Years ago, the car rental company Avis tried to catch industry leader Hertz by boasting it was No. 2, so it was trying harder.
By political convenience Kamala Harris happens to be No. 2 in Joe Biden’s presidential administration. But no one suggests she’s trying harder. Harder than whom, for one thing? She’s the first female vice president, so what’s to judge her against?
She is in a position that would make succeeding there difficult for any woman, especially so when she’s getting nothing but lip service from the boss’ office.
In fact, just six months into – is that all it’s been? – the 48-month initial reign of Joe Biden, someone(s) out to undercut Harris in recent weeks hiding behind anonymity to feed political writers’ negative stories on her style and staff, some of whom have quit.
Look, D.C. politics is not beanbag. Every White House has more egos, ambitions, and agendas than people. It’s a political hothouse that spawns cheap shots, backbiting, and bureaucratic betrayals. Remember the long-term, anonymous carping that lead to the Cabinet exit of Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump’s first secretary of State?
It takes strong leadership from a president and his chief of staff to make clear such separate agendas and personal undercutting is unacceptable. George W. Bush and Andy Card did that. Trump and his string of chiefs of staff did not.
Now, Harris is not helping her own cause with amateurish flubs, stupid answers, and unforced errors when rhetorically cornered, suggesting the 56-year-old, former prosecutor is not ready for prime time. This repeats a widespread impression from her aborted presidential campaign that failed to last even ’til the first primary.
First impressions are important on colleagues and the public, especially when she’s just a heartbeat apart from becoming president — and, ultimately, positioned to inheriting her party’s presidential nomination in 2024.
It’s not Harris’ fault that Joe Biden hears voices or isn’t mentally capable of remembering the names of Cabinet members he allegedly handpicked, the names of their departments, or that large, five-sided building across the Potomac where all those military people work.
Harris could have said no when Biden or someone on his team broached the idea of joining Democrats’ 2020 presidential ticket. She wasn’t picked because she was the sharpest tack in that motley field of primary wannabes. She wasn’t picked because of her profound respect and affection for Biden, whom she viciously torched during one primary debate.
Sen. Harris wasn’t picked as VP partner because Democrats desperately needed California’s huge pot of electoral votes. The Golden state’s image and economy and politics have been so ruined by Democrats’ supermajorities that the most populous state lost population last year.
California Democrats can’t find the time to build reservoirs for the state’s chronic droughts. But, by golly, they’re totally on top of banning tiny, hotel shampoo bottles because, plastic. And last year, they rammed through a measure making it completely legal for any citizen to refuse to help a police officer in distress.
Kamala Harris used to be California’s chief law enforcement officer. That could be a real plus on a national ticket, if her party was into law and order. But the sanctuary-city, open border party is not, as soaring crime rates and the disinterest of a Democrat Congress attest.
Kamala Harris was picked by the leader of the party of identity politics because she is a woman and of color. That’s not necessarily a bad reason, if the person has other strong qualifications. She doesn’t.
You don’t suppose the Biden cartel also picked Harris because her lack of qualifications would hold down demands to replace their doddering incumbent?
Now, vice presidential partners are picked historically for a variety of mainly political reasons. They come from a desirable state. John F. Kennedy wanted Texas so badly in 1960, he chose the crude Lyndon Johnson. An insecure Richard Nixon picked Spiro T. Agnew, a former governor.
To unite the GOP in 1980, Ronald Reagan selected a challenger, George H.W. Bush, who had the most impressive public-service resume in memory. As his VP partner, Bush later picked Dan Quayle for reasons no one has ever understood.
George W. Bush, a governor with no Washington experience and no foreign policy chops beyond a trip to Israel, chose Dick Cheney. He brought D.C. gravitas and experience in the House, the White House and Pentagon with no latent political ambitions of his own.
Barack Obama was a Senate rookie who chose as VP the guy we’re stuck with now because he had long congressional experience, presented no intellectual threat and was harmlessly good for laughs now and then.
Obama saddled Biden with dead-end assignments he couldn’t be bothered with – driving gun control legislation through Congress after Sandy Hook (he didn’t), implementing a nearly trillion-dollar stimulus with shovel-ready jobs that never appeared, and overseeing the sudden U.S. troop pullout from Iraq that led to the rise of ISIS and death for hundreds of thousands.
Cheney made the vice presidency into a meaningful job. Otherwise, it’s meant attending frequent, foreign funerals, applauding enthusiastically at State of the Union addresses, and waiting around. John Nance Garner, who gave up House Speaker to become FDR’s No. 2, said the VP job wasn’t worth a warm bucket of spit. Except he didn’t say ‘spit.’
Vice President Harry Truman was such a White House cipher that he knew nothing of the atom bomb project until FDR was dead.
We don’t know what Kamala Harris doesn’t know. She’s usually seen looming in a black pantsuit just behind the president, sometimes reminding him what to say and where to go next.
We do know that Biden’s minions have her traveling a lot with the vaccine pitch. (Same for hubby Douglas Emhoff, the country’s first second gentleman.) And they’ve given Harris the hopeless job of presiding over the festering, southern border mess, which Trump had successfully quieted.
That could be for political seasoning or perhaps make-work to get her out of town and give the appearance of a busy administration out and about. Or both.
Amazingly, for someone so long in public life, in occasional media encounters Harris still tries to answer the question asked, rather than taking it in her own desired direction.
And she’s nowhere near as quick, confident, or issue-fluent as Mike Pence, sliding too easily into a prevent-defense mode rather than seizing the interview initiative to get her talking points out in the tight, disciplined sound bites today’s TV reports require.
In fairness, Harris is a pioneer with no role model to copy. Not the brittle, angry Hillary Clinton. Not Jill Biden, who’s aggressively seized the surrogate presidential role for herself. When Obama didn’t want to attend some major international event like the Olympics, he sent his No. 2, Joe Biden.
Now with Joe Biden unwilling or unable to travel to the Tokyo Olympics, his wife has announced that she not only will be attending but will be meeting with other foreign leaders there.
A couple Biden aides (but not Biden himself) did defend and praise the vice president. “Vice President Harris is focused on the work, not the chatter at the water cooler,” said one.
This followed recent media reports that the Harris staff, new to her after shucking campaign workers, is uncoordinated and isolated from the woman they’re supposed to be serving.
An assertive Harris could fix that herself if she wanted. But she hasn’t, which feeds the concern she’s not up to topping the 2024 ticket.
It’s harsh to say, but White House business is not beanbag. The appearance is growing that Kamala Harris served her political purpose by facilitating the Biden election victory. Now, she’s pretty much on her own to take orders and be loyal.
Which is not unprecedented for a vice president. But if – God forbid – something suddenly happened to a 78-year-old president, the oldest ever, the country that voted more against Donald Trump than for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris would be plunged into a terrifying Amateur Hour.