As they vie for voter recognition, Republican contenders in the presidential race are directing their focus toward Vice President Kamala Harris, shifting their attention away from President Joe Biden. Through statements, public addresses, TV appearances, and digital communications, they propose that endorsing Biden, who would be 82 upon his next term’s commencement, could effectively translate into endorsing a potentially more uncertain and hazardous administration led by the 22-years-younger Harris.
GOP presidential contenders are intensifying their focus on Vice President Kamala Harris over President Joe Biden, using statements, speeches, televised interviews, & emails to emphasize the potential risks of her ascending to the presidency.#KamalaHarris #BidenHarris2024 #Biden pic.twitter.com/0fvydxSgKC
— News Live (@NewsLiveFree) August 7, 2023
Republican Candidates Target Kamala Harris
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis engaged in a heated exchange with Vice President Kamala Harris over the state’s new Black history curriculum. The clash intensified after Harris criticized the curriculum as “external propaganda” targeting children. DeSantis invited Harris to a debate in Florida, but she declined, highlighting the eagerness of candidates like DeSantis to distinguish themselves not just from each other of President Biden but also from Harris.
Harris has been campaigning on issues where Republicans and Democrats have little common ground, like abortion rights. Meanwhile, the entire GOP field attended the Lincoln Day Dinner in Des Moines on the same day she traveled to discuss abortion rights, showcasing the sharp contrasts in their priorities.
Aiming for an opposing campaign’s vice-presidential pick is not uncommon. In past elections, candidates have targeted vice-presidential nominees to shape public perception. For instance, the George W. Bush campaign portrayed then-Senator John Edwards as a policy lightweight in 2004, while in 2008, Senator John McCain ridiculed Joe Biden as “Joe the Biden” in stump speeches. Similarly, Republicans now raise concerns about Harris being just one step away from the presidency; a narrative Democrats used against Sarah Palin when she was McCain’s running mate.
Harris as a Focus of Republican Criticism
Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley expressed her disapproval of a potential Harris presidency, stating on Fox News that “Anyone is better than President Kamala Harris. Anyone.” This sentiment reflects the growing focus on Harris as a target for GOP candidates eager to differentiate themselves in the race.
Halley was asked if she meant Biden, but she clarified that she believes it’s President Harris.” She stated that a vote for Biden is essentially a vote for Harris. Similarly, during a June event in Georgia, Ron DeSantis portrayed the possibility of a Harris presidency as worse than a second Biden term. He emphasized the need to run and deliver, fearing that if they didn’t, Biden might get reelected, leading to Harris becoming president.
Harris’s Potential Presidency Fuels GOP Criticism
During an April town hall in New Hampshire, Chris Christie took it a step further, connecting voting for Trump to the possibility of Harris becoming president. He warned that if Trump becomes the nominee in 2024, Biden, at 83 years old, will be the president in 2025, and if not, it’s highly likely that Harris will assume the role. Christie stated that a vote for Trump essentially translates to a vote for Harris.
According to Mike DuHaime, a top Republican strategist advising Christie’s presidential campaign, the core reason behind these attacks is the prospect of Harris becoming president. He noted that most vice presidents are not popular with the opposing party. However, what’s different now is that people perceive a more legitimate chance of Harris ascending to the presidency than previous vice presidents.
Additionally, these attacks coincide with the president and vice president facing low approval ratings. An SSRS/CNN poll conducted in July revealed that Harris’s approval numbers were underwater, with 57% disapproving and 42% approving of her. Interestingly, the same poll found Biden’s approval numbers in nearly identical territory, with 55% disapproving and 44% approving. Republican strategist Alex Conant pointed out that there’s a minimal political cost in attacking Harris, especially as she aims to raise her profile.
Democrats and Republicans Clash over Harris
Democrats dismiss these attacks as a ploy to energize the Republican primary voters. Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher stated that it’s a classic strategy to use Harris as a strawman or boogieman, given who she is and what she represents. Being against a prominent symbol of diversity and feminist power becomes an easy campaign target.
The White House and Biden’s campaign refrained from commenting on the matter. Meanwhile, Harris has adjusted her approach, as evident from her recent exchange with DeSantis. According to CNN, the White House and the campaign are looking to capitalize on countering what they perceive as Republican extremist attacks on personal freedoms and rights. Harris vowed not to back down against so-called extremist leaders who seek to hinder teaching accurate and comprehensive history to children.
Republican Criticism Targets Harris’s Policy Portfolio
Harris’ Republican detractors often highlight what they perceive as her mishandling of the immigration and US-Mexico border issue, a significant concern for Republican voters. They also point out her making unforced errors, such as visiting West Virginia without informing Senator Joe Manchin or misspeaking about population reduction to combat climate change.
According to Gail Gitcho, a Republican strategist, GOP candidates with strong messages use Harris as a focal point to critique Biden due to her controversial statements like “the border is secure.” Gitcho compares this strategy to how Democrats targeted Dan Quayle and Sarah Palin. Notably, former President Donald Trump, a leading GOP candidate, has focused more on Biden and DeSantis during the primary campaign. However, if Trump secures the nomination, his criticism is also expected to encompass Harris.