California Sen. Kamala Harris’ seems willing to do anything she thinks might help claw her way back into the top tier of Democratic presidential wannabes. This was on full display recently in South Carolina.
To demonstrate her progressive bone fides, the good senator bailed out of a criminal justice reform program at historically black Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina. Rather than share her perspectives as former California attorney general on what could be her signature issue, she protested that a sponsor of the program, the 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Center, presented its Bipartisan Justice Award to President Trump for his role in passage of the First Step Act last year. The legislation won wide support from the left and right in and out of Congress and was the most significant criminal justice reform measure to be enacted in decades.
Ms. Harris happily accepted the very same award from the same sponsor as attorney general of California. She voted for the First Step Act in the Senate and claims to seek passage of more far sweeping reforms which she knows will never be enacted without the very bipartisan support of the likes of Donald Trump. The conference focused on criminal justice reform as it affects the black community, and she finally agreed to appear on the condition that the offending co-sponsor be dropped.
A few months ago, even as former Vice President Joe Biden had a clear lead in the polls, many were betting that Ms. Harris was the wannabe most likely to take him down. They were wrong.
Ms. Harris is articulate, began the race without the extreme ideological baggage that many thought could cripple Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and has a record not just as a legislator, but as a prosecutor. She was elected and re-elected in the nation’s largest state where she seemed to enjoy a fundraising and organizational edge over the competition.
What’s more, in 2020 California has scheduled an early primary. A candidate with an advantage in California might well be in a position to run the table in later primaries, secure the nomination early and begin to prepare to take on the hated Donald Trump next fall.
Ms. Harris looked strong taking on Mr. Biden emerging from the first Democratic primary debate as the clear winner. Her performances since have revealed a mean streak in a candidate who may appear far too calculating for most Democratic primary voters.
Ms. Harris has trouble answering questions about the details of proposals she has embraced and has changed her positions on many issues, including on various criminal justice reform proposals favored by the dominant progressive left in her party. As on other issues, she squirms. Ms. Harris denounced Mr. Trump’s support of criminal justice reform as insincere, hypocritical and inconsistent with his past record. She, on the other hand, claimed that “My whole life I’ve fought for justice and for the people — something you’d know nothing about.”
In the second primary debate, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard had already begun punching holes in this claim and opened the flood gates as reporters and others began to examine a past record that demonstrated that she may have the same shortcomings she attributes to the president.
In examining that record a few months ago, analysts as left of center as VOX concluded that on criminal justice issues Ms. Harris’ “record is truly mixed.” They noted that as California attorney general Ms. Harris had, among other things, attempted to prevent the release from prison of a man who had been wrongly convicted and later exonerated by evidence uncovered by The Innocence Project. Politifact California reached the same conclusion.
Ms. Harris’ fellow progressive, Lara Bazelon, former director of the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent, wrote in The New York Times that “Time after time, when progressives urged her to embrace criminal justice reforms as a district attorney and then the state’s attorney general, Ms. Harris opposed them or stayed silent.”
Ms. Harris is “progressive,” but she’s clearly also an incredibly ambitious politician who rarely hesitates to paint herself as a champion of all that is good or that will appeal to the voters she’s courting. Her shenanigans in South Carolina last week simply demonstrated her willingness to pander. She and her campaign advisers no doubt hoped that by refusing to credit the president for a historic, bipartisan accomplishment that she supported, she’ll gain support on the left, divert future questions about her own past record and pick up the support she’s frittered away over the course of her campaign.
It’s no wonder Ms. Harris is at 2 percent or less, according to at least one poll.
• David A. Keene is a writer at large for The Washington Times.