If nothing else, the first and second series of Democratic presidential debates have given a whole new meaning to the term “political theater.”
In the first round in Miami in June, California Sen. Kamala Harris broadsided frontrunner Joe Biden with a twofold attack. She slammed him over comments he made in the days prior about his ability to work with segregationist senators in the 1970s to get things done, as well as his stance at the time on the controversial issue of busing.
Biden’s poll numbers took a hit while Harris’ began to rise, putting her in the top tier. As a result, a top Democratic fundraiser announced he was “pulling back” from supporting President Obama’s former veep. To make matters worse for Biden, the fundraiser promptly jumped on board the Harris campaign.
The second round of debates was held in Detroit last week, and it was Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard who scored a direct hit on a frontrunner. But this time it was Harris who was on the receiving end. Gabbard attacked her record as California’s top prosecutor, the position Harris held for six years prior to being elected to the U.S. Senate.
“There are too many examples to cite, but she put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana,” said Gabbard to applause.
“She blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so. She kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the state of California,” Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran, continued.
Harris literally could not defend herself against Gabbard’s attacks.
Instead of tackling her record, which is what Gabbard did, Harris took the low road. “I am proud of making a decision to not just give fancy speeches or be in a legislative body and give speeches on the floor.” Harris proclaimed defensively, diminishing Gabbard’s standing as a congresswoman.
Gabbard’s stunning swipe at Harris was one few people saw coming, especially from a candidate who has languished in the 1% to 2% polling category for the entirety of her campaign.
But it happened.
Long after the lights were out on the debate stage in Detroit, the attack trended on social media. Members of the national press were in a state of shock before moving into “defend Kamala” mode.
Polling in the immediate aftermath showed Harris as the only candidate whose numbers declined. This was on top of the fact that the bounce she got from her first debate performance had already been waning.
The attack proved Harris was not invincible.
What does this all mean? Is Harris doomed going forward or can she bounce back?
After Biden’s disastrous first debate, many wondered if his campaign would be able to recover. He eventually did. His polling numbers evened out and his support in the black community remained strong.
Odds are this will only be a temporary setback for Harris. The Democratic primaries are still months away and we are a month out from the next round of debates, so there is plenty of time for her to get her groove back.
It remains to be seen who will qualify for the September debates. So many in the 20-plus field qualified for the first and second series of debates that Democrats had to conduct them over two nights in both Miami and Detroit. As of this writing, only eight have qualified for the next round.
Harris is one of the eight. Gabbard has met the fundraising qualifications but has not yet met the polling minimum. If she ends up qualifying and is placed on the same stage again with Harris, look for more fireworks.
Stacey Matthews is a veteran blogger who has also written under the pseudonym Sister Toldjah and is a regular contributor to Red State and Legal Insurrection.