Gary Abernathy, a contributing columnist for The Post, is a freelance writer and former newspaper editor based in Hillsboro, Ohio.
From the time she decided to run, I felt there was an inevitability to California Sen. Kamala D. Harris’s coronation as the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. A party that has made the demonizing of men — particularly old white men — practically part of its platform cannot tolerate former vice president Joe Biden or Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as its standard-bearer.
Of course, there’s the danger that Democratic voters in state primaries might cast their ballots for Biden, so party leaders — with help from select media allies — must dispose of him early to avoid the mistake of Republicans in 2015 who thought Donald Trump would implode on his own by early 2016.
Last week’s debate among presidential contenders offered the earliest and best opportunity to take Biden out, and Harris and the media were ready. As soon as Biden defended a local government decision on busing, Harris pounced, reminding Biden that the “states’ rights” argument was always the first line of defense by segregationists. Supportive media types on CNN and MSNBC lauded her for days.
Biden is done. Sanders’s comet flared and tailed off in 2016. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) is a media darling but comes across as Hillary 2.0. Not good. Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) and former congressman Beto O’Rourke (Tex.) both suffer from “AOC Syndrome,” a condition named after a certain New York freshman congresswoman that leads to the substitution of histrionics and enthusiasm for ideas or leadership. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg came across last week as, well, a small-town mayor who’s a nice guy. The rest of the field is, for all their qualities and quirks, merely the rest of the field.
Harris — quickly on her way to first-name status (Kamala!) — is the one. She’s not white, she’s not a man and she’s not old. Right away, she’s halfway home. She’s “photogenic,” which remains important in our visual-media age. She’s liberal enough to mollify the left-wingers in the primary. For the time being, she has to make excuses for her prosecutorial background, which progressives describe as too harsh. But that tough-on-crime history will be a positive in the general election. She speaks with calmness and authority but draws on emotion that comes across as real when the moment beckons.
Harris has been criticized for not being firm on every issue. Some critics, including progressives, have questioned whether she is “black enough,” considering her Jamaican and Indian lineage and interracial marriage. But if anything was learned from Obama-Clinton campaign comparisons, it is that a white candidate will not energize minority voters like a person of color. Harris defines herself as black, and debating that point is politically ignorant for anyone hoping to oust President Trump.
Trump’s aspersions on the other top contenders have taken root. “Sleepy Joe” Biden does nothing to dispel that nickname. “Crazy Bernie” Sanders does indeed remind one of Christopher Lloyd in “Back to the Future.” And while critics say the tag is racist, Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren brought that one on herself. Concocting a Native American background, coupled with her history of jousting with Trump, will result in little blowback should he continue to needle her.
It is telling that Trump has yet to label Harris (though his son Donald Trump Jr. took a swing at her in a tweet that he later tried to check.) The president’s comments about her debate performance were muted. He will eventually come up with a line of attack, but if Harris avoids belittling Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables” who are clinging to their guns and religion, she could win their sympathy if Trump bullies her too much. Despite her calls for impeachment and her pointed questioning of Brett M. Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court hearings this past September, she could still define herself more moderately, at least by temperament if not policy.
That’s important. Trump’s strategy depends on maximizing the energy of his base against a loathsome enemy, a task made more difficult when the opponent is not so completely reviled as was Hillary Clinton. If Harris walks the tightrope between condemning Trump but respecting his supporters — just enough to keep a few people home on a cloudy day rather than drag them out to vote against her come hell or high water — it could make the difference in key states where victory might be decided by fractions of percentage points.
Still, odds are that Trump will win. He gets too little credit for his accomplishments, and he’s building a huge campaign war chest. The Democratic Party’s embrace of an extreme far-left agenda, on full display during last week’s debates, will spell doom for Harris or any other candidate if they stick with it. But the country has demonstrated it will elect a black man president. A white woman received the most total votes for president in 2016. A black woman in the White House is far from unthinkable.
For today’s Democratic Party, no one but Harris makes sense. For Trump, no one else makes him as unsteady.