Donald Trump’s reelection campaign wasted no time in targeting Kamala Harris with scattergun attacks that sought to define her as “the most liberal leftist nominee” ever to run for vice-president.
The US president hurled insults from the bully pulpit of the White House while his campaign released an attack ad within minutes of Democratic rival Joe Biden’s announcement, following up with a media conference call and barrage of emails.
“Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Would Destroy America,” read the stark headline of one. A fundraising email made reference to “Sleepy Joe Biden and Phony Kamala Harris”.
With 77-year-old Biden far from certain to run for a second term, Harris, now his most likely successor, is naturally more of a target than most running mates. But the Trump campaign struggled to reconcile an apparent contradiction: accusing her of being an overzealous criminal prosecutor in the past on the one hand, while suggesting that she and Biden would neglect law and order on the other.
“She is a person that’s told many, many stories that weren’t true,” Trump, who has made more than 20,000 false or misleading claims while in office according to the Washington Post, told reporters at the White House.
Trump – who twice donated to Harris’s campaign for California attorney general – went on to assert, without offering evidence, that she supports raising taxes, “socialised medicine”, slashing funds for the military and putting a stop to fracking.
“She did very, very poorly in the primaries, as you know,” Trump said. Harris dropped out of the Democratic primary race in December, before the first nominating contests were held in Iowa and New Hampshire, saying she did not have funds to continue.
The president went on to call Harris “nasty”, a word he often applied to his opponent Hillary Clinton in 2016, as he recounted her grilling of his supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.
The word came up again as he reflected on the Democratic primary. “She was very, very nasty… she was probably nastier than even Pocahontas to Joe Biden. She was very disrespectful to Joe Biden. And it’s hard to pick somebody that’s that disrespectful.”
It was a reference to the opening primary debate in which Harris challenged Biden over his past opposition to school busing, although she also said, “I do not believe you are a racist,” and he has since made clear he does not hold a grudge.
The Trump campaign appears to have settled on portraying Biden as beholden to the radical left as its least worst strategic option. It quickly folded Harris, the first woman of colour to be named to a major party US presidential ticket, into that narrative – and her voting record in the Senate does place her on the left of her party.
Marsha Blackburn, a Republican senator for Tennessee, told reporters: “This has completed the leftist takeover of the party and of their radical agenda. Kamala Harris will be the most liberal leftist nominee for VP that our country has ever seen. If you want to find proof of where she has moved left, you can start with looking at her support for Bernie Sanders’ health care takeover.”
Blackburn went on to claim that Sanders’ plan would take away private health insurance from millions of Americans and cost $32tn. Harris did imply early in the campaign that she endorsed Sanders’ Medicare for All, but later clarified that she did not favour scrapping private insurance.
Blackburn also cited Harris’s support for the Green New Deal, arguing that it would cost jobs and be hugely expensive. Harris was a supporter and co-sponsor of the original Green New Deal resolution offered by Senator Ed Markey.
The Republican senator added that the number one issue for “suburban women” is security. “What you’re going to see is a lot of ‘security moms’ that are all across this nation who are going to say, ‘You know what? Law and order is important to me and I don’t want a vice president who is out there marching in the streets with the BLM organisation. Law and order is important to me and I do not think felons should be voting while they are in prison.’
“They will look at her record as a DA [district attorney] in San Francisco and say, ‘Security in our communities is important and I don’t want someone who says that they are not going to be tough on hardened criminals’.”
But Trump campaign messaging undercut itself on this topic: it argued that in 2004, DA Harris chose not to seek the death penalty against a gang member who killed a San Francisco police officer, but it also stated she fought to keep inmates locked up in prison so they could be used for cheap labour, “championed” a law to put the parents of truant kids in jail and prosecuted a mentally ill woman who was shot by San Francisco police.
Another Trump campaign email alleged: “Harris has endorsed the far-left’s immigration policies that are tantamount to open borders. Harris supports sanctuary cities.”
The word “tantamount” is open to interpretation. The claim about sanctuary cities included a hyperlink to a New York Times article that was 12 years old.
Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator for South Carolina and Trump ally, took a more measured approach, acknowledging the threat and summing up why Harris will motivate voters on both sides of the partisan divide. “Senator @KamalaHarris will be a formidable opponent,” he tweeted. “She is smart, aggressive, and has fully bought in to the Democratic Party’s very liberal agenda.”