The big news last week was Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris to be his vice presidential running mate. But whether the California Senator will help Biden or President Trump more remains to be seen.
Public opinion polls consistently show Biden running ahead nationwide, as well as in the battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, which were key to Trump’s upset victory in 2016. But the polls also show that while Biden has more supporters than Trump, Trump’s supporters are more enthusiastic about their candidate than Biden’s supporters are about Biden. For example, according to Pew Research, Biden commands the support of 53% of America’s registered voters, while only 45% support Trump. Yet only 46% of Biden’s supporters “strongly” support him, while Trump commands the strong support of 66% of his following.
The “enthusiasm gap” could make a difference. To say one supports a candidate is meaningless unless one actually votes. And the more strongly someone supports a candidate, the more likely he or she is to actually go to the polls and vote. It’s likely a greater percentage of Trump’s supporters will actually vote for him, and this could tilt a close election in his favor. Here’s where Kamala Harris will do the most good for Biden.
In 2016 Hillary Clinton lost the battleground states, and hence the presidency, at least in part because voters in general, and African Americans in particular, supported her less enthusiastically than they had supported Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. In 2012, almost two thirds of African American voters went to the polls to overwhelmingly support him. In 2016, Hillary Clinton was the overwhelming favorite of African Americans as well (she won 85% of African American voters in Texas). But they voted in smaller numbers. African American turnout fell from 66% to 59%. Had Democrats in general, and African Americans in particular, supported Clinton, especially in the battleground states, as enthusiastically as they supported Obama, she would have won their electoral votes, as Obama did in both 2008 and 2012 and thereby won the presidency. But they didn’t, and so she didn’t.
However, Kamala Harris may well change this. As the first African American woman to be on a major party presidential ticket, she may well gin up enough enthusiasm among African Americans to get more of them to the polls, where no doubt they’ll vote for the Biden-Harris ticket. This may well enable the Democrats to win back the battleground states, and hence the White House.
But Harris may also strengthen the already potent enthusiasm of Republicans for Trump as well. Not forgotten are her efforts, along with those of other Democratic Senators, to block Trump’s efforts to appoint more conservative Republicans to the federal judicial branch.
It should be recalled, for example, that Harris and her allies used unfounded, unprovable, and in some instances, false tactics to try to destroy Brent Kavanaugh, accusing him of various sexual perversions, including rape, attempted rape, and exposure of his private parts to women. Since this travesty two years ago, several women who cried rape have admitted either that they lied or that they no longer remembered any encounters with him. One woman who said Kavanaugh exposed himself to her admitted she may have been too drunk to really remember, and a second woman has flatly denied any recollection of him. The woman cited by Christine Blasey Ford as a witness to Kavanaugh’s alleged attempted sexual assault on her claims no recollection of the alleged incident, has said she doubts it ever happened, and has expressed resentment at pressure brought by Ford’s allies to testify otherwise. Ford’s father supported Kavanaugh’s nomination. Ford’s attorney has admitted that Ford was motivated party to discredit Kavanaugh as a possible pro-life Supreme Court Justice. Yet Harris has never apologized for her role in the Kavanaugh smear campaign (in fairness to her, it must be noted that neither Senate Republicans nor Justice Department officials have ever seriously pursued the possibility of punishing Kavanaugh’s accusers for lying to federal investigators—shame on them).
Not only have Harris and her allies used character assassination, but they’ve tried to stir up religious bigotry as well. They’ve tried to show that Trump appointees who are practicing Roman Catholics are unfit for judgeships—again, without apology (and lest anyone claim that the GOP used dirty tricks to keep Merrick Garland off the Supreme Court, it should be remembered that Mitch McConnell, to run out the clock in 2016, refused to allow Garland a hearing and a vote, but neither character assassination nor bigotry of any sort was employed as a tactic to deny Garland confirmation, and the whole idea of denying confirmation to a Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year was Joe Biden’s anyway).
Republicans will have plenty of other reasons to enthusiastically try to block the election of Biden and Harris. No doubt a major line of attack will be on her record of supporting budget-busting Democratic approaches to Medicare, the environment, student loan forgiveness, etc., all to be paid for with higher taxes and more debt.
So if the nomination of Kamala Harris for Vice President increases the Democrats’ heightened enthusiasm to support the Biden-Harris ticket, her nomination may also increase the Republicans’ enthusiasm to defeat it. Who will come out on top remains to be seen. But one thing’s certain—Harris will bring more excitement to the 2020 presidential election, no matter which side her presence most benefits.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.