Last January I wrote a Fox News op-ed headlined “Here’s why Kamala Harris is my early bet to win the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.” On Tuesday I lost the bet.
A full two months before the first votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses, the senator from California withdrew from the presidential race, joining former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas on the island of dropouts and unfulfilled expectations.
In her parting message, Harris cited a lack of financial resources, saying “I’m not a billionaire” – a not-so-veiled jab at former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and perhaps even her fellow Californian, Tom Steyer.
It is true that campaigns require resources to remain competitive, but running out of money is a symptom – not a cause – of more serious political ailments.
As with any other investor, political donors want to contribute to winning causes. No one wants to throw good money after bad. Donors are attracted to candidates with campaign momentum and a path to victory – and Harris didn’t have either one.
Harris’ withdrawal from the race for the Democratic presidential nomination was not surprising. Not only was she stalled in the polls -- her political demise was telegraphed in major news outlets in campaign obituaries chock full of juicy staff infighting and finger-pointing.
Since her successful campaign launch in January, Harris has struggled to navigate between the choppy lanes of her party’s primary electorate. As a former prosecutor, she was never a natural fit with the far-left Democrats who were drawn to two fellow candidates – Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
At the same time, Harris never made a play for the unabashed support of the Democratic establishment, where former Vice President Joe Biden has placed all his political chips. Harris’ lack of identity was highlighted by her cringe-worthy back-and-forth over the thorny issue of “Medicare-for-all.”
Now questions will shift toward her viability as a vice presidential nominee – a natural next step in the 2020 presidential contest, given California’s 55 Electoral College votes and Harris’ still-formidable political profile. But Harris’ addition to the general election ticket would not allow her party to expand its political map.
The Golden State has not been competitive in general elections of late, and it’s even further out of reach for Republicans in the era of President Trump. Seven sitting Republican House members from California lost their seats last year as the Democrats flipped control of the chamber. The GOP ranks have been so decimated in California that the number of voters of “no party preference” is now greater than the number Republican voters.
But even if she is not the No. 2 on the ticket, there are three reasons we haven’t seen the last of Kamala Harris on the national stage.
First, at the age of 55, she has plenty of time to rehab her political reputation. Voters’ memories are famously short, and today’s loser can reemerge as tomorrow’s winner. Harris’ fellow Californian Richard Nixon is perhaps the greatest success story on that front, going from presidential runner-up to gubernatorial loser to leader of the free world during an eight-year span.
Second, Harris has a lifelong seat in the Senate if she wants it. As a liberal from California, the only electoral threat Harris will face is from her left. The American people may hold Congress in low regard, but it’s an ideal platform for politicians of all stripes to lick their wounds. For Harris, it provides a safe harbor to find the political identity that eluded her this year.
Third, dropping out now not only spares Harris further political embarrassment, it also allows her to focus her attention on the likely impeachment trial of President Trump looming in the Senate.
Skewering Trump appointees in Senate hearings is how Harris first shot to national prominence, and now she gets another chance to attack Trump himself. While her former presidential rivals are battling it out in chilly Iowa and New Hampshire, Harris can feed the flames of impeachment in a way that furthers her own political interest.
Running for office is difficult; winning is even harder. Making accurate political predictions is also challenging – a lesson I learned the hard way from Kamala Harris. Now back to the drawing board – for both of us.