By now it is clear that Kamala Harris has had the worst week for a Vice President since Dan Quayle misspelled “potato” and attacked Murphy Brown almost 30 years ago. There are news reports, no doubt aided and abetted by some cagey White House staff, that the White House is “troubled” or even “dismayed” by her poor performance. I’m guessing a lot of Biden’s long-time loyal staff have discovered the unappealing and imperious side of Harris that has been well-known in California for years, reminding me of the line Reaganites used to take about Richard Darman: “Why do people take an instant dislike to Darman? Answer: Saves time.”
There are several theories of the case. The first is that she is just really bad at this, as captured in this Mary Katherine Ham Tweet:
But there are more intriguing possibilities that are not mutually exclusive with this first and simplest explanation. National Review‘s Jim Geraghty wondered yesterday whether Biden’s political team has deliberately set up Harris to fail, as something of an insurance policy for Slow Joe to get to the 2024 nomination. This reminds a bit of the line taken in the Nixon years that Spiro Agnew was Nixon’s best defense against impeachment, though that didn’t work out too well, needless to say.
Here the circumstantial evidence is telling—for its absence. Upon designating Harris as the “border czar” back in March, Biden said she was “the most qualified person to do it,” which is a howler on its face. Now the White House is saying that Harris “lacks to tools” to affect the border situation quickly; hence the nonsense “root causes” blather that accompanied her trip to Guatemala. And about that trip: when the president of Guatemala publicly blames President Biden for the huge flow of migrants, it means there was a total failure of advance diplomatic work ahead of Harris’s trip. That is the kind of direct embarrassment that a competent White House knows how to avoid. Maybe President Ron Klain and “Vice President” Dr. Jill Biden purposely neglected this groundwork?
And more to the point, ever since Vice Presidents started getting assigned specific responsibilities starting probably with V.P George H.W. Bush (whom Reagan delegated running the crisis management process), Dan Quayle (the competitiveness council that studied and reformed regulation), and Al Gore (the “reinventing government” initiative), the projects were given high quality, dedicated staff and a serious portfolio and process to work the issues. There is no sign that Harris’s immigration portfolio has anything comparable to these previous vice presidential initiatives.
Winston Churchill said that the biggest lesson he took from the Dardanelles fiasco of the First World War, when he attempted to direct a supreme war initiative from a subordinate position, is that you should never accept responsibility without full authority. But of course Churchill was a racist, colonialist oppressor and as such not someone Harris would ever pay attention to. And so she twists in the wind.