Joseph R. Biden has long reigned as the Gaffe King, but his newly minted running mate, Sen. Kamala D. Harris, threatens to seize that title.
Ms. Harris’ giddy gait on the campaign trail sank her run for the Democratic presidential nomination in less than a year, sapping every bounce in the polls and ultimately forcing her out of the race before the first voters were cast.
And yet, Mr. Biden, 77, the presumptive Democratic nominee, selected the junior senator from California to add some sparkle to the 2020 ticket.
She has fumbled boasts about her youthful smoking of marijuana, muffed calls for the far-left Medicare for All government-run healthcare and botched her response to criticism of her law-and-order record as the San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general.
Her gaffes, however, are of a different stripe than the misstatements and offensive remarks from Mr. Biden, who appears unknowingly to stumble into his mistakes.
“When Harris makes an error it is through hard-nosed calculation or miscalculation of the political benefit it will bring her,” said Richard E. Vatz, a scholar of political rhetoric at Towson University in Maryland.
“Unlike Biden, she is rarely if ever confused but is prone to misjudgment in her calculations,” he said. “Harris never has any doubt what she means when she makes a point, but if she appears to offend her constituents she will reliably backtrack to a politically expedient position.”
Less than a month after joining the Democratic presidential race in early 2019, Ms. Harris managed to not only step on her message but also rankle her father.
In an interview with Charlamagne Tha God’s New York-based radio show, The Breakfast Club, Ms. Harris, 55, joked about her experiences smoking marijuana, an exchange that appeared aimed at connecting with the program’s young, hip audience.
“Half my family’s from Jamaica. Are you kidding me?” joked Ms. Harris, whose father is Jamaican and late mother was Indian.
Soon after, the news cycle was dominated by a rebuke by her father, Donald Harris.
“My dear departed grandmothers as well as my deceased parents, must be turning in their grave right now to see their family’s name, reputation and proud Jamaican identity being connected, in any way, jokingly or not with the fraudulent stereotype of a pot-smoking joy seeker and in the pursuit of identity politics,” he wrote in an open letter.
During that same February radio interview, Ms. Harris also recounted how she listened to rap legends Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dogg while puffing marijuana in college.
She was mocked when her critics pointed out that the first album featuring Tupac was released in the early 1990s but Ms. Harris graduated from Howard University in 1986.
Charlamagne defended Ms. Harris after the interview, saying she was asked two questions at once and was trying to answer what she listened to just generally.
By June 2019, Ms. Harris had hit a rough patch trying to stake out her position in the health care debate.
In one debate that month, only democratic socialist Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont and Ms. Harris raised their hands when the 10 candidates on stage were asked who favored abolishing private health care for a government-run plan.
After blowback, Ms. Harris clarified that she thought it was a personal question about her own insurance. But she went back and forth on the issue until she rolled out a plan in July that left private insurance intact.
Ms. Harris’ flagging run surged in the polls after her show-stopping debate attack on Mr. Biden. She hammered the former Delaware senator for his record of opposing forced busing policies to public schools.
“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me,” said Ms. Harris, catching Mr. Biden off guard and arguably scoring a debate win.
However, as with her Medicare for All stumble, Ms. Harris struggled post-debate to carve out how her stance on busing was different than Mr. Biden’s, saying schools should do “whatever they need to” to maintain integration.
Her numbers dipped again.
At a July debate, Hawaii Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard — who had virtually no support in the polls — hit Ms. Harris hard on her record as attorney general, arguing she wasn’t the progressive candidate she claimed to be.
After failing to mount a forceful defense, however, it was Ms. Harris’ post-debate comments for which she was ridiculed.
“This is going to sound immodest, but obviously I’m a top-tier candidate and so I did expect that I’d be on the stage and take some hits tonight,” Ms. Harris said. “When people are at 0 or 1% or whatever she might be at, so I did expect to take some hits tonight.”