There are two lenses by which to look at presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s choice of California Sen. Kamala Harris as his vice-presidential running mate, and both are winners heading into the stretch run of the 2020 presidential campaign.
1. A vice presidential candidate’s only job is to help the ticket win.
So, does Harris fit the bill? Absolutely.
We find ourselves in an odd political situation. Trump has done most of the work to unify the Democratic Party, while the coronavirus has finished the job. Not only is there an obvious shared purpose among most corners of the party, but the lack of an in-person convention has eliminated the ability of the party’s left-most edges to cause a public disruption, either on the floor of the convention, or on the streets outside. Thus, Biden was spared having to shore up his left flank. Does it matter, policy-wise? Doubtful. His attorney general and commerce secretary will have more of an impact on progressive priorities. But politically? It removed pressure to use the vice-presidential card to go left.
Did he need a Black woman to shore up the Black vote? Also doubtful. He won that in the primary all by himself, and the Obamas will play a big role in further motivating Black voters to turn out. And in any case, they knew what they were doing voting for Biden in the primary—their strategy has panned out. By going with the old, well-known white guy, they've not only set Democrats up for an easy presidential win, but by narrowing the gap against Trump compared to four years ago, Democrats are poised to win big in the House, Senate, and down ballot. Picking a Black woman does repay his Black supporters for their faith in him, but that’s a bonus, not the primary reason for the pick.
So how does Harris help the ticket win? By helping lock down the only true swing demographic—college-educated suburban white women.
Remember, 38 of the 41 House seats Democrats won in their 2018 wave were suburban seats, and the party is poised to make further gains in those suburbs. In fact, the suburbs are the reason we’re even talking about places like Texas being competitive. To be clear, Biden appears to be improving lately among non-college whites, but they would be the gravy on top (and I don’t trust them to fully turn). Locking down the suburban vote makes it impossible for Trump and his party to mount a comeback.
And that will be Harris’ job—to lock down that suburban white female vote. Which brings us back to the second lens:
2. Every Trump campaign action should be run by this filter: How will this play in the suburbs?
Trump’s weird recent prattling about suburban white housewives? It’s weird, yes, but at least it makes some kind of perverted sense. Republican operatives see the suburbs as a bloodbath, and they’re desperate to reverse it, even if they clearly have no idea what the suburbs look like.
Pew Research estimated that in 2016, there were around 11 million stay-at-home parents. At first glance, that might seem like a lot—but that’s only 18% of all of the nation’s parents. If you cast a larger net, it’s even like a smaller share of the population: That 11 million is only 8% of the 2016 electorate (137 million), or 4% of the total adult population (262 million persons 16 or older in 2018).
And on top of that, of those 11 million stay-at-home parents, 17% of them are fathers. So an overall number of stay-at-home mothers would be more like nine million. Presumably, Trump’s pitch to “Suburban Housewives” wasn’t intended to include dads; he probably couldn’t even wrap his head around the idea of being a stay-at-home dad in the first place.
Once you subtract non-white stay-at-home-parents, and subtract the ones who don’t live in the suburbs, and subtract the ones who aren’t persuadable, “Trump is preaching to an audience of, maybe, somewhere between one million to 1.5 million. Even at the top end of that estimate, that’s just barely 1% of the total 2016 electorate.” Yeah, it’s a stupid tactic, but at least makes some logical sense based on their electoral math.
Harris, quite clearly, is a candidate who will play well in the suburbs. So, it bears watching how the Trump campaign responded to her. And it was, uh, quite lacking.
“Not long ago, Kamala Harris called Joe Biden a racist and asked for an apology she never received. Clearly, Phony Kamala will abandon her own morals, as well as try to bury her record as a prosecutor, in order to appease the anti-police extremists controlling the Democrat Party. In her failed attempt at running for president, Kamala Harris gleefully embraced the left’s radical manifesto, calling for trillions of dollars in new taxes and backing Bernie Sanders’ government takeover of healthcare. She is proof that Joe Biden is an empty shell being filled with the extreme agenda of the radicals on the left.
“Joe Biden is no moderate, and with Harris as his ‘political living will,’ he is surrendering control of our nation to the radical mob with promises to raise taxes, cut police funding, kill energy jobs, open our borders, and appease socialist dictators. At the ballot box, Americans will resoundingly reject the abysmal failures of Biden-Harris in favor of the America First strength of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.”
- Katrina Pierson, Trump 2020 senior advisor
Ignore the factual inaccuracies for the moment (Harris didn’t call Biden a racist), or the weird messaging (“political living will”), and focus instead on the core message:
- Harris is a moderate
- She is faking being liberal
- Biden is no moderate but an empty shell
- Ergo, picking Harris is a surrender to the radical mob.
How can a moderate masquerading as a liberal be a surrender to “radicals on the left”? It’s beyond nonsensical. But ignore even the logical fallacies in the statement and ask yourself: Is anything in this statement going to get a college-educated white woman to change back to Trump? Of course not. Energy jobs? That’s not a suburban concern. Immigration? Republicans centered xenophobia in the 2018 campaign (Honduran caravan! Salvadoran gang MS-13!) and got crushed in the suburbs. Socialist dictators? That’s rich from a president who has fallen over himself appeasing dictators, but again, how is that a concern in the suburbs? Cutting police funding?
Even with the rise in opposition among college-educated white women to Black Lives Matter (a suitable proxy for the defund effort), it’s still an issue with double-digit support, and if you filter out Republicans and Democrats (two groups we can assume are unpersuadable), it’s actually 55-30 in support among college-educated white independent women.
So the bottom line? This is where Trump stands with those college-educated white independent women nationally:
Yes, we’re seeing increased performance among core Democratic constituencies, like voters of color and youth, but the biggest reason Trump and his party are currently on a wipeout trajectory is their inability to stem their losses in the suburbs, and those numbers are driven by those formerly Republican and now independent, college-educated, suburban white women. They are the core of the shift from 2020. Anything beyond them (whether it’s increased progressive turnout, or defections from older and non-college whites) is just gravy. Good gravy! It’ll determine whether we can pull off narrow Senate upsets in places like South Carolina, Kansas, and Texas. But the bulk of the gains will come from those white women in the suburbs.
Harris will help Biden lock down those gains, and the Trump campaign—due to sheer ignorance and incompetence—appears helpless to do anything about it.