After Biden nonetheless triumphed and began vetting candidates who might serve as his running mate, the depth of Harris’s cut was still felt. Former senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut worried that Harris hadn’t sufficiently made amends for the damage. “That’s politics,” she said at the time — but, behind the scenes, a key ally, California’s lieutenant governor, worked the phones on her behalf.
Now, of course, all has apparently been forgiven — except to President Trump.
“She was very disrespectful to Joe Biden,” he said during a news briefing Tuesday. “And it’s hard to pick somebody that’s that disrespectful. When she said things during the debates — during the Democrat primary debates — that were horrible about Sleepy Joe. And I would think that he wouldn’t have picked [her].”
Trump’s reelection campaign has dubbed Harris “Phony Kamala,” for reasons that appear to stem from her past criticism of her new partner. (It is admittedly unclear what the genesis for the “phony” sobriquet is, reinforcing that this is not Trump’s finest work in this arena — though it’s not clear how involved he was in selecting it.) Harris had “repeatedly slammed” Biden, the campaign claimed in a news release. Axios’s Mike Allen reports that the effort is specifically one “to brand her as a sellout willing to look past her earlier concerns about Biden.”
If that's so, it's an ironic criticism. If past criticism of the candidate is something that should be considered disqualifying, Trump's White House would have been a lot emptier over the course of his presidency.
His vice president, Mike Pence, never directly “slammed” Trump, certainly — but he endorsed Trump’s main rival, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), shortly before the 2016 primary contest in the state for which he served as governor. Cruz lost Indiana and dropped out of the race. Pence went on to work for the candidate he viewed as no better than the second-best option for the country.
Trump's press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, was much harsher in her views of Trump. In June 2015, she made a more direct criticism of Trump on race than Harris did of Biden, saying of his disparagement of immigrants at his campaign launch that “a racist statement is a racist statement. I don't like what Donald Trump said."
“I don't think he is a serious candidate,” she said, as CNN reported. “I think it is a sideshow. It's not within the mainstream of the candidates."
Several members of his administration had offered criticism of Trump before accepting jobs from him. The most notable example was former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who tacitly criticized the then-candidate while giving the Republican response to the 2016 State of the Union address.
“During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices,” Haley said. “We must resist that temptation."
The following month, she was more direct, saying shortly before the important primary in her state that Trump was “everything a governor doesn't want in a president."
She nonetheless accepted Trump’s offer to serve as ambassador to the United Nations.
Perhaps the most infamous example of someone reversing their opinion of Trump also comes from South Carolina: Sen. Lindsey O. Graham. Graham at one point called Trump “a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot” who was the Islamic State “man of the year."
Graham is now one of Trump's closest allies and a frequent golf partner.
Trump has often touted conservative commentator Mark Levin, who has emerged as a loyal, if volatile, advocate for the president. He wasn’t always so enthusiastic, though, saying in early 2016 that he would never support Trump.
“Count me as never Trump,” Levin said. “There’s been too much of this, folks, way too much of this. The crap in the National Enquirer against Ted Cruz, the attacks on Michelle Fields” — a reporter who described being assaulted by Trump’s campaign manager, prompting Trump to deny her later-proved claims.
“I mean, I can go right through the list,” Levin continued, “too much, too much, too much. At some point, you’ve got to stand up to it.”
For a while, anyway.
Trump also seeks counsel from a number of former critics.
John Yoo, author of a memo justifying the use of torture under former president George W. Bush, confirmed recently that he was advising the Trump administration on how it might use a recent Supreme Court ruling to vastly expand its power. It's an odd decision for someone who once compared Trump to “early Mussolini,” saying shortly before the 2016 election that he found Trump “disturbingly similar” to the Italian fascist.
Then there’s Karl Rove, once a top aide to Bush, who early in 2016 called Trump a “complete” idiot. As Trump was poised to clinch the nomination, Rove disparaged him again as “graceless and divisive.”
In a conversation with Sean Hannity on Fox News on Tuesday night, Trump still praised Rove, whose advice the president has been seeking.
“You know, Karl and I had our disputes previously,” Trump said. “We like each other a lot now. He's been great."
A few minutes earlier, Trump had criticized Harris for having said “horrible things about Biden.” Phony for thee but not for me.