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What would a Kamala Harris presidency look like?

Out with the old? Credit: Getty

February 12, 2024 - 7:00pm

Joe Biden’s advanced age lends an unusually heavy weight to his choice of a running mate, Vice President Kamala Harris. 

A recent Department of Justice investigation into Biden’s handling of classified documents found the President to be “an elderly man with a poor memory” – so much so that a jury would likely not convict him of a “felony which requires a mental state of wilfulness”. During DOJ interviews, Biden did not remember when he was vice president or when his son had died, according to the report. 

“I am ready to serve. There’s no question about that,” Harris told the Wall Street Journal days before the report was published, adding that those who see her on the job are “fully aware of my capacity to lead”. 

Harris only spent one term in the US Senate before entering the White House, but her short time in office, her 2020 presidential primary campaign and her time in Californian politics paint a picture of what her presidency might look like. 

Crime

Harris’s work as a prosecutor, district attorney and attorney general of California has haunted her political career, with critics calling her a “cop” and pointing to her record of defending the police, raising San Francisco’s conviction rate and criminalising truancy for parents. 

As she rose up the ranks of the Democratic Party, she became increasingly sceptical of the police and has more recently called for ending the death penalty, ending federal mandatory minimum sentences and solitary confinement, and legalising marijuana. She urged her X/Twitter followers to donate to a bail fund to help get protesters out of jail in the summer of 2020. 

Her complicated record on crime leaves much to the imagination about how she would handle the issue in a future presidency. But rising public concern about crime creates an opening for a Democrat with prosecutorial bona fides to shed the party’s soft-on-crime reputation. 

Immigration

As president, Harris would likely be soft on immigration. She was one of only three Democrats in the US Senate to vote against a compromise that would have created a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, immigrants who were brought to the US illegally as children, while funding the border wall. She pushed for the resignation of Donald Trump’s Homeland Security secretary over family separations at the border.

Amid record-breaking illegal immigration under the Biden administration, Harris has focused on the “root causes” of immigration, promoting security and stronger economies in Central America. 

Social issues

Harris was one of the first American politicians to publicly endorse gay marriage, officiating same sex-marriages in 2004 as San Francisco’s district attorney which were eventually voided by the Supreme Court of California because it did not recognise same-sex marriage at the time. She has come out against state legislation restricting child gender transitions. 

The Vice President also toes the party line on affirmative action, which she has consistently supported. 

Healthcare

The California Democrat supported Bernie Sanders’s Medicare for All in the Senate, but as a presidential primary candidate she moderated her position, calling for a choice for individuals between Medicare and heavily regulated private insurance. She has also consistently supported legal abortion

Trade and foreign policy

As Vice President, Harris has pledged that the US would support Ukraine in its war with Russia for “as long as it takes”.

In the Middle East, the Veep supports a two-state solution and Israel’s right to defend itself, and opposes BDS. She has strayed from her party on military spending, and in 2019 was one of only 10 Democratic senators who voted against a massive defence budget. 

Harris is sceptical of free trade agreements, which she says do not do enough to protect American workers and have inadequate environmental standards. She has said she would not have voted in favour of Nafta. 

She came out against Trump’s tariffs on China in 2018, arguing that they hurt American consumers, though she supported Trump’s inquiry into Chinese theft of intellectual property and has voiced concern about the CCP’s treatment of Uyghurs. 


is UnHerd’s US correspondent.

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michael addison
michael addison
5 months ago

It would look like the unmitigated disaster that it would inevitably be.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
5 months ago

Or maybe a Venn diagram with no intersections?

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
5 months ago

To answer your question, first you need to get a dumpster, a gas can, and a box of matches.

R.I. Loquitur
R.I. Loquitur
5 months ago

It would be too awful to even countenance.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
5 months ago

Surely this article is not serious

Erik Hildinger
Erik Hildinger
5 months ago

I don’t know what a Kamala Harris presidency would be like but, on the basis of what I’ve heard in clips of her speaking, I doubt that she could explain it.

Howard S.
Howard S.
5 months ago
Reply to  Erik Hildinger

“Space is big”. A direct quote from the lady, who was addressing a gathering of NASA’s top astrophysicists.

Erik Hildinger
Erik Hildinger
5 months ago
Reply to  Howard S.

She just wanted to be sure they knew that.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
5 months ago
Reply to  Howard S.

Well, she is right about that, in fairness to her.

Stephen Feldman
Stephen Feldman
5 months ago

No she is not. Science is more complex. Universe contracting and expanding, space limited by speed.

Simon Templar
Simon Templar
5 months ago
Reply to  Howard S.

She stole that line from Douglas Adams. “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

Stephen Feldman
Stephen Feldman
5 months ago
Reply to  Howard S.

Actually Einstein would disagree But she’s not Einstein. Or acHS science teacher Or English teacher.

Howard S.
Howard S.
5 months ago

Ain’t never going to happen. Kamala Harris has the likeability quotient of Count Dracula. Joe Biden is kind of, in a sad way, a comical character these days. With a stronger Vice-Presidental candidate running with him, the voters could be convinced to give him another, final (and probably brief) term in the White House, to be replaced by his Vice-President. But definitely not by Harris. Joe Biden is the uncle who is the life of every family get-together, who tells jokes and family stories, and who everyone knows is not to be left alone with little children. Kamala Harris will be kicked upstairs, so to speak, given a federal judgeship somewhere.
Prediction: the Democrats’ 2024 Presidential ticket will be Joe Biden and Michelle Obama. Xi Jinping’s own Dream Team.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
5 months ago
Reply to  Howard S.

Word is Harris is refusing to play ball with that idea.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
5 months ago

A daily description of sartorial style …. a woman in a blue suit, a woman in a grey suit. Should be compelling stuff. Biden and Harris are looking like the Princes in the Tower from a Democrat’s perspective. Can they.pull off a double coup by instating a candidate like Michelle OB? Let’s watch …

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
5 months ago

I dream of Harris as president of USA and Angela Rayner as PM of UK.
At least we’d get a laugh before the apocalypse.

PAUL SMITH
PAUL SMITH
5 months ago

I miss Diane Abbott on the shadow front bench – for comedy value.

Henry Mayhew
Henry Mayhew
5 months ago
Reply to  PAUL SMITH

#Me too

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
5 months ago
Reply to  PAUL SMITH

Talk about cast a giant shadow. I keep picturing her on the motorbike with Jeremy, (as per her carefree young days) but at her current size.

Katrina McLeod
Katrina McLeod
5 months ago

And I had thought four years ago that the reason for installing Kamala as VP was to make it impossible to impeach Biden.

Richard C
Richard C
5 months ago

Is this a Sixth Form paper?

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
5 months ago

The Democrats have a problem. They need a lot more than the likes of Kamala Harris and Gavin Newsom. They want the government to actually accomplish things. In the US, that’s hard because the system laid down by the founding fathers makes it very hard to get things done. It requires both popular and geographic majorities in Congress, meaning it requires a significant amount of compromise and horse trading just to keep things running. Actually accomplishing major policy changes and leveraging the government to change the status quo requires a broad, deep, and overwhelming consensus surrounding an issue, and sometimes even that isn’t enough. The Democrats need a vision, a plan, and a set of policies that they can sell to enough of the American people to get broad consensus. They need to be flexible enough to adjust if it looks like some parts of their vision might be unacceptable to some. They need to keep an eye open to strategy and the practical difficulties of a country as economically and ideologically diverse as the US. Kamala Harris ain’t it, and anybody halfway paying attention should already know that.
Conservatives and populists don’t need to do any of those things. Conservatives just have to convince enough people that whatever the other side’s vision is, it is dangerous and undesirable, and they’re going to do X, Y, and Z and force it on everyone like tyrants, because America really hates tyrants. They just have to keep the government running, enforce the status quo, and handle foreign policy in a way that doesn’t involve Americans having to care about or spend money on foreign affairs. Populists (and libertarians for that matter) have it even easier, as they just have to do whatever they can to obstruct the government’s ability to do anything, and let the problems get kicked down to the local level while the federal government flounders about like a helpless fish. The point of populism isn’t to accomplish anything specific. It’s to punish and undermine the political establishment and the ruling class that backs them. Populists don’t have to do anything, just keep the other side from doing anything and letting the system atrophy down to nothing.

Somebody on the Democratic side ought to know this and understand what’s going on here. They should understand they’re fighting a slow battle of attrition that they’re going to lose because the system itself is set against them. The present dynamic favors the populists, the localists, the libertarians who want to see national power limited and supranational power destroyed entirely and the people given more of the power they enjoyed during the few decades after WWII when the western world was dominated by a prosperous middle class politically and economically.

What the Democrats need is a broad, popular message that will discard the unpopular pet ideologies of the academics and the ruinous free trade orthodoxy of the corporate overlords. There’s nothing that says the Democrats can’t pivot towards a more populist approach but with a more socially liberal slant. There’s no rule that says they have to support free trade orthodoxy or get involved in foreign wars for no good reason. Traditionally the Democrats used to be the antiwar party, the party of unionized labor. There’s no reason the Democrats couldn’t fashion some sort of strategy that takes a nationalist/populist slant and uses the national government to limit corporate power and build the middle class back up, using national policy to do it. The problem is that the people running the party don’t want that, at all. Since 2016, several anti-establishment, anti-corporate candidates have attempted to win the Democratic nomination. Sanders twice, Warren, and now RFK Jr. They were all unceremoniously run off by the concerted efforts of the ideological zealots and the globalist establishment who conspired to derail their candidacies. The Democrats have painted themselves into a corner that will make it hard for them to win elections down the road. Trump won’t be around forever, and they won’t find an easier man to beat. The populists lining up behind Trump and endorsing him now are already angling to get the Trump voters in 2028. DeSantis, Cruz, Hawley, Abbott, Youngkin, Scott, Vance, Stefanik, Ramaswamy and plenty besides. They’ll be harder to beat than Trump, almost by default.

Their best short term prospect for a candidate to replace Biden is probably Michelle Obama. She would probably beat Trump, but that’s not exactly a high bar to clear, and I’m not even sure of that. Barack Obama was elected on an agenda of ‘hope and change’, but didn’t deliver nearly enough on the issues that mattered to Americans. Most likely, she would still continue most of the same policies as Biden and wouldn’t change the political climate in any significant way, failing to deliver hope and change as much as her husband did. Without a clear vision that is embraced by a solid majority of Americans, the Democrats are just kicking the can down the road. They have to keep winning elections. The other side just has to win once to break everything. They sort of already have.

Damon Hager
Damon Hager
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

“Trump won’t be around forever, and they won’t find an easier man to beat.”

I’m watching all this from the UK, admittedly, so I defer to Americans’ greater knowledge of their own political landscape, but I’m always sceptical of this often–repeated claim. Didn’t Trump secure a record number of Republican votes in 2020, the final result notwithstanding? And I suspect that if it hadn’t been for the freak event of Covid (and the millions of postal votes it gave rise to), he would have been re-elected.
As for DeSantis, Haley, etc., being “stronger” candidates than Trump, this is often just code for “less offensive to polite sensibilities”. None of the other Republican candidates had Trump’s brash charisma or appeal to his blue-collar base.
Just saying.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
5 months ago
Reply to  Damon Hager

First, I’ll admit my bias. I don’t like Trump. I don’t like his style, his bravado, his brashness. I don’t think he’s a good strategist. I don’t think he gives enough thoughts to the things he says. There are better, more effective ways to say the things Trump is saying and has said from the start. I don’t think he’s a true populist, just an actor trying to play one. I don’t think he has the political skill necessary to accomplish the things he says he wants to accomplish. That’s what I mean when I say there are better candidates. The reason he became popular is because he said things that nobody else would say, however badly or offensively or incoherently he said it. Because he was the first, and because the people were used to getting hoodwinked by the party much the way the Tories seem to have done with you guys over there, they show him incredible levels of loyalty that he probably doesn’t deserve, but I understand their reasons for doing it, and I don’t entirely fault them.
Here’s my take on what’s going on. I’ll be the first to admit I might be wrong, but there was a lot of anger and anti-elite sentiment before Trump. It came through in various ways like the Iraq war protests, the tea party movement, the success of Barack Obama’s change centered campaign and his win over Clinton and then McCain. Trump wasn’t the first populist on a national stage or the first candidate to take on the establishment of the Republican party and win. Rand Paul, Senator from Kentucky, had to run in a primary against an opponent backed by the establishment, including the other Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell. He won, and he and Mitch have had a very conspicuously formal relationship since. They don’t come out and say they hate each other, but they hate each other. Don’t forget that Sanders nearly won the nomination on the other side twice, and each time the Democratic establishment stacked the deck against him. They just have more ways to intervene in their system to make sure the voters pick the ‘right’ candidate, and they’re better at using them. The Republican establishment, in addition to being aristocrats who ignore the will of the people just like those on the other side and in Europe, are also horribly incompetent, a fact I would think everyone should have recognized by the end of the Bush administration. There’s a lot of this undercurrent that was going on well before Trump’s arrival.

Trump just happened to come along at the right time. It’s one of those accidents of history, somewhat like Gavrilo Princeps and Franz Ferdinand. He got into the race because the establishment let him into the race, because they didn’t take him seriously. They wanted a clown to embarrass their more extreme radicals and show how sane and sensible they were by comparison. That was, to use the language of my generation, an epic fail. I can’t entirely fault them as the body of evidence that is Trump’s entire career in the public eye suggest he’s just a showman, full of bluster and bravado but little substance. They probably judged Trump correctly but badly misjudged the temperament of voters. They didn’t realize how tenuous their power really was. Trump is good at the one thing that happened to be more important than any other. He’s good at reading people, as any con-artist should be. He read the rooms he found himself in on the 2016 campaign trail and gave the people what he felt they wanted, and he was right. That’s why he sounds like a populist revolutionary. He isn’t actually. He’s been a Democrat, a Republican, and everything in between since he came into the public eye back in the 80’s. He’s whatever he thinks he needs to be at the moment, and since the people wanted a populist champion of the common man, that’s what he was.

For that reason, because he was the first to take them seriously and actually fight for their concerns, they show him incredible loyalty, despite his many faults, and many are aware of them, and they’re also skeptical of anybody else because they’re aware the elites would like to take back the Republican party, and Trump is preventing that. I suspect more than a few of them know he’s fake on some level. It’s quite likely a significant chunk of the Republicans voting for him in the primaries know he’s less likely to win the general election and don’t care because it keeps him and the populists in control of the party. While there’s a legitimate resistance party, the people have some hope to fight the elites, and keeping the Republican party trending towards being a socially conservative, economically nationalist, anti-corporate party is more important than winning in 2024. They are sending the message as loud and clear as they possibly can to the Koch brothers, the donor class, etc. that the days of their kind running the party are over, and they can either sit down, shut up, and vote for the populist candidate the people choose or go debate microaggressions and whether men can be women with the Democrats.

Most of the politicians who aren’t particularly ideological but would like to continue to have careers in politics are lining up behind Trump to show fealty not to Trump, but to Trump’s voters. The several candidates who immediately dropped out after Iowa were basically saying to the voters, ‘we’re loyal, we’re not establishment lapdogs trying to take back the party’, because they care more about the opinions of those voters. They’ve figured out the donor class is toxic and they don’t want to be hit with the ‘establishment’ label. Trump could have endorsed any of them at any time in the past two years and wielded considerable influence from the sidelines and probably put the party at a decisive advantage both in 2024 and going into the future, but his ego got in the way.

Nikki Haley, btw, has effectively ended her career. By staying in the race and continuing to rack up big money donations after it’s painfully clear she has no chance, she’s basically announced to the world what she is, an establishment tool trying to get the old guard back in the driver’s seat. She’ll be beaten in her home state, decisively, by Trump next week. She was already beaten in the Nevada primary by ‘none of these candidates’. She will probably try again in 2028, but she won’t win then either, because unless Trump is actually dead, he’ll be against her, and even if he is, the populists have already debuted their campaign strategy. Rand Paul, one of the early populists who preceded Trump on the national stage, declared himself ‘Never Nikki’.

It’s a very complicated situation. American politics is playing 3d chess blindfolded and drunk, and the voters are better at it than the politicians give them credit for. So, yes, Trump is not an ideal candidate. Yes, a lot of his voters know it. Yes, they still vote for him because their first priority is sticking it to the establishment. Yes, Trump did bring a lot of new voters into the party, but Trump doesn’t own those voters and they’re probably not going to go away just because he does, not now that they have some voice and influence, not unless I’ve badly misjudged the situation. My point really is that the Democrat’s chances in 2024 aren’t great, and they’re going to get worse. They really need to embrace an anti-establishment candidate and come up with some socially liberal platform that is nationally, not globally, focused or they’re going to get steamrolled by history. Kamala Harris is a fail candidate, and if that’s the best they can do, they have serious problems.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

What do you think of Vivek Ramaswamy and Josh Hawley?

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
5 months ago

Sorry for the delay there, but Hawley has long been a favorite of mine. Like Rand Paul, he’s been making life difficult for the establishment long before Trump came around. Ramaswamy is still too new for me to be confident in my judgement, but I would prefer him to basically all the other Republicans other than maybe DeSantis, who strikes me as a competent politician willing to listen to the people’s will who suffers from a terminal lack of charisma, or Tim Scott, who strikes me as a less disagreeable, more appealing version of Trump.

Stephen Feldman
Stephen Feldman
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Kindly repeat Composition. Thank you.

Jae
Jae
5 months ago

Who is this author and where has she been the last few years? Harris is an unmitigated disaster. She says and does whatever is politically expedient, she does what she’s told. She’s less popular than Joe. It’s clear in interviews she can’t hold a thought in her head unless someone writes it down for her. That’s because there’s no there there.

Good grief Unherd, I thought you might be opposed to gaslighting your readers. It appears not.

Peter F. Lee
Peter F. Lee
5 months ago

Perhaps she would grow into the job. She has certainly shown a degree of versatility.

Stephen Feldman
Stephen Feldman
5 months ago
Reply to  Peter F. Lee

Grow? Her mouth?

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
5 months ago

Kamala Harris will do whatever her sponsors tell her to do. She will be little more than a hologram.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
5 months ago

Kamala is a dweeb. There’s my detailed, thoughtful analysis of the day! 😉

Aldo Maccione
Aldo Maccione
5 months ago

“I am ready to serve. There’s no question about that.”
Feel free to start acting as VP, then.

Sensible Citizen
Sensible Citizen
5 months ago

Harris would do as she’s told and her net worth will reach $100m shortly after she leaves office. That’s how the American system works, unless you have a slightly orange tint.