“She could never be the first woman president,” Donald Trump said at a rally in North Carolina. “That would be an insult to our country.” He was referring to Kamala Harris, in a rally that sought to energize his base by eviscerating the character of a woman who isn’t even running for president. Trump continued his Harris tirade, insisting that “nobody likes her,” referring to her as “crazy,” a revolutionary figure more “radical” even than Senator Bernie Sanders. Trump also took some time to slowly draw out the pronunciation of Kamala Harris’s name, likely because his palette has never had to wrap itself around such an exotic assemblage of letters.
It is the familiar refrain of Trump when challenged by a woman, or any person that isn’t a rich white man; he loses any nascent ability to think critically and resort to playground name-calling. It’s a similar tactic to 2016 when his bout with Hillary Clinton was met with a crescendo of “nasty woman” and “lock her up.” With Harris, Trump is branching out to an exaggerated, racialized image of Harris as an extreme leftist, stating during an interview on Fox Business that she is the “most liberal person in the US Senate.”
According to The Washington Post, Harris was ranked the most liberal US senator in 2019, although the degree to which she acts on this progressive image is up for debate. But regardless of the content of the statement, it’s already working as the current president intended. For the Trump campaign, accurate reporting is an irrelevant relic that gets in the way of sensationalized character attacks. Trump is resurrecting his strategy of outrageous deflection, which worked swimmingly well in his campaign against Hillary Clinton when all he had to do to discredit her was imply, repeatedly, that she’d done something worthy of imprisonment. As more rallies devolved into mouth-foaming chants of “lock her up” more and more press coverage was devoted to explaining that there was no legal reason to toss Clinton in jail.
Now instead of jail, all that precious internet space is being consumed by debates over just how liberal Kamala Harris is and whether or not she is the most liberal politician—all of which is irrelevant. Kamala Harris is on the ticket and whatever her personal views are they’ll be amended to fit with Joe Biden’s platform. Trump is once again waving a shiny knife in the middle of the room and asking his audience to fixate on the shine instead of questioning why he’s brandishing a knife.
It’s obvious why Trump would seize on an overinflated claim of Harris’s liberalism—it’s an easy sell, and the word liberal really froths up his base. But he’s backed up the silver bullet of “liberal” with a steady drumbeat of calling her “crazy.” “Crazy,” like “criminal,” is an amorphous idea that can be projected wherever it’s applied. All it takes is a single moment of Kamala Harris raising her voice during a debate for “crazy” to stick, and besides, there’s nothing else for Trump to seize upon. Harris has no email scandal, no charitable foundation to investigate, nothing to intimate that she should be thrown in jail. The only ammo Trump has is a stick to poke his racist followers until someone snaps. Trump’s base has proven that all it takes is one good chant, one sound bite to derail a political career without ever having to bring politics into the mix.
This is how it starts. Tearing down a woman running for office piece by piece because to have any woman a heartbeat away from the most important position in American politics is unfathomable. Forget her policies, forget her voting record, she’s got lady bits and talks back to men; therefore, she is the enemy. It doesn’t matter to Trump that Joe Biden is still alive and could very well live through a term in office. It only matters that Harris is there, waiting in the wings, to shit on everything Trump stands for.