With 23 major candidates having entered the race, the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential field is one of the largest, most competitive, and most unpredictable in modern history.
But most of them will soon be history. Of the ones left standing, California’s junior Democratic Senator Kamala Devi Harris, is the most formidable.
The organ of the American political elite, the New York Times, in August ran an op-ed stating that the African American (really, Indian/Jamaican) woman is the one to beat Donald Trump. Many other media outlets have been playing her up as well.
They are behind her because, after all, who is better placed to keep Black radicals and white “deplorables” (Hillary Clinton’s term) in their place than her? She can even co-opt some of the troublemakers in the “squad,” the party’s high-profile four radicals in the House of Representatives, and shut the others up.
They can’t criticize Harris as a racist, misogynist, and the various other labels they hurl at Trump. Harris is a perfect candidate for what sociologist C. Wright Mills decades ago called “the power elite” (still the best book ever written about the American ruling classes).
All the energy, drive, and passion in the party today are on the left. This may be the most aggressively left-wing cycle for Democrats since Senator George McGovern was nominated in 1972.
There will also be an enormous advantage for female candidates, in particular those from minorities in general, and African-Americans in particular.
Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders – too old, too male, too white – have no chance. Elizabeth Warren, a radical woman, comes closer to emerging as a serious contender. But she is strident and comes across like a hectoring schoolmarm, turning many voters off. She’s also, despite fraudulent claims of native American heritage, white. And – too old.
But 54-year-old Harris checks off all the identity boxes. And as the icing on the cake, she is a very passionate, articulate, and compelling public speaker, and quite fierce in debates.
She has many flaws and some controversial history as a prosecutor, San Francisco district attorney, and California attorney general.
Her record has led some critics to describe her not as a progressive reformer but as a relic of a “tough on crime” era going back to the 1990s and 2000s.
However, since her Senate campaign in 2016, Harris has tried to avoid the faulty parts of her record, and instead emphasized the reforms she’s supported and implemented over the years. She has adopted sweeping rhetoric about the criminal justice system, arguing that it needs to be systemically changed.
Trump might exploit some of her negatives, but Harris is not blinded by hubris the way Clinton was. She won’t take victory for granted.
Harris also enjoys the greatest support among other Democratic Party presidential candidates’ supporters, meaning she could consolidate a lot of support when her rivals drop out. Indeed, she is said to be the Democrat whom Trump fears the most and she will be hard to beat.
The first primaries are still five months away, the general election more than a year, but I’m betting on Harris to clinch the Democratic Party nomination and give Trump a real challenge. The forces arrayed against him could very likely make him a one-term president.
Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island.