Kamala Harris Can Be Ruthless When She Wants to Be

Wilfredo Lee/AP

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When Kamala Harris took on Joe Biden over his past opposition to forced busing, my initial reaction was that it sounded scripted and kind of fake. Apparently I was right:

Her campaign had spent months fixated on Biden, whose support from black voters has kept him atop all of the early polls. They gamed out several scenarios in which she could use her personal story as a point of contrast with his decades-long record, including over his opposition to busing.

….[Harris] prepped with a small team of aides….Biden was played by Harris’ national press secretary, Ian Sams….Harris herself ended up settling on a line that within minutes would appear in social media memes and just a few hours later would be screen printed on t-shirts selling for $29 on her website: “That little girl was me,” she said, of her desegregated class.

Harris knew she had to break Biden’s grip on the black vote, and she cold-bloodedly went about planning how to do it. But did it work?

Data compiled by the Democratic polling firm Democracy Corps showed Biden’s favorability with African-American voters actually going up a net 18 percent after the debate….But the same survey also showed that the percentage of people who would vote for Biden and consider voting for him went down 11 points from 81 percent to 72 percent.

So Harris’s attack actually hurt her with black voters but helped her overall. How about that?

In any case, the fact that this was a planned attack isn’t necessarily a mark against Harris. It’s annoying to people like me, who get tired of the endless outrage playacting, but it probably seems a lot more real to people who don’t inhale politics daily. It also demonstrates that Harris can be ruthless when she wants to be, and as they say, politics ain’t beanbag. As long as it stays under control, a little bit of ruthlessness is something that every winning candidate needs now and again.

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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