By Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Contributing Columnist
Virtually seconds after presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden picked California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate, President Donald Trump did the predictable. He went on the attack.
Harris was “nasty,” “a loser,” “disrespectful” and “phony.” He topped it by bragging that he wanted her to be the vice presidential pick, presumably because she would be virtually putty in his and the Republican Party’s attack hands.
Harris won’t be putty, but she does have five major tasks to perform that will do much to put Joe Biden and her in the Oval Office.
The first is don’t get in the gutter with Trump. He will unleash his usual barrage of insults, digs, slurs and slanders of her. There’s absolutely no need for her to respond or feel the need to rebut every one of his lies and name calling.
Swapping insults with him is simply playing into his well-honed game of distraction, diversion and distortion. The added danger of the schoolyard mudslinging back and forth is that it gives Trump and the media more juicy ammunition for another titillating and distracting headline and sound bite.
Negativism feeds on itself. Harris gains nothing by shooting back at Trump every time he insults her. This just brings a gotcha smile to Trump.
Harris and Biden have the Democratic Party establishment and millions of Democratic voters solidly behind them. What they don’t have yet are moderate to conservative independents as well as many disenchanted eligible Black voters who stayed home in 2016 in the five heartland states and Florida totally onboard.
Those voters will do much to decide the White House. Harris’ task is to sell herself as a moderate with a thoughtful and pragmatic approach on the crucial issues of health care, criminal justice reform and education in her talks, rallies and appearances in those states.
Her next task is to deftly pirouette and make the case for the Biden ticket to the thousands of Black voters who stayed home on Election Day in 2016. Their absence played a big part in putting Trump in the White House.
There are also a lot of Blacks still wary and even unforgiving of Biden for his backing of the Clinton crime bill in the 1990s, his alleged trashing of Anita Hill and his opposition to busing back in the day.
Harris can soften this this by camping out in Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Miami, Jacksonville, Orlando and the major urban areas in the five key swing states. And there, she will need to be an impassioned advocate for criminal justice reform, massive funding and support for public education, jobs and housing, and aggressively combat police abuse. She must deliver the 2020 version of Barack Obama’s hope and change message to them.
She must make the thousands of Blacks that shrugged off the 2016 election as having no real meaning to them, make them believe that this time it does. It’s not enough to rail at Trump as a lousy racist to motivate. That didn’t work in 2016 with them. Biden and Harris can’t leave it to chance that it will work again in 2020.
Harris will have the task of working both sides of the political street like any good politician does. She’ll talk her track record as a law and order prosecutor in the suburbs. She’ll talk her same track record as a prosecutor who believed in real criminal justice reform as well as her opposition to the death penalty and mass incarceration.
It’s a deft pirouette but if she can pull it off it will pad Biden’s vote totals.
Then there is Bernie Sanders and the progressives. Many have kept up a drumbeat assault on Biden as a corporate, beltway Democrat with loads of conservative, deal-making baggage.
Harris has embraced many of the progressive stances of Sanders’ ardent backers. There are a lot of them in the swing states. Many stayed home in 2016 or voted third party. That also helped sink Clinton.
Harris will have to convince those voters that her relatively new found progressivism is for real and she will be a strong advocate for issues such as Medicare for all and will fight hard against corporate pillage and wealth inequality. She won’t convince all of them she’s for real. She doesn’t have too. Just convince enough of them that she is and that will mean more votes for Biden.
Biden will be near age 80 on inauguration day, if he wins. Harris’s final task is to assure voters that if there is an age or health challenge or Biden elects to serve only one term, she has the experience and political savvy to quickly take the wheel of governing.
That is vitally important for one other reason. There are still many men and women who feel the presidency is a man’s job. Harris must project a strong, seasoned and commanding presence. That is a must to break down that still ingrained gender bias.
These are tasks that would challenge Hercules. However, the White House could ride on how well she succeeds in tackling these tasks.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of “Biden vs. Trump: Who Will Win?” (Amazon). He also is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One and is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.