Kamala Harris. (Part 3)

Two candidates who made an extraordinary impression at the talks were Tammy Duckworth, a tough Illinois senator and war veteran who had both legs amputated in Iraq, and Gina Raimondo, a moderate and very popular Rhode Island governor.

But Raimondo is a white centrist little known nationally, a profile that did not convince Biden and her folks, while Duckworth was born abroad. Her father was American, so she is American from the moment she was born and in all likelihood able to compete for the presidency: but lawyers concluded that the issue would become a topic of discussion and above all that it would be enough for a single Republican judge in a hovering state to invalidate Biden’s candidacy in that state, at the risk of compromising the entire election. Trump has already questioned even the validity of Harris’ candidacy, without foundation since Harris was born in America: and as you will recall, he did the same with Obama. We are talking about the only two non-white candidates for president or vice-presidency for a major party in US history.

Elizabeth Warren also made a very good impression, reassured Biden’s team that he was a team player and that “he won, I lost”, so he would follow and execute Biden’s political agenda and not his own. Karen Bass was the first to admit the difficulties she would have had in defending her youthful fascination for Fidel Castro, and Biden never got to know her in-depth during her career. 

The interview with Kamala Harris went very well overall, but one response upset one of Biden’s team members. When she was asked about the tough personal attack she made on Biden during one of the TV confrontations in the primaries – accusing him of talking well decades ago about some old segregationist senators – Harris dismissed the episode as physiological: a normal occurrence in a normal election campaign, nothing serious, water under the bridge. Biden and his people had been personally very hurt by that criticism, not least because Harris was notoriously close friends with Beau, Biden’s eldest son who died of cancer in 2015. His wife Jill had called him “a punch in the stomach”.

Christopher Dodd had been annoyed by Harris’ response, which he said showed no remorse: and he leaked it to the press, stirring up Kamala Harris and her staff. In the months following that confrontation, both she and her staff had worked hard to mend fences with Biden and his staff. However, Harris reiterated that she would be loyal to Biden and would support his program and priorities unreservedly, without putting her career ahead of what – if elected – would be Biden’s plans for the country.

It was a foregone conclusion, in any case. When we look at the choice of the person to run for the vice-presidency, one of the most common mistakes is reading too much into that person’s political ideas: as if in the end the presidential candidate and the vice-presidency candidate had to agree on something and reconcile their respective agendas, and then the vice-presidency candidate could pull the rope more to one side or more to the other and shift the political line of the presidential candidate. This is not the case, but not from afar either.

The political ideas of the candidate for Vice-President count in as much as they have defined and define the image of the candidate, her popularity, the way this or that group of voters like her, the message that conveys the decision to choose her. But there is no conciliation to be made: the program is the programme of the presidential candidate, the priorities are the priorities of the presidential candidate. The staff of the deputy, even, is the staff chosen by the presidential candidate or with his or her approval. As it was for Biden in Obama’s time, so it will be for Harris in Biden’s time: his staff has been chosen by the Biden committee.

All eleven “finalist” women, so to speak, then had individual interviews with Biden himself over nine days. Some in-person, some from a distance. All of them were asked by Biden to be considered for membership of his administration in case of election to the White House. While the election committee prepared graphics, commercials, and materials for each of them, if they were chosen, pollster Celinda Lake tested them one by one.

In the end, Biden and her four staff examined the results of the surveys, interviews, and polls, weighing it all against the stimuli received from outside: with the demands of the party base and the activists, with the momentum of the country. Then he consulted with his wife, his sister, and his two oldest and most historic friends and collaborators, Ted Kaufman and Mike Donilon. And from eleven, the potential deputies have become four.

Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Gretchen Whitmer and Susan Rice.

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