WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has struggled to land an effective attack against his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, so instead he is increasingly trying to elevate Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, offering dire warnings about the potential of her becoming president.
In attacks that critics decry as sexist and racist, Trump has sought to convince voters that supporting him is needed to stop Harris, whom he paints as too liberal and as being groomed to usurp the presidency.
“They’re going to be running him ragged,” Trump said at a rally Saturday in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
He proceeded to fabricate a White House conversation in which a President Biden was forced to sign documents he didn’t understand. Trump mimicked him as saying: “I’m getting tired. I’d like to rest. I’d like to let Kamala take over as president!” drawing boos and jeers at the mention of Harris’ name.
“That’s no way to get into the office, because we’re going to have a woman president someday, but you know what? It can’t be Kamala,” he said.
A person in the crowd interrupted to scream: “Never!”
Trump repeated her name: “Kamala.”
Democrats say Trump is going after Harris because he hasn’t been able to incite the same antagonism toward Biden, a white man, as he was able to fuel against his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton. They also describe his attacks as an attempt to distract from his mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic. Trump’s attacks began before — and continued after — the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg threw an already chaotic election year into greater turmoil.
Trump’s attacks on Biden — including unfounded claims about Biden’s health and insinuations that he’d allow rioters to ransack the country — have failed to help him gain ground in the polls, which consistently show Trump trailing.
“He’s doing it as a combination of trying to make Biden look feeble and doing some race-baiting on Kamala. And neither is going to work,” said Stephanie Cutter, a co-founder of the consulting firm Precision Strategies, who was deputy campaign manager for President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.
“He’s had a hard time getting anything to really stick to Joe Biden — whether it’s ‘sleepy Joe’ or ‘liberal Joe.’ Now he’s suggesting performance enhancing drugs,” Cutter said in an interview. “Nothing is sticking because people have a pretty good sense of Joe Biden and what is at his core.”
Some Republicans say the attack on Harris won’t be enough.
“Defining Harris is a luxury. Defining Biden is a necessity,” said campaign veteran Matt Gorman, a Republican consultant. “People vote for the presidential nominee, not the vice presidential nominee. The focus needs to be on defining Joe Biden.”
‘The Kamala Harris administration’
Asked to respond, the Biden campaign referred to prominent Black Democratic strategist Karen Finney, who alluded to Trump’s stoking of false claims that Harris, an American born in Oakland, California, might not be eligible to be president.
“It’s sadly not surprising Trump is resorting to his bigoted playbook — attempts at racist othering based on the same lies he used to attack President Obama, combined with typical sexist tropes aimed at trying to undermine Senator Harris’ credibility, hard work and numerous qualifications,” Finney said.
Harris was the first woman and the first Black person to be California attorney general. She is the first Black senator to represent the state, and she would be the first woman — as well as the first Black and Asian American person — to be elected vice president.
A Trump surrogate, Jack Kingston, a former member of Congress from Georgia, said highlighting Harris’ voting record in the Senate will resonate with swing voters in key states.
“This is an extreme liberal,” he said, citing her positions on immigration and health care and echoing speculation about how long Biden would serve. “Some people are going to consider it, because it’s doubtful that [Biden] could last four years.”
Harris, 55, is a progressive senator from California who ended her bid for president late last year. She is the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, and her rise represents a paradigm shift as the U.S. becomes a more ethnically diverse and socially liberal country. The pace of change has caused disaffection among some older voters, and Trump has been adept at capitalizing on it politically.
In Wisconsin last week, Trump said Harris was “further left than” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a self-described self-described Democratic Socialist, and he claimed that she is “not as smart” as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., but is “a little bit less vicious.”
Trump tweeted Monday: “His handlers and the Fake News Media are doing everything possible to get him through the Election. Then he will resign, or whatever, and we are stuck with a super liberal wack job that NOBODY wanted!”
A Trump fundraising text message to supporters Wednesday read, “THE KAMALA HARRIS ADMINISTRATION! The secret is out,” before asking for donations. It came after Biden mangled his words in a speech and referred to a potential “Harris-Biden administration.”
Biden led Trump by 51 percent to 43 percent in a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday. Harris is seen favorably by 37 percent of voters and unfavorably by 38 percent, the survey found.
An NPR/PBS/Marist poll released Thursday found Biden leading Trump by 52 percent to 43 percent among likely voters. Biden also led by double digits among suburban voters and white college graduates, two constituencies that have fueled Republican victories in the past.
Stephanie Schriock, the president of EMILY’s List, a group that works to elect Democratic women, said she has been expecting Trump to “start using sexist and racist tropes again on Kamala Harris — and here we go.”
“I don’t think he knows any other playbook. It is just who he is,” Schriock said. “His base is pretty riled up. He’s losing in all of these polls and not gaining any ground because he’s had absolutely nothing to say to the rest of the country. … And this kind of attack is not going to help him do what he would need to do to win.”
Related: Kamala Harris in her early career
25 PHOTOSKamala Harris early in her careerSee GalleryKamala Harris early in her careerSan Francisco district attorney candidate Kamala Harris, left, serves lunch to an unidentied visitor while volunteering at Thanksgiving service at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco on Thursday, Nov. 27, 2003. Glide church has been feeding the needy for years, this Thanksgiving about 1,200 volunteers helped prepare 6,000 meals from 1,000 turkeys and 600 hams. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)San Francisco’s new district attorney, Kamala Harris, right, receives the oath of office from California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George, left, during inauguration ceremonies Thursday, Jan. 8, 2004, in San Francisco. In the center is Harris’ mother, Dr. Shyamala Gopalan, who holds a copy of "The Bill of Rights." Harris, a political novice and career prosecutor, became San Francisco’s chief law enforcer Thursday and California’s first district attorney of Indian and black descent. (AP Photo/George Nikitin)San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris poses for a portrait in San Francisco, Friday, June 18, 2004. The December election of a new district attorney was supposed to signal a turning point for police-prosecutor relations in San Francisco, where lofty, ultra-liberal ideals sometimes clash with the street-level realities of law enforcement. But after ousting her former boss on a pledge to restore order to the DA’s office, Kamala Harris has faced unforeseen trials with her colleagues in blue. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom holds a Thanksgiving meal while volunteering at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco Thursday, Nov. 25, 2004. Glide prepared more than 5,000 meals for Thanksgiving. Also pictured are San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, center, and Newsom’s wife Kimberly Guilfoyle Newsom, second from right. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who as a prosecutor once specialized in child sexual assault cases addresses the Domestic Human Trafficking symposium in Los Angeles, Friday, April, 25, 2014. According to a 2005 International Labour Organization paper, human trafficking, or sexual servitude and forced labor, brings in about $32 billion annually, making it the second most profitable criminal enterprise after illegal arms trafficking. The vast majority of those trafficked are women and children, from all milieus of society. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)** CORRECTS SPELLING OF LASHUAN HARRIS ** San Francisco district attorney Kamala Harris, right, speaks at a news conference about Lashuan Harris in San Francisco, Friday, Oct. 21, 2005. Lashuan Harris, the women seen dropping her young sons into San Francisco Bay, pleaded innocent to three counts of murder. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)Kamala Harris, San Francisco District Attorney (Photo by Steve Jennings/WireImage for Conde Nast media group) *** Local Caption ***Belva Davis, Kamala Harris, San Francisco District Attorney, and Laura Michalchyshyn of the Sundance Channel (Photo by Steve Jennings/WireImage for Conde Nast media group)VENICE, CA – NOVEMBER 03: San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris attends the ‘Choose Or Lose Your Toys’ event at the Obsolete Gallery on November 3, 2009 in Venice, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Obsolete)En esta fotografía de archivo del 17 de junio de 2009, la fiscal de distrito de San Francisco Kamala Harris, a la izquierda, aplaude mientras el nuevo jefe de la policía George Gascon, en el podio, es presentado por el alcalde Gavin Newsom, a la derecha, en San Francisco. Las actitudes tolerantes que tuvieron hacia los indocumentados podrían descarrilar las candidaturas a gobernador de California de dos prominentes figuras de la política en San Francisco: Harris y Newson. (Foto AP/Eric Risberg, Archivo)San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris was one of six candidates taking part in the democratic primary debate for Attorney General at the Milken Institute in Santa Monica, May 18, 2010. The remaining four candidates are Chris Kelly, Ted Lieu, Pedro Nava and Alberto Torrico. (Photo by Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)SALINAS, CA – NOVEMBER 01: San Francisco district attorney and democratic candidate for California attorney general Kamala Harris laughs as she sits backstage before a get-out-the-vote rally at the National Steinbeck Center on November 1, 2010 in Salinas, California. With one day to go until Election Day, Jerry Brown is wrapping up his three day campaign trip throughout California in hopes of defeating his republican challenger and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)In this photo taken Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2010, California Attorney General Kamala Harris gives her first news conference in Los Angeles. Harris asked a federal appeals court on Tuesday, march 1, 2011, to allow gay marriages to resume while the court considers the constitutionality of the state’s voter approved ban on same sex unions. The request came after the California Supreme Court said it needed the rest of the year to consider a legal question the appeals court said it needs answered before it can resolve the case. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)NEW YORK CITY, NY – OCTOBER 01: Jason Binn and Attorney General of California, Kamala Harris pose at Provocateur circa October 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Jason Binn/WireImage)BEVERLY HILLS, CA – JUNE 05: Attorney General Kamala Harris attends the Fifth Annual Kidstock Music and Arts Festival at Greystone Mansion on June 5, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)BEVERLY HILLS, CA – MARCH 18: California Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks onstage at the Public Counsel’s William O. Douglas Award Dinner held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on March 18, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)California Attorney General Kamala Harris, right, and Michael Troncoso, Senior Counsel to the Attorney General, left, listen as mortgage fraud victim Jacqueline Marcelos speaks at a roundtable of foreclosure victims at Mission Economic Development Agency in San Francisco, on Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)LOS ANGELES, CA – DECEMBER 13:California Attorney General Kamala Harris participates in TheWrap’s ‘The Power Of Leadership’ brunch at Scarpetta on December 13, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.(Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for TheWrap)Californbia Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC (Photo by Ralf-Finn Hestoft/Corbis via Getty Images)California Attorney GeneralKamala D. Harris at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 4, 2012 on the first day of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). The DNC is expected to nominate US President Barack Obama to run for a second term as president. AFP PHOTORobyn BECK(Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/GettyImages)SAN FRANCISCO, CA – JULY 11:California Attorney General Kamala Harris (L) looks on as California Governor Jerry Brown (R) speaks to reporters after signing the California Homeowner Bill of Rights (AB 278 and SB 900) on July 11, 2012 in San Francisco, California.Gov. Jerry Brown signed the California Homeowners Bill of Rights that establishes landmark protection rules for mortgage loan borrowers. The laws go into effect on January 1, 2013.(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris speaks with supporters at the California Democrats State Convention in San Diego, CA on Saturday, February 11, 2012 in San Diego, CA. Harris has helped Californian homeowners by lobbying for a large share of federal funds to help with the massive foreclosure crisis in the state. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Corbis via Getty Images)MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA – DECEMBER 12:California Attorney General Kamala Harris arrives at the Breakthrough Prize Inaugural Ceremony at NASA Ames Research Center on December 12, 2013 in Mountain View, California.(Photo by C Flanigan/FilmMagic)SAN FRANCISCO, CA – JUNE 30:California State Attorney General Kamala Harris appears at the Gay Pride Parade on June 30, 2013 in San Francisco, California.(Photo by Arun Nevader/FilmMagic)LOS ANGELES, CA – MAY 17:California Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks at a news conference on May 17, 2013 at the Los Angeles Civic Center in Los Angeles, California. Harris hosted a meeting of the state’s district attorneys to develop recommendations on reducing gun violance.(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)Up Next
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