Mike Pence fretting as Kamala Harris shakes up Republicans

America Letter: Incoherent nature of attacks on Biden’s running mate highlight her threat

It took less than an hour for the smear attacks to begin.

Shortly after Kamala Harris was named as Joe Biden's running mate this week, the Trump campaign revealed a new election ad. "Slow Joe and Phony Kamala – perfect together, wrong for America," an ominous voice intones over sinister music.

Breitbart News, the right-wing website once led by former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, ran an article under the headline: "Kamala Harris 'Ringleader of the Anti-Catholic Bullying' in Democrat Party."

On Twitter, a well-known right-wing commentator claimed that Harris's ancestor Hamilton Brown once owned seven plantations and 200 slaves in Jamaica.


Bill O’Reilly, still a hugely popular figure among conservatives despite being fired from Fox News over sexual harassment claims, reminded subscribers on his No Spin News website that Harris had spoken about helping transgender prisoners obtain gender realignment surgery.

American presidential campaigns can be famously acrimonious, oiled by the enormous sums of money involved – Biden’s campaign raised $64 million in June alone, while Trump raised $55 million, adding to his enormous cash pile.

The media environment and hyper-partisanship of American politics also breeds another element. The US’s most-watched cable news channel in the evenings, Fox News, has been feeding its viewers a diet of anti-Harris opinion this week.

But the incoherent nature of the criticisms of Harris and the scattergun approach of the media attacks against her underscores a difficulty for the Trump campaign. No single line of attack has yet taken hold, as Harris’s critics try unsuccessfully to denigrate her.

While Republicans may have wanted a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren type figure to rail against, they instead got a candidate whom many Democrats believe is too centrist.

Her record on police reform disappointed many Democrats on the left, who believe that a black Asian-American should have done more to tackle systemic racism in the police force and take up progressive causes such as abolishing the death penalty when she was California’s top justice official.

Flip-flopping truth

The mixed signals emanating from the Trump campaign do contain some grains of truth. Harris has seemed to flip-flop on issues throughout her career – raising her hand to support Medicare for All during an early Democratic debate, for example, but then rowing back on that position.

The impression that Harris was a candidate lacking a core philosophical position or policy priority was one reason why her own presidential campaign ended before the primaries began.

What is clear is that Harris has moved further to the left since she joined the Senate in 2017 and left her career in Californian law enforcement behind. She is rated as one of the most liberal senators by groups that track the voting record of members of Congress.

As a result, there will be enough fodder for conservatives to paint her as a cheerleader for the “radical left” as the campaign intensifies.

But worryingly for Republicans, her natural charisma, strength as a debater and personal story are likely to be a major boost for the Democratic Party and have already energised the campaign of 77-year-old Biden. A Morning Consult/Politico poll this week showed that almost half of Republicans are worried that Harris will hurt Trump's chances in November.

Pence debate

Among those who are likely to be most troubled is vice-president Mike Pence. He is scheduled to debate Harris on October 7th at the University of Utah.

Though Pence is not to be underestimated – he has managed to stay above the constant chaos and tensions of the Trump administration – he meets a formidable opponent in Harris, whose career as a prosecutor primes her for a live debate situation.

In a speech to farmers in Iowa on Thursday, Pence hit out at Harris’s past comments on meat consumption and climate change.

"Senator Kamala Harris said she would change the dietary guidelines of this country to reduce the amount of red meat Americans could eat. Well I've got some red meat for you. We're not going to let Joe Biden and Kamala Harris cut America's meat!" he said to cheers.

Pence may be hoping that Trump doesn't use him as red meat himself. Though it is unlikely at this point that he would be dropped from the ticket, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, herself an Indian-American woman, would be a formidable foil for Trump.

But with the arrival of Harris into the race, the months ahead will be among the most challenging of Pence’s career as he seeks another four years as vice-president.