TO understand how seriously Kamala Harris was taken in some quarters as a presidential candidate, look no further than the effusive day-in-the-life feature by Elizabeth Weil published in The Atlantic in May. “No other matchup would be as riveting—or as revealing—as Harris versus Trump.” That part was actually true. Had she somehow become the one, it’s not clear how Donald Trump would have put Harris through the wringer the way he has so many other squished foes. Now that the former two-term Attorney-General of California has quit the Democratic primaries, we’ll have to die wondering. Yes, it would have been something.
Harris was touted (inevitably) as a female Obama but the former President – whether you like or loathe him – had an interesting back-story. Not two biographies’ worth maybe but there was an arc there. He also had Michelle and two children. As important for a Democrat, he was seen as a radical whose time had come. Harris had … Willie Brown. Worse still: she was a prosecutor. Turning that to your advantage as a Democrat is a sisyphean boulder to roll. It’s never propitious for a campaign when it’s most discussed moment is the candidate being crushed in a debate. Everything afterwards seems like work-shopped recuperation – because that’s what it is. Tulsi Gabbard’s attack in July was that moment. Harris had jailed marijuana users and kept people in prison “beyond their sentences,” she charged. Party stalwarts deplored the brutality but only because it was the FOX-curious Tulsi meting it out. Harris had no ‘story’ and they knew it.
The only thing interesting about Harris’s fall is how unlamented it is. The Democrats have become so extreme that neither her race nor gender made any difference without an accepted corpus of hard-core statist and social transformation rhetoric. The party is now like an aboriginal tribe; colour is less important than whether or not you’re accepted as one of them. The remaining frontrunners are white unapologetically because they’re all socialists verifiably. The most serious – and Wall Street-backed – African-American is out and it doesn’t matter as much as it would have in 2008. An unusual shift, it’s difficult to classify as either leftward or rightward. It’s just more cult-like. Harris blames billionaires for her failure. She should blame herself for not grasping why she didn’t belong. Even Joe Biden is trying to be more radical – having given up on his first instinct which was to be granddad driver in a micro-bus full of drunken delinquents.
Less noticed as scratchings – and as candidates in the first place – were Montana governor Steve Bullock and former Pennsylvania congressman Joe Sestak. Both withdrew from the contest late last week. Their failure to inspire any broad support whatsoever is also illustrative. Bullock ran on the importance of recognising and bolstering rural America. Former Navy three star vice-admiral Sestak’s focus was the rights and wellbeing of military veterans. As Jim Geraghty points out at National Review, to these agendas “Democratic primary voters by and large said, ‘nah’.” Sestak was especially marginal, according to Geraghty: “a figure like that just doesn’t fit in today’s Democratic party.” The argument is not that either man is remotely right-of-centre (although the terror Sestak aroused in the Obama administration during the 2010 primaries was remarkable). For example, both hold coveted 100 percent ratings from NARAL Pro-Choice America – an indispensable green card for all Democrats. But they didn’t campaign on the approved list of contemporary left-wing fetishes. In 1960, the Navy record of a Democrat hopeful was considered electoral gold. Now it’s a liability.