WASHINGTON — Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his running mate creates a conundrum for which President Donald Trump’s campaign doesn’t have an immediate answer: how to run against her.
In a statement moments after the announcement, Trump senior adviser Katrina Pierson blasted Harris both as someone who will “try to bury her record as a prosecutor” in California — which has been described by some critics as too harsh — and someone who will appease “anti-police extremists” and who was both “phony” and in thrall to “radicals.”
The early attacks painted a conflicting portrait of Harris and indicated that Trump’s campaign has not yet settled on a coherent and consistent way to criticize her.
“This really puts the Trump campaign in a box: whether you portray her as pro-police or anti-police,” said Dan Eberhart, a Republican donor and Trump supporter. “They are going to have to decide.”
Harris was difficult to pin down ideologically in the Democratic presidential primary, which left many voters wondering what she stood for and hurt her candidacy and ultimately forced an early exit last December before the first votes were cast.
But it also now makes her a more complicated target of attacks by Trump, who has also struggled to land a punch on Biden: During the Democratic primary, Harris was a rare candidate who polled near the front of the pack but never earned a derisive nickname from the president.
A video message shared by Trump faulted Harris for “embracing Bernie’s plan” on health care and “calling for trillions in new taxes.” Harris abandoned the Sanders plan during the primary, and one of her signature policies was a tax cut for low- and middle-income earners worth about $3 trillion. The Trump video vowed that Biden and Harris would “jointly embrace the radical left.”
“Slow Joe and phony Kamala: perfect together, wrong for America,” a narrator says.
Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel responded by focusing on Harris’s support for “abolishing private health insurance,” a stance she took early but backtracked from during the primary, drawing criticism from the left.
McDaniel said the presumptive Democratic nominee’s choice of a running mate shows that “the left-wing mob is controlling Biden’s candidacy, just like they would control him as president.”
Asked on a call Tuesday how the campaign squared its depiction of Harris as a cop with the president’s pitch to be tough on crime, Pierson said that was “conflating the issue.”
“She’s a phony. She was going after the wrong people,” Pierson told reporters. “When you’re not going after gang members but you’re going after citizens, for example, Black men and marijuana, something that she herself admitted to doing, it’s really a double standard she’s trying to keep.”
The choice of Harris drew wide praise from progressives and moderate Democrats ranging from former President Barack Obama to the democratic socialist Bernie Sanders to Jim Kessler, the executive vice president of the centrist group Third Way.
“People want to claim her as ideological in one way or another when she’s tended to be more of a barometer similar to Biden, but not nearly as much as him or as conciliatory to Republicans,” said Waleed Shahid, a spokesman for the left-wing group Justice Democrats, which endorsed Sanders in the presidential primary.
Harris, 55, a first-term senator from California, would make history as the first woman, the first Black American and first Asian American to become vice president. She is considered acceptable to — though not always loved by — a broad spectrum of the party.
Some Republicans said a Biden-Harris administration would be both extreme and inept, an image that may leave some wondering how afraid to be if they’re too ineffective to implement their agenda.
“By selecting Kamala Harris, Joe Biden’s staff have shown just how radical and incompetent a Biden administration would be,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., tweeted Tuesday.
Trump himself opted to criticize Harris after the announcement as “nasty” and “very disrespectful” to Biden, apparently referring to an early debate clash in which she faulted Biden for waxing nostalgic about working with segregationists in the Senate.
“I would think that he would not have picked her,” the president told reporters at the White House Tuesday. “And she’s got a lot of difficult things that she is going to have to explain.” Minutes later, he left the news conference.
Lauren Egan contributed.