Politics

Kamala Harris’s Campaign Meltdown and Her VP Chances

Harris aides weren’t just worse than those from other campaigns in fighting with one another in public—they were much, much worse. Harris’s sister and top adviser, Maya Harris, was known to be fighting with the campaign manager. The campaign manager was known to be fighting with other aides. The aides were known to be fighting with the outside consultants. Things got so bad, staffers joked that even the security guard knew how deeply their problems ran—which the security guard could easily have learned simply by reading the internet. (Even before Kamala Harris dropped out, rivals, along with people inside the campaign, were aghast at what they were seeing, especially when The New York Times found 50 people from the campaign to dish on one another.) Aides I talked with would tell me how terrible the dynamic was in one breath and then slam someone else on the team in the next. It was as if they were dousing themselves in gasoline and wondering how they kept catching fire.

Along the way, Harris left the impression that she was either unaware of what was happening or unable to stop it.

“When a campaign ends, there is always time for reflection, but dragging each other through the mud doesn’t help,” an aide to a different candidate told me. “Staff trashing each other just looks like you can’t manage your own staff.”

Many top aides on other campaigns told me that they would be leery of working with staffers so willing to sell out one another. “It’s clear to a casual observer that her campaign didn’t do her any favors, and there are certain elements that would need to be gotten under control,” a person who regularly speaks with Joe Biden told me.

Still, Harris could bring a lot to a candidate like Biden, whose candidacy would derive obvious ticket-balancing benefits from her. Indeed, that same Biden confidant said that her staff melodrama “shouldn’t take away from what a strong, talented candidate she was.”

The advantages Harris could bring to a Democratic ticket might overwhelm the concerns about her organization’s dysfunction— particularly if the nominee is Biden, Pete Buttigieg, or Michael Bloomberg. Though she went after both Biden and Buttigieg at times during her campaign, she might gamble that endorsing whichever of them seems the most viable before the California primary on Super Tuesday (March 3) could enhance her odds of becoming the running mate. She seems less likely to endorse Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, whose politics she disagrees with.

An additional factor to consider for anyone contemplating making Harris their running mate is that she’s young enough and ambitious enough to think about running for president again—meaning that she might not always be trusted to subordinate her own political agenda to the president’s, if elected. This was the dynamic that existed between Bill Clinton and Al Gore: The West Wing was always suspicious that the vice president was acting primarily in his own long-term political interests, rather than in the president’s. Hillary Clinton sought to avoid this problem in 2016 by selecting as her running mate Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, whom she believed she could count on to be a team player.


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