Hours after Vice President Kamala Harris stopped at NBC News anchor Lester Holt last month in an interview in Guatemala, she was still showing signs of exasperation as she wondered why she wasn’t also going to the US-Mexico border in its role in dealing with waves of migrants to the United States
“Listen,” she said with animation to the journalists who had accompanied her. “I’ve been to the border before. I will go back there. But when I’m in Guatemala … I think we should have a conversation about what’s going on in Guatemala.
It was the kind of moment that even has supporters questioning her political acumen – highlighting why Harris, nearly six months into her tenure as historic vice president, is consistently behind in the polls compared to to President Biden, has failed to secure the same honeymoon with voters, attracts more critical media coverage, and is a bigger target for Republicans.
“Just in terms of public content, it hasn’t been six stellar months,” said David Axelrod, former senior White House and campaign adviser to President Obama.
“You have limited opportunities to play the star actor,” he added. “Most of the time you play a supporting role. So if something goes wrong during these limited opportunities, they get magnified. “
Harris did make it to the border last week, but controversy over her possible visit has brought water to Democrats who see her struggling in the face of attacks from Republicans.
That Harris’s public support is lower than that of Biden, who is favored by a slight majority in most polls, is quite typical of VPs, who by definition play back-up roles, are less well-known, and sometimes serve as backups. heat shields to their bosses.
Harris, as a black and Asian woman, is also subject to racial and gender biases that neither Biden nor his predecessors faced. Women in public or private jobs, especially women of color, are often judged more harshly and held to higher standards than their white male colleagues in high-level positions.
Still, some Democrats are starting to worry that his low number of approvals indicates a bigger problem for Harris, who, as vice president, is the potential heir to the party of Biden, the oldest president in the country. the history of the United States at 78 years. They have many of the same doubts that have long haunted her and contributed to the failure of her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 – about her style, her political instincts and the treatment of the staff.
Politics reported heightened tensions within his office this week – including assistants’ frustrations with Chief of Staff Tina Flournoy – while Axios followed with an article on the friction between Harris’ and Biden’s staff. At least three Harris staff have left in recent weeks and more are said to be considering the same. For now, those who have left have been fairly low-level assistants, and some churn is expected given the stress that comes with White House jobs.
Yet Harris has long had a reputation for high staff turnover, and as Vice President, she works with an almost entirely new group of advisers, who are no longer in close contact with much of the world. California political team that helped propel his career.
Allies say the twisting of the hands is overdone. Some complain that Harris was surrounded by the White House, even as Biden gave him thorny, perhaps impossible tasks, including looking for ways to deter Central American migration and lead the Democrats’ fight for expand access to voting.
Mark Buell, who has been Harris’ main fundraiser since his first run for San Francisco district attorney, said the White House appears to be giving him the toughest jobs without the full license to make his own mark.
“The administration has to give it real authority, where it can hold a press conference and say, ‘This is what I’m thinking and this is where I’m going,'” said Buell.
Administration officials say Harris is a valued voice behind the scenes and her poll numbers shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that she plays a supporting role and doesn’t have the decades of Biden on the national stage.
“She actually does the hard work of a vice president and doesn’t get the credit for it because people feel like she should be out there doing something different,” said Anita Dunn, senior advisor to Biden.
A senior administration official who would not agree to be cited by name admitted that it was “always part of the role of the vice president” to “take some of the pressure” for the president, and did so. described as “insulting” to suggest that Harris’ assignments are too hard, as if “she needed to be protected”. The most important thing, the official added, is that the vice president is a trusted advisor and public messenger.
Harris is viewed favorably by an average of 44% of voters and unfavorably by about 47%, according to the Real Clear Politics Average of Recent Polls. Biden, on the other hand, is visualized favorably by 51% of voters, with around 43.5% disapproving. The difference in approval between them, single digit, has been fairly consistent over the past few months.
A recent YouGov poll showed some of the factors behind the numbers. Biden did better than Harris among white voters across the board, but especially among white women with college degrees. While the two get strong approval from Democrats and low approval from Republicans, the intensity of support or opposition is different: more Democrats said they “strongly approve” of Biden than saying the same to About Harris, and fewer Republicans said they “strongly disapproved” of him.
These differences reflect on the one hand Harris’s lukewarm support from the Democratic Party base, a problem since the 2020 presidential nomination race, and on the other hand the relentless attacks on her from politicians and the media. preservatives.
“She won’t have a thermometer rating that matches that of the president. It just isn’t, ”former Obama pollster Cornell Belcher said, referring to his own poll data. “She is subservient to No. 1, just as he was subservient to No. 1 when he was behind Obama.”
Donna Brazile, a friend and former Democratic Party leader, said it was too early for Harris to worry about the polls. If they look the same in a year, Brazile continued, then Harris should be looking to raise his profile. But for now, she should continue to literally stand behind or next to Biden at public events while advising him privately, Brazile said.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for all Vice Presidents is showing the public that they are capable of leading as Commander-in-Chief. For Harris, this challenge is all the greater as she is the first woman and the only woman of black and Asian descent to hold the post.
“Middle White America” – the people in between the ribs – “they’re comfortable with an older white man, and I don’t think I’m saying anything crazy when I say that,” Belcher said. , who is a black man.
But he stressed that Harris’ barrier-breaking identity is also a political asset, one that will only be more valuable by 2028, when Biden, if he runs and is re-elected, ends his presidency. Until then, given demographic trends, “we have an electorate of probably around eight [percentage] browner dots, ”Belcher said.
Bakari Sellers, Harris’ presidential campaign co-chair and CNN political commentator who remains a confidant, said Harris was more under scrutiny than her predecessors and less free than Biden.
For example, he said Biden’s recent comments that jeopardized the administration’s infrastructure package were greeted as a “faux pas.” But, he added, “If Kamala Harris had done that, these are ‘Is she ready?’ Stories. “
Salespeople have advice: Harris should “stop seeking information from advisers and be content with his gut feelings.”
He said Harris looked uncomfortable when she said in Guatemala that potential migrants should “stay at home.”
“I’m pretty sure it came from the White House,” Seller said, “and that’s why it didn’t feel natural.”