Bankole: Can Kamala Harris beat Trump in 2020?
U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, who made a big splash last week as she entered the 2020 presidential race, seems to be a status-quo Democrat.
From California to Washington, D.C., her biography reads like a carefully orchestrated, take-no-risk political insider. Her background doesn’t reflect the outsider, rail-against-the-system type of candidate the Democrats need to mount a surgical and aggressive campaign against President Donald Trump.
Despite what appeared to be a well-choreographed campaign launch in Oakland, California, with thousands of supporters, Harris did not lay down the gauntlet. In fact, she avoided mentioning Trump by name. How can you not take the fight directly to the president on your official announcement if you are seriously running to unseat him?
Harris’ campaign indicated that she draws her inspiration from the late Shirley Chisholm, the firebrand congresswoman from New York, who was the first woman and African-American to seek a major party presidential nomination in 1972. Chisholm’s campaign slogan “unbought and unbossed” was a reflection of her fierce activism and penchant to call out wrongs in the political system.
“The United States can no longer afford the luxury of costly morally, religiously and ethically wrong racial discrimination," Chisholm said in a 1969 speech at Howard University. "For America needs all of her citizens with their abilities developed to make a fuller contribution to the future.”
She added, “Many problems scream loudly in this country. The thousands of black citizens disenfranchised, living under degrading conditions. The millions of poor in this nation, white and black, who lack the bare rudiments of fruitful living. The rapidly growing numbers of black children caught in a web of disillusionment which destroys their will to learn. The increasing numbers of aged who do not even look forward to retirement.”
Chisholm’s concerns then are even more pressing today. But she did not stop there. She fought hard and called out white male power and privilege in Congress and the enabling Democratic elites. When she was assigned to an agriculture committee, she railed against the appointment because she wanted to be on the Veteran Affairs Committee noting, “There are a lot more veterans in my district than trees.”
By contrast, Harris in my view, has not boldly stood up to the political establishment.
What will be even more troubling for Harris is how she plans to fully explain her mixed record as a former top prosecutor in California, which will come under intense scrutiny as the campaign heads into 2020. She will face a tough challenge in explaining herself to black voters at a time when law enforcement relations with black communities are at their worst because of the string of deaths of blacks that have taken place in their encounters with police officers.
It remains to be seen how a product of the powerful law enforcement fraternity like Harris intends to walk the fine line between pleasing that group, while also seeking to convince those who want an overhaul of the entire criminal justice system to support her.
For Democrats to take on Trump, they need to offer a candidate who is a direct contrast to everything the president represents. In fact, if given the choice between Harris and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, I think Trump would choose to run against Harris. Warren has demonstrated she is unafraid to take the fight to Trump’s doorstep and repeatedly calls out the president by name.
As the field becomes crowded, Democrats have to be careful to not repeat the 2016 mistakes of the Republican Party. Trump is an easy target for every Democratic hopeful. But it will take more than a dream to actually win the White House.
A 2020 ticket that truly represents real change for the roughly 40 million living in poverty and channels the kind of courageous engagement that both U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., are demonstrating is what will make the difference for Democrats.
Playing nice will not win them the White House.
Avoiding mentioning Trump’s name as Harris did will not cut it.
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