There are more than murmurings out and about that suggest the presidential campaign of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) is in serious trouble. An internal campaign memo has reportedly acknowledged a “summer slump” by Harris following a perceived strong showing at the first Democratic debate in June. “August was a rough month for fundraising and we barely scraped by hitting our goal,” a Harris fundraising email sent to supporters in early September read. “We expected to come out of the ‘summer slump’ this month, but the first days of September have proven even more difficult for fundraising than we expected.”
It is also alleged that many big-dollar Harris donors were dismayed by her latest debate performance in Houston, where she seemed passive and wooden. “I don’t think anything has changed, and it’s been grim,” a California fundraising source told CNBC. Harris seems to remain “unclear about her message and strategy,” the source added, saying, “there was too much odd laughter and canned lines.”
So, in how much danger is the California senator?
A Plodder, Not a Rock Star
It should hardly be a shock to even hardcore supporters that Harris has not soared to the stratosphere this summer as an enraptured party coalesced around her. A look at her entire political career shows that is not her recipe for victory. Harris rose through the ranks in California through the old-fashioned political values of insider networking and utilizing leverage. Such qualities do not make for overnight sensations. Besides, it is not as if any of her Dem rivals have galloped that far ahead. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) appears to be enjoying a “moment” now, but the deep flaws in her appeal are well documented. Ever the stern librarian with the Native American punch line, Warren is not running away from anybody anytime soon. In a contest where frontrunner Joe Biden displays marked weakness on a regular basis, and 2016 sentimental favorite Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) looks old and worn out, Harris can afford to play more of a waiting game than would be possible in a field with candidates of compelling stature.
The “summer slump” is not going to be a death knell. It does, however, highlight all of the shortcomings that will become readily evident as soon as actual primary votes are cast. It appears Harris is not currently equipped to reach a national audience. A close examination of her actual popularity in her home state of California shows she does not even have her own base sewn up. She was polling third, well behind Biden and Sanders, in the Golden State in May, well before her summer stumbles. Where was the home field advantage? “I don’t know why she’s not caught fire. But she hasn’t,” Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, told the San Francisco Chronicle at the time. “I think everybody is sampling and taking a look at everybody. But for now, she’s a regional candidate. A California candidate.”
Another Passenger in Dem Driverless Car
Fast forward to September, and CNBC notes that 45% of Harris’s campaign contributions have come from California. It is no coincidence that the Harris Train began to leak oil as soon as it was elevated to “top tier” status. It is not a level at which she has proven she can perform effectively. Harris comes across as harsh and thin-skinned, as her bristling response during the second Dem debate in Detroit revealed to a nationally televised audience when she was challenged by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) on her prosecutorial career.
This is a card Harris falls back on far too often. She transparently counted on her “tough prosecutor” pose to score points during her contentless interrogation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh during his contentious nomination process to the Supreme Court, and it did nothing of the sort. As Republican careerist presidential candidates discovered in 2016, pose is not enough in politics today. You have to actually stand for something. And it can be argued that Harris exhibits more than any other Dem contender the fatal defect that affects them all: She does not own any issue. Like the rest of her Dem cohorts, Harris is always in react mode to a grassroots progressivism that is calling the shots. She will slam Immigration and Customs Enforcement if asked to do so. She will call for climate change legislation. She will attack whatever latest thing President Trump says. But when it comes to offering a unique and thought-provoking platform for the American people, or even the blue faction, to rally around … there is nothing of substance.
Thanks to the fact that what passes for the cream in this Democratic crop is so notably weak, there is plenty of time for Harris to correct the ship. We have still not seen the full winnowing of the minnows in this race. Harris should remain among the last six or seven candidates standing, and then she will have her chance to clear a path for herself to the nomination. But based on what we’ve seen so far, is there any reason to expect her to rise to the occasion? Political donors can be seen as investors banking on future success. The jitteriness of Harris’s financial backers in the face of a clearly lackluster 2020 Dem field speaks volumes as to what her true prospects may be for an eventual breakthrough.