Much more damaging to Harris in the eyes of progressives is the fact that both Donald and Ivanka contributed to her past election campaigns. But of course, he can’t highlight that.
The highly predictable racist and misogynist attacks have already begun, as have the insinuations that, as the child of immigrants, she is somehow not really American, with surrogates going after her name and the way she speaks.
Opening an ugly new chapter in the 2020 campaign, President Trump and allies in the Republican Party and on Fox News have swiftly gone all-in on sexist and personal attacks against Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, from Mr. Trump demeaning her as “angry” and “horrible” to commentators mocking her first name to comparing her to “payday lenders.”
One right-wing commentator, Dinesh D’Souza, appeared on Fox News to question whether Ms. Harris, the junior senator from California and a child of immigrants from Jamaica and India, could truly claim she was Black. And on Tuesday night, Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host, mispronounced her first name, even growing angry when corrected.
On Twitter, Eric Trump, one of the president’s sons, favorited a tweet, which was later deleted, that referred to Ms. Harris as a “whorendous pick.” Jenna Ellis, a senior legal adviser to the Trump campaign, posted during Ms. Harris’s first speech as Mr. Biden’s running mate on Wednesday, “Kamala sounds like Marge Simpson.”
D’Souza, the felon who is an Indian immigrant himself, has long been the go-to Republican to attack people of color, using his own ethnicity as a shield in order to ingratiate himself with a white supremacist party by showing an eagerness to do their bidding, and so his emergence from whatever sewer he lives in to gain another few minutes of fame is not surprising.
And right on cue, birtherism is raising its ugly head again, with some arguing that even though she was born in California, because Harris’s parents were both naturalized citizens, she is ineligible to be president, a fatuous claim. But we should not be surprised if Trump seizes on it, using his usual evasive formulation of “Some people say …”. Talking of which, can we expect a return of my favorite lawyer/dentist/realtor and birther extraodinaire Orly Taitz?
Will these attacks work? I doubt it and they may well backfire, especially in these times when there is such a great concern about systemic racism. The white nationalists, racists, nativists, and xenophobes were never going to vote for the Democratic ticket even if Biden had selected David Duke as his running mate. As far as I can tell, people do not have any major problems with Harris and the black community seems to have enthusiastically welcomed her choice and even progressives will campaign vigorously for the ticket despite their misgivings about her.
Critics like me of the horribly unjust criminal justice system in the US have strongly criticized Harris being such an enthusiastic participant in it as a prosecutor and state attorney general in putting large numbers of people in prison, for her being such a close friend of Wall Street and the tech industry, and her subservience to the agenda of the Israel lobby. But Trump is not in a position to make those perfectly valid policy criticisms.
Will Trump and his supporters dial back these sexist, racist, and xenophobic lines of attack if, as I expect, they do not work and makes support for Harris from women, communities of color, and immigrants even stronger? No. What they will do is double down and indulge in even cruder attacks. This is their brand. It is all they have. They seem to have never quite digested the metaphor of holes and digging.