Kamala Harris
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to the media, Tuesday, June 8, 2021, at the Sofitel Mexico City Reforma in Mexico City. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

This week, I learned that if you offer a mundane opinion about Vice President Kamala Harris, what you will get is a firehose of vicious opinions about Vice President Kamala Harris.

On Tuesday—as Harris gave a defensive press conference in Guatemala, the day after she struggled on NBC News to explain why she hasn’t visited the Mexican border since her inauguration —I commented on Twitter, “Mock every Kamala misstep if you want, but in 4-8 years, she will have immensely more experience navigating the most politically tricky issues than anybody else who might run for president.”

To my mind, this was not an observation about Harris, but about the vice presidency. I have made the point in the past that vice presidents, both sitting and former, have a near-perfect record in presidential primaries. Four-to-eight years of national exposure and press scrutiny and what is, in effect, pre-campaigning across the country gives a vice president universal name recognition, robust donor networks, proven loyal supporters and practice handling tough questions on charged subjects.

The Twitter hordes viewed my tweet differently. Based on the evolution of my replies, I suspect the tweet started going viral thanks to the pro-Harris “KHIVE” social media community, which then provoked a legion of Harris haters who follow KHIVE accounts. (As I write this, the post has more than 7,000 likes and 1,000 replies, an unusually high number for one of my tweets which are anything but trolling).

Notably, the anti-Harris comments spanned the ideological spectrum. I can’t analyze every missive, but right-wing Harris critics seem inclined to let me know that Harris will perform a variety of sex acts to become president, while left-wing Harris haters shared that she is a fascist  cop who loves oppressing people of color. And haters of all kinds made the point that Harris must be a terrible politician since she didn’t win any delegates in the 2020 presidential primary—a contest from which she withdrew from before the first ballots were cast.

Of course, attacks on Harris can be found in other places besides my Twitter feed. Fox News’s website blared, “Harris falsely claims ‘we’ve been to the border’ when pressed on lack of visit”—making an issue out of her use of the royal ‘we’ even though she soon awkwardly clarified “and I haven’t been to Europe” either.

Perhaps no vice president in history has been the source of this much controversy, this early in an administration, since 1925, when Charles Dawes tongue-lashed the Senate for abusing the filibuster on the day he was inaugurated, then a few days later, failed to cast a tie-breaking Senate vote because he was napping. (Dawes won the Nobel Peace Prize that year for his work on World War I reparations, which offers more proof that a vice president’s journey can be a long one.)

Did Harris make a gaffe on NBC News? Sure. But the last Democratic vice president made so many gaffes in the first 100 days, CBS’ “60 Minutes” did a segment about it—a charitable segment in which Biden was interviewed and charmingly self-deprecating: “much of the ridiculing of me is well-deserved.” Biden’s reputation of being a “gaffe machine” became an endearing quality that helped him overcome a multitude of incidents on the 2020 campaign trail.

Today, Biden certainly receives his share of  Harris-like social media attacks, such as being called a senile pedophile. Nevertheless, as a woman of color, Harris suffers from a double standard; few treat any gaffe of hers as evidence she’s refreshingly unscripted. But it is also true that the intensity of the attacks stems from the political threat that Kamala poses to some on the left and everyone on the right.

Having run for president once already, she is expected to run again either in 2024 or 2028. The Biden administration appears to be doing everything it can to elevate her stature and help her cause. Republicans, true to form, want to poison Harris’s narrative now. They don’t want her to become a widely liked, hard to smear, political elder like Joe Biden. They want her to be perceived as a polarizing, electorally risky, political opportunist like Hillary Clinton—and they’ll weaponize her race, gender, and parents’ immigration to make their case.

At the same time, elements of the Democratic Party’s left flank have long worried Harris would box out a populist-socialist successor to Biden. During the vice presidential selection, Harris’ leftist critics peddled the perception she had weak support among the Democratic base, hoping to thwart her nomination. The overwhelmingly positive response to her placement on the ticket ended up marginalizing the naysayers. Yet her social media critics are undeterred. This includes Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a potential future presidential rival and a de facto leader of the party’s democratic socialist faction, who on Twitter this week scolded Harris for echoing Biden when she told Guatemalan asylum seekers “don’t come” to the United States.

If Harris’ detractors are confined to Republicans and far left tweeters, then she doesn’t have a big political problem. But if a broader ideological swath of Democrats, who may be as attuned in 2024 as they were in 2020 on finding an Electoral College-friendly candidate, are influenced by the ferocious attacks against Harris, they may come to believe she’s unelectable. That would attract more Democrats to challenge her for the presidential nomination. This is why the Twitter mob is eager to remind Democrats about Harris’ ill-fated presidential campaign. Never mind that Joe Biden had two ill-fated presidential campaigns before he finally won on the third try.

Harris is not entitled to succeed Biden. She will have to earn her party nomination and general election victory. As indicated in my tweet, being roughed up now gives her a head start. But that head start also means the 2024 campaign—and the campaign attacks not just on Twitter but in the real world—have effectively begun as well.

Bill Scher

Bill Scher is political writer at the Washington Monthly. He is the host of the history podcast When America Worked and the cohost of the bipartisan online show and podcast The DMZ. Follow Bill on Twitter @BillScher.