Handicapping the 2020 Democratic Primary, Part One: Kamala Harris

The year 2016 is never going to end. While the Republican Party owns every level of government — from Congress, to the Senate, to the White House — the Democratic Party remains in complete disarray. The same ideological battle that was fought between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Dem Primary continues on to this day, with no apparent end in sight, and will continue in 2020. 

The field of 2020 Democratic candidates is going to be enormous, potentially featuring from the jump as many as 15 or 20 warm bodies. In reality, though, the race will only involve two individuals: the establishment-backed, corporate-friendly candidate, and the Progressive candidate. No one else matters. The only questions are (1) who will be the establishment choice, and (2) who will be the Progressive choice?

Here are the current odds, listed in order of likelihood, according to 5dimes:

Kamala Harris: +600
Joe Biden: +600
Bernie Sanders: +700
Elizabeth Warren: +800
Oprah Winfrey: +1500
Kirsten Gillibrand: +1600
Cory Booker: +2200

Part One: Kamala Harris (6 to 1)

I wrote about Harris — a Democratic Senator from California — last August, in what is easily my most trafficked blog post from the last year. In it I referenced how, as Attorney General, she refused to prosecute Trump’s Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, for the thousand violations he committed as head of One West Bank, and how that may or may not (wink, wink) be related to the fact that Mnuchin donated to her senate bid.

Kamala Harris is, I won’t deny, the ideal face to run against someone like Donald Trump. I suppose that has something to do with why bookmakers consider her the favorite to win the Democratic Primary in 2020. She is a woman, which is nice, and she’s black, which is very nice, particularly if all you care about is Identity Politics. In a snapshot, she seems to represent what the Party is most interested in: putting a nice face on 20 years worth of bad policies.

If I was a fair guy — which clearly I’m not — I would find a willingness to give Kamala a chance. After all she’s fairly young, 53, and hasn’t yet put in a lot of service as Senator. There is reason to believe she can make up for her boneheaded decision not to prosecute Mnuchin, and for her monstrous statement about cheap prison labor in 2014. She has the ability to grow and, like anybody, better herself by learning from her mistakes.

For what it’s worth, Kamala Harris has for the better part of the past year been saying all the right things. Just a couple weeks after I scolded her on The Even Odds Blog, Harris co-sponsored Bernie Sanders’ Medicare For All bill. In April she said she would no longer accept corporate PAC money, which was one of the driving forces behind Bernie’s surge in popularity when he ran in 2016 against Hillary Clinton, the most corporate-backed candidate in the history of American politics. And last month Harris was, as the Huffington Post put it, “the most prominent elected Democrat to endorse sweeping change to [ICE].”

These are all very good things. They are the correct positions to hold. What voters have to decide is this: Are her policy proposals genuine, or is Kamala Harris simply playing politics and positioning herself for an inevitable clash against Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren?

For the latter question, I will remain skeptical. But I’ll get to that in a minute. To me what’s most funny is that in 2016 Hillary and her surrogates all over the news made a huge deal about the ideas Bernie Sanders put on the table. Most famously, Clinton herself described it as him offering the country a “pony,” and enthusiastically declaring that “single-payer will never, ever come to pass.” But now, just two years after the heated primary, perhaps the Democratic Party’s leading presidential candidate is running on a platform that both (a) doesn’t accept PAC money, and (b) publicly supports Medicare For All. Say what you want about ponies, but Bernie has unquestionably moved the Democrats to the left.

Still, I can’t shake my skepticism. After all, Kamala Harris is like two seconds removed from being a darling for Wall Street and the Private Prison Industry. Her Senate victory was funded by campaign donations from corporations, not the lowly contributions of the working class. Her ostensibly populist platform is almost entirely new to her, rather than something engrained in the years she built up her political clout.

Even when she came out in support of Medicare For All, it wasn’t with the type of fire and brimstone that the issue warrants. I challenge you to judge it for yourself, and not just take my word for it, because from my perspective it almost comes across like a big joke. Barack Obama said a lot of nice things on the campaign trail, but when he was in office the first two years — a time he possessed a supermajority in the House and had a filibuster-proof Senate — he didn’t do any of the popular things he campaigned for.

That’s kind of where I’m at with Kamala Harris. Since the establishment floated her as a potential dark horse to be the Democratic nominee in 2020, she has said and done all the right things. By supporting Medicare For All and declaring she won’t accept any PAC money, she effectively eliminates two of the biggest Progressive head-to-head strengths.

As we have seen with Barack Obama, and most recently President Trump, campaigning and governing are two totally different things. In fact, the ineptitude of the Obama years was in large part responsible for why Trump got elected in the first place. Now that Trump is in office, and all he has really accomplished is giving tax breaks to the rich — in the meantime neglecting the working class that he feigned to care about on the campaign trail — it stands to reason that voters will again realize they have been hoodwinked.

All we can go on with Harris is her track record, and her track record suggests that her integrity is compromised. Some may try to argue that I am being a “purist” for caring about her past follies. Others will claim I am either racist, sexist, or both, being that I am being critical of a black woman. These are the same errant attacks that have been levied against leftists since the night Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump.

Before the horse race gets going, I do predict that, if Harris does indeed decide to run, she will be one of the two finalists. She will take on either Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren for the right to duke it out with Trump in the general election. Even in spite of her mistakes in judgement, she carries significantly less baggage than the two other corporate-friendly candidates — Cory Booker and Kirstin Gillibrand — and so her lack of a track record may in fact turn out to be one of her biggest strengths.

Again everything comes back to the question I posed before, and I’ll let it go after that: Is she a real champion of workers, or is she just speaking the language, without any sincere desire to accomplish any of the things she claims she’s for? That’s all this comes down to.

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