What if your biggest success also ended up being your biggest failure?
For many of us, that’s the kind of philosophical question best left to debate within a college classroom. However, there is one person who understands the answer better than anyone else: Kamala Harris.
She has had the kind of political career that many would kill to have. At the same time, even her biggest triumphs are marred with scandal, and now that she is at the apex of her career as vice president, she seems to be less politically important than ever before.
How did Kamala Harris simultaneously achieve her wildest political dreams and possibly destroy her career? Keep reading to find out!
A meteoric rise in politics
Whether you love her or hate her, it’s impossible to discuss Kamala Harris without diving into the fact that she has had an impressive career. More than impressive, really: once upon a time, she was merely a lawyer in San Francisco. But she soon became the state’s District Attorney, using that position to pivot and become the Attorney General of California. From there, she successfully entered the Senate and now serves as Vice President of the United States.
It’s the kind of resume most politicians dream of, but Harris and her meteoric career rise have often been plagued by scandals and controversy. For example, before she became the District Attorney of San Francisco, Reuters reports that she dated Willie Brown, a man who would serve in such major political positions as Mayor of San Franciso and Speaker of the California State Assembly. Notably, Brown was more than twice her age (he was 60 and she was 29) and still married when they began dating.
There were extenuating circumstances, including the fact that Brown had been estranged from his wife for over a decade and they were separated when he and Harris began dating. Still, many viewed Harris’ willingness to get into a relationship with an elderly married man who just happened to have powerful political connections as her cynical attempt to rise to the top using any means necessary.
Failed presidential ambitions
Kamala Harris became a Senator in 2017. For many politicians, this is as high in office as they ever get, and as high as many of them want to go. After all, Senate appointments are long, it’s easy to get re-elected, and even easier to make a fortune while you serve.
Harris had bigger ambitions, though, wanting to become President of the United States. To do that, she had to emerge victorious in a crowded field of competitors that included Bernie Sanders and, of course, Joe Biden. This was a failed idea from the start due to things like bad financial management: as CNN reports, after making a big deal about digital ads ahead of the Iowa Caucus, Harris’ campaign had less than $10,000 to devote to the ad campaign. They ended up shuttering the digital ads entirely, which was an early warning about Harris shuttering her own presidential ambitions.
It was still pretty grim when she withdrew her name, though, with one ex-staffer admitting she pulled out ahead of the California vote because coming in fifth in her own state would have hurt her political career in a way she might not be able to recover from.
An opportunity pick for Vice President
How, then, did Kamala Harris go from a failed presidential bid to becoming Vice President? It all comes down to Joe Biden and some of the challenges he faced during his own campaign.
While Biden was doing better than Kamala Harris, he faced stiff competition, especially from Bernie Sanders. Deciding to roll the dice in a big way, Biden and his campaign decided to throw the majority of their funding and energy behind the upcoming vote in South Carolina.
Winning in South Carolina meant winning the Black vote, so Biden wisely sought the endorsement of Senator and Civil Rights hero James Clyburn. As NBC News reports, Clyburn provided not only the endorsement but also suggestions for Biden to win voters over by pledging to put a Black woman on the Supreme Court. Biden not only did that, but he eventually went a step further: at Clyburn’s later suggestion, he picked Kamala Harris, a Black woman, as his presidential running mate.
A strange working relationship with Joe Biden
Biden choosing Kamala Harris as Vice President seemed a bit cynical from the very beginning. After all, she had thrown some vicious attacks his way during earlier debates. As Newsweek reports, she made claims about Biden opposing the busing of Black children to integrated schools and called out Biden’s support for two former segregationist Senators as recently as 2019, leaving a flustered Biden to clarify that he “did not praise racists.”
Still, Biden needed Harris to secure the Black vote during the presidential election, and it worked: he and Harris ended up in the White House as planned. However, the two seem to have a weird working relationship. Rather than publicly appearing together very often, Biden often sends Harris out to tackle very difficult issues (including, as the AP reports, immigration and border challenges).
Because of that, there is a growing belief that Biden is deliberately sabotaging the support and goodwill Harris has among voters by giving her tasks that are nearly impossible to solve. Why would he do this? In the eyes of some, he is trying to make sure she can’t successfully run for president in 2024 or beyond.
An increasingly bizarre public persona
Biden’s alleged attempts to sabotage the political career of Kamala Harris wouldn’t matter if she was a charismatic woman of the people. It’s one of the reasons that conservative attacks on Barack Obama never really worked: Obama is just as skilled at working a room in person as he is in appearing persuasive and appealing on television, and he is generally liked well enough that attempts to besmirch his reputation (like, by focusing on him wearing a tan suit one time or enjoying fancy mustard) just come across as silly.
And then there’s Kamala Harris. Simply put, she lacks the native charisma Obama has, and on top of that, she keeps sabotaging herself in her (increasingly rare) public appearances. This mostly comes in the form of nervous laughter which, as 1945 reports, sometimes scares people. For example, when discussing the need for more Black female politicians at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, she began giggling after saying there’s “still work to be done.” At other times, she has burst into this giggle when discussing Ukrainian refugees and other things that are, frankly, no laughing matter.
When she’s not doing the nervous giggle, Kamla Harris typically descends into nonsensical word salad during public speeches. This, then, is how a political career ends: Joe Biden is underusing Kamala Harris even as her official speeches and actions as Vice President ensure she will likely never become President herself. And somehow, we’ve got a feeling that’s the one grim truth she won’t inexplicably giggle about.