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Kamala Harris the Super Liberal?

Kamala Harris the Super Liberal?
© Hill.TV

 

What does President TrumpDonald TrumpSouth Carolina Senate adds firing squad as alternative execution method Ex-Trump aide Pierson won't run for Dallas-area House seat House Oversight panel reissues subpoena for Trump's accounting firm MORE think of Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisElla Emhoff, inauguration designer join forces on knitwear collaboration Who is the Senate parliamentarian and why is she important? In America, women are frontliners of change MORE? Per usual, he's made his feelings pretty clear.

It's easy to write off Trump's attacks as silly or the same old platitudes. One op-ed referred to his name-calling as "an insult to presidential putdowns." But, don't forget, sometimes the tried-and-true middle school playbook works; Trump knows it. 

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Immediately after Joe BidenJoe BidenIntercept bureau chief: minimum wage was not 'high priority' for Biden in COVID-19 relief South Carolina Senate adds firing squad as alternative execution method Obama alum Seth Harris to serve as Biden labor adviser: report MORE announced Kamala's addition to the ticket, Trump's campaign team sent an email titled, "I'm Surprised by Joe's Pick." The email read in part, "Kamala Harris is the meanest, most horrible, most disrespectful, MOST LIBERAL of anyone in the U.S. Senate." The emphasis on "MOST LIBERAL" is not an editorial addition. The email included those words in all caps. Mean and horrible are insults that might be lobbed at anyone in the schoolyard. Liberal is an insult with special meaning for Kamala.

Real liberals are apt to scoff at this characterization. During the Democratic presidential primary, Harris was accused of being too conservative. The left disdained her likability on Wall Street. Afterall, Kamala's popularity with big bankers put her just shy of their "swooning" for "Mayor Pete." Liberals also fretted about her years as a prosecutorSpeaking to NPR, Kamala addressed the criticism that if she wanted to make real change, she might have followed in the footsteps of civil rights leaders and become a defense attorney or an activist. She noted, 

I came out of law school, I made the decision to become a prosecutor, and yes, that was considered to be a curious decision given my background. But what I said then and what I absolutely maintain today is that law enforcement has such a profound and direct impact on the most vulnerable among us and has, as it's responsibility and job, to be a voice for the voiceless and also in the process of giving safety give dignity.

The need to defend her career choices illustrates liberals' consternation with Kamala's past. Moreover, Harris is hardly the most liberal person in the U.S. Senate. Just compare her primary campaign to that of Bernie SandersBernie SandersIntercept bureau chief: minimum wage was not 'high priority' for Biden in COVID-19 relief Murkowski never told White House she would oppose Tanden Tanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief MORE. Still, actual liberals aren't the target of Trump's emails. 

Both women and people of color are stereotyped by voters as inherently leftist. Harris identifies as both. Such stereotyping has been tracked by political scientists since more women began running for office in the 1990s. Scholars Kira Sanbonmatsu and Kathleen Dolan cite wide-ranging research to support their claim that "female candidates are believed to be more liberal, Democratic, and feminist than male candidates." Similarly, political scientist Jeffrey Koch notes that women elected to Congress are perceived as more liberal than they are when compared to their congressional voting records.

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If, as has been argued, the Biden-Harris ticket is designed to attract moderates, Trump has found the perfect way to undermine it. Calling Harris liberal may not be as pointed as Trump's infamous "Hillary for prison" slogan, but it could be just as effective. The New York Post picked up the narrative last week when it claimed that the idea of Harris as a moderate is a liberal deception. According to Trump advisor Mercedes Schlapp, "Harris represents a complete socialist takeover of Biden." If Harris ends up being stereotyped as left of Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - J&J vax rollout today; third woman accuses Cuomo 'Lucky': Inside Ocasio-Cortez's endorsement of Sanders Biden officials urge patience on immigration amid border surge MORE, this could upend the Democrat's strategy for November. Harris is supposed to appease the party's entire big tent with her historic nomination and more-moderate record. It's a lot to ask of just one person, and Trump is playing on the forces already working against her.

Heather James is an assistant professor of Political Science at the Borough of Manhattan Community College-CUNY. Her research focuses on women and campaign finance.