G.O.P.ers Can’t Find Their Kamala


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When Joe Biden’s campaign announced on Tuesday that Senator Kamala Harris would be his running mate, Republicans were ready.

“Kamala Harris’s extreme positions,” said Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, “show that the left-wing mob is controlling Biden’s candidacy, just like they would control him as president.”

She added: “These radical policies might be popular among liberals, but they are well outside the mainstream for most Americans.”

Five hours later, the party committee offered a different take on Ms. Harris, blasting out a collection of tweets from progressive Democrats criticizing Ms. Harris as insufficiently liberal. The subject line: “Liberals revolt against Biden, Harris ticket.”

For much of the past 24 hours, Trump officials, party committees and campaign surrogates have careened between calling Ms. Harris a “radical liberal” and a stooge of Wall Street. In his monologue on Tuesday night, Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host, described her as “the single most transactional human being in America.”

In their telling, Ms. Harris is both a tough-on-crime cop and a left-wing Marxist. She is burying her record to appease liberal Democrats while simultaneously stoking an intraparty war by disappointing the party’s progressive wing.

How do Republicans reconcile those seemingly conflicting ideas? Well, it’s all a secret plan by liberals! The Democratic ticket is a Trojan Horse for liberals to unleash their agenda, if you will.

According to Republicans, while neither Mr. Biden nor Mr. Harris are liberals themselves, they are the vehicles to push a radical left-wing agenda because she’s “phony” and he’s “slow.”

Not exactly an argument that will fit on a bumper sticker.

An even greater complication to all this spaghetti-on-the-wall messaging? The fact that Mr. Trump and his daughter Ivanka contributed $8,000 to Ms. Harris’s campaign for attorney general in 2014. (There were plenty of deeply personal, sexist and racist attacks floating around the Trump orbit, as well.)

So what, exactly, is this Democratic ticket?

In her first public appearance with Mr. Biden as his running mate this afternoon, Ms. Harris described the two of them as “cut from the same cloth.”

They are more pragmatic than ideological. They’re deeply rooted in establishment party politics. It’s the merging of two political brands with compelling biographies but no singular, defining cause.

Ms. Harris is certainly further to the left of Mr. Biden, embracing more aggressive policies to tackle climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and health care. But she lacks the kind of central focus that comes from Senator Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax or Senator Bernie Sanders’s calls for political revolution. Instead, Ms. Harris embraces a more pragmatic approach, shying away from the intensely ideological.

“I’m not trying to restructure society,” Ms. Harris told The New York Times last year. “I’m just trying to take care of the issues that wake people up in the middle of the night.”

That profile does frustrate some progressive Democrats, who have broad visions of remaking the American economy. And it certainly complicates the argument for Mr. Trump, who seems bent on casting his opponents as godless socialists with a radical agenda — whether or not the caricature actually fits.

But it reflects the kind of ticket that a majority of Democratic primary voters seemed to want. Sure, they didn’t rally behind Ms. Harris’s presidential bid. But in backing Mr. Biden over a bevy of more liberal rivals, a plurality of Democrats made clear that they wanted a more moderate, establishment nominee.

Throughout the primary race, I’d often hear Democrats longingly extol the virtues of a Biden-Harris ticket. The comments were made by voters at Biden events. At Harris events. At events for other candidates entirely.

The rationale seemed hatched in a cable news greenroom.

Generally, it went something like this: America wasn’t ready to elect a woman, particularly a Black woman. Mr. Biden is a less-risky choice. But he’s old. Generational change is needed for the party, Washington, the country. The answer: Biden-Harris.

Now, we’ll finally get to see if the punditocracy is better at predictions than the professionals.

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My colleague Jim Tankersley has a new book out, “The Riches of This Land,” detailing the decline of the American middle class. He was generous enough to share his thoughts on Ms. Harris — and what her selection says about our economic policy.

Much of the public commentary over Ms. Harris’s selection has focused on her political breakthrough of becoming the first Black and Indian-American woman to run on a major-party presidential ticket in the United States. But we should also pause to consider the economic importance of Ms. Harris’s background.

She, and her parents, illustrate different and important aspects of the progress that has lifted the American middle class — and that can do so again.

In my new book, “The Riches of This Land: The Untold, True Story of America’s Middle Class, I show how expanding opportunities for women of all races, men of color and immigrants helped fuel the great middle-class boom after World War II. The economy grew faster and millions of people entered the middle class, because those workers broke the locks that had barred them from occupations that were long dominated by white men.

Ms. Harris has knocked down some political occupational doors in her career; she was the first Black woman elected to be a district attorney in California. The economy would benefit if more of those doors came down, giving talented women the same opportunities as white men.

Research also shows us that the economy would work better, for everyone, if America attracted more highly educated immigrants like Ms. Harris’s parents — a cancer researcher originally from India and an economist from Jamaica. Economists have found that immigrant inventors increase entrepreneurship in the counties where they settle. In 2016, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine concluded that “the prospects for long-run economic growth in the United States would be considerably dimmed without the contributions of high-skilled immigrants.”

Ms. Harris’s background is unique for a vice-presidential candidate. But it’s also a uniquely good example of the forces that helped build the great American middle class.

There are so many ways to pronounce Kamala. The correct one? COMMA-la.


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