Kamala Harris poses a major nightmare scenario for Donald Trump ahead of November election

Donald Trump risks alienating Black voters further if he continues with racial divisiveness and attacks Kamala Harris personally

Aninda Dey August 13, 2020 10:18:30 IST
Kamala Harris poses a major nightmare scenario for Donald Trump ahead of November election

A "sleepy" Joe Biden has dialled a "phony" Kamala Harris to cause nightmares to Donald Trump. But how could a vice-presidential candidate haunt the president in his dreams of an Oval Office re-election, right? Wrong.

Biden's emergence as the Democrat front-runner was itself a bombshell considering his initial average performance in the primaries — add to it the selection of his former Democratic presidential rival and the first African-American running mate Harris, and the concoction is lethal enough to destabilise Trump's second journey to the White House.

Minutes after Biden announced the name of the California senator as his vice-presidential pick, the vociferous sexist attacker in Trump was blatantly visible at a White House briefing. Harris was labelled "nasty", "horrible", "mean" and "disrespectful" — typical words in Trump's stereotype playbook of misogyny, racism and personal attacks. Biden's selection of a person of colour had definitely caught Trump off-guard for he launched a broadside against Harris while fumbling and gazing at his notes during the briefing.

Trump's very salvo on Harris exposed his art of twisting facts and distorting truth — and above all, his revulsion to women. “She had told many, many stories that were not true… she was my number one draft pick." Really? Two weeks ago, when asked about her chances of being Biden’s pick, Trump had said: "I think she'd be a fine choice."

Already facing a media and political onslaught for his abysmal failure in controlling COVID-19 — which has devastated the superpower with five million-plus cases and more than 1,67,000 death — piling unemployment numbers and jobless claims due to the virus, and an increasing racial fault line following George Floyd's murder, the last thing Trump ever wished for was an African-American woman as Democratic Veep candidate.

Harris' selection has definitely added the much-needed steam to Team Biden, which has been bombarding Trump with the virus and the racism salvos.

African-American votes and Black Lives Matter

Trump has been trying to woo suburban African-African voters, who have been riled up by his racial divisiveness after Floyd’s murder, his lack of sympathy towards them and no attempts to close the increasingly chasm of racism.

Facing Biden with Harris at his side is a daunting challenge for Trump for her uncontroversial statements — unlike other vice-presidential candidates earlier in the reckoning, like former national security advisor Susan Rice and Representative Karen Bass. Known for her unblemished record as a prosecutor and California attorney-general, the senator has been an ardent advocate of civil rights and racial equality.

In fact, Harris had expressed her opposition and anger to racism much before the Black Lives Movement started this year. In a Democratic presidential debate in June 2019, she slammed Biden for his opposition to [desegregation] busing — the practice of transporting students to schools to reduce racial segregation in schools — in the 1970s and found it "hurtful to hear you [Biden] talk about the reputation of two United States senators who built their reputation and career on the segregation of race in this country". Although she never called Biden racist during the debate, her fierceness on racial inequality was widely noticed and stole the limelight.

After Floyd's murder, Harris issued a statement mentioning the killings of other African-Americans, systemic racism and police brutality in American society: "In recent days, we've been forced to confront the tragic and horrific killings of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and now, George Floyd in Minnesota. These are not isolated incidents, but the result of broader systematic racism that exists in our country… Police brutality is a matter of life and death for Black people in this country, and we have to be clear about the injustices within our criminal justice system and demand accountability to the communities law enforcement are sworn to protect and serve."

The selection of Harris will energise African-American voters, especially women, on election day as against their low turnout in 2016. Around 98 percent of African-American women — who form the backbone of the Democratic Party — and 96 percent of Black Protestants voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, a Pew Research Centre analysis shows.

According to a national poll conducted by market research company Morning Consult in association with Politico on 24-26 July, more than 25 percent of voters wanted Biden to select a person of colour as his running mate. It was "up six percentage points since a poll conducted more than a month before the protests. The increase was driven by liberal voters (36 to 46 percent)", according to Morning Consult.

In an open letter to Biden earlier this year, hundreds of African-American woman voters wrote that "they are key to igniting Black voters across all demographics to show up in record numbers". According to NBC News, the voters wrote: "There has not been a Democratic presidential nominee in over 40 years that has won the White House without Black women's leadership and vote — including Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter."

Harris will definitely draw more African-American voters compared to the support she had as a presidential contender especially after the Black Lives Matter movement engulfed America. The political dynamics have changed considerably in favour of Harris and against Trump after the Black Lives Matter movement. Besides, Harris ticks several voter boxes: She has law enforcement experience, legislative background, age and her vociferous demand for racial equality and unwavering commitment to civil rights.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of New America, a think tank told the Politico that Harris is a "woman of colour who is a prosecutor challenging the stereotypical assumptions of some men about women who are soft on crime and some white Americans about where Black Americans stand on issues of law and order".

Keisha N Blain, associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, feels that Harris' "wide-ranging progressive and inclusive platform along with her commitment to advancing racial justice, expanding health care and protecting vulnerable populations are most urgently needed today — perhaps more than ever before". "While there is no doubt that Harris will face media scrutiny — most likely more than her predecessors — she may very well hold the key to Biden’s win in November," Blain told Politico.

Challenge for Trump to launch personal attacks

Castigating Harris personally would be a misadventure for Trump due to her diverse family background, race and ethnicity. With American deeply polarised on racial lines, any comments on her race would draw African-American voters further away. She is also the first Asian-African woman vice-presidential running mate whose mother was Indian.

The president has a disgustingly controversial record of using racial slurs and attacks against African-American woman lawmakers, mayors and journalists—and that’s where facing Harris could be his biggest challenge combined with the sweeping support of the community to Biden. Republican pollster Sarah Longwell told Reuters that Harris will "play pretty well with suburban women".

Trump had labelled Representative (Democrat) Maxine Waters as an "extraordinarily low IQ person"; blamed Republican Congresswoman Mia Love for losing her re-election in Utah because she didn't support him; dubbed his ex-White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman "disgusting and foul-mouthed"; and told CNN White House reporter that she asks a lot of "stupid questions". His infamous war of words with Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot over the city's violence grabbed headlines this year.

According to CNN, several Trump campaign advisers wanted Biden to pick another candidate, but not Harris. “She is certainly formidable. She will inject some much-needed energy into the campaign,” a source close to the campaign told CNN. Besides, Harris has a more favourable view than Biden among the GOP. A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted on 10-11 August shows 21 percent of registered Republican voters have a favourable impression of Harris compared with a 13 percent favourable view of Biden.

With the US at a critical juncture — ravaged by COVID-19, budget deficit tripling to $2.8 trillion in the first 10 months of fiscal year 2020 and the scourge of racism cleaving the country — launching personal attacks on Harris could backfire. Neera Tanden, Clinton's top aide in 2016, told Reuters that if Trump "wants to use misogynistic tropes against Kamala Harris, I think that is deeply challenging for him. He has no room for error with suburban women".

Neither it will be a good idea for Trump's deputy Mike Pence to even try to corner and attack Harris during the October debate for she is a tough combatant who counter-attacks more viciously. Her grilling of then-attorney general Jeff Sessions over his Russian contacts in 2017 and then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at the Senate confirmation hearing in 2018 is a big warning to Team Trump and Pence in particular.

The writer is a freelance journalist. Views expressed are personal

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