Heading into the 2020 cycle, my hot take was that California Senator Kamala Harris might eventually emerge as the one to beat in the Democratic field. My reasoning was that she could potentially position herself as a hybrid of the "moderate" and far-left wings of the party, and that she was the living embodiment of pendulum-swing, backlash politics. After eight years of President Bush, Democrats were eager to nominate the anti-Bush, even if it meant taking a chance on a relatively unknown figure in Barack Obama. And following Obama's two-term presidency, Republican voters chose a nominee who was about as diametrically different from Obama as one could imagine. Given the lefty base's obsession with identity, and the center-left coalition's acute loathing of Trump, the opportunity to select a plausibly-electable, relatively young, progressive woman of color struck me as an attractive "comprehensive repudiation" option for primary voters.
We're still a long way off from any ballots being cast, but thus far, Harris' campaign has been a bit of a dud. She pulled off an impressive rollout, then enjoyed a big moment in the first debate of the season -- but has since sunk back into the single-digits, plateauing around eight percent for weeks. Why? The simplest explanation is that she's just not running a very good campaign. And no component of that campaign has been more shambolic than her handling of Democrats' top issue: Healthcare. She has embarrassingly flipped and flopped all over the place, struggling to land on a coherent policy or explanation of where she stands. Even now, in explaining her latest, inscrutable "compromise" proposal, she admits that it would indeed take away 180 million Americans' preferred private coverage:
WATCH: Kamala Harris confirms she will take away the private health insurance plans that 150 million Americans have through their employer.— Trump War Room (@TrumpWarRoom) August 1, 2019
If you like your plan, you don't get to keep it. pic.twitter.com/6oZjkUYQPQ
The federal government just wouldn't so quite as quickly under Harris' latest scheme, it seems, despite her enthusiastic sponsorship of Bernie Sanders' legislation that called for a rapid and enormously disruptive switch to full-blown single-payer healthcare. She's now claiming that she has not been "comfortable with" the bill that she repeatedly, publicly and ostentatiously embraced, racing to become the very first Senator to attach her name to Sanders' plan. She then maintained that support for two full years, openly cheering the demise of private insurance just a few months ago. But now she tells us about the doubts she's supposedly harbored all along, finally spilling the beans to rich donors at a glitzy Hamptons fundraiser:
“I have not been comfortable with Bernie’s plan,” Kamala said— Alex Thompson (@AlxThomp) August 19, 2019
of Sanders’ Medicare for All proposal at a series of fundraisers in the Hamptons (she co-sponsored Bernie’s legislation last year). she said her plan would leave room for private insurance. https://t.co/WiHC4hwYsK
Spoke to Sen. Harris about her healthcare plan in Iowa last week. She admitted, as she did at a fundraiser this weekend, that she had been uncomfortable with Sen. Sanders' version of Medicare-for-All: “I finally was like, I can’t make this circle fit into a square,” she said.— Chelsea Janes (@chelsea_janes) August 19, 2019
The Daily Beast tracks this "evolution:"
Just two years ago, Harris was comfortable enough with Sanders’ bill to become the first senator to co-sponsor it. And back then, she exhibited no discomfort in doing so. “This is about understanding, again, that health care should be a right, not a privilege. And it's also about being smart," Harris said in August 2017. “So it's not only about what is morally and ethically right,” Harris argued, “it also makes sense from a fiscal standpoint, or if you want to talk about it as a return on investment for taxpayers.” At the time, Harris’ announcement was hailed as a shrewd reading of the direction of the Democratic Party on health care—one that would boost the senator’s progressive cred ahead of a possible White House run. And as recently as April of this year, Harris' office sent a press release saying she had joined Sanders to formally introduce the Medicare-for-All Act of 2019. “Medicare for All finally makes sure every American has affordable, comprehensive health care,” she said.
Her campaign is now splitting hairs, telling reporters that there's a difference between endorsing an idea and running on your own plan, or something. Team Bernie is deeply unimpressed:
The Sanders campaign has slammed Harris’ plan as a contrived half-measure and one that would leave full implementation to her presidential successor. And on Monday, Sanders signalled that Harris’ Medicare-for-All slight in the Hamptons may figure into their broader case against a top rival. “Yes, a very strong way to show consistency is to [checks notes] tell your big donors in the Hamptons that you are suddenly opposing the bill you’ve co-sponsored,” tweeted Sanders aide David Sirota.
I'm still not entirely convinced that Harris could explain her own current plan in a digestible way, nor am I convinced that she'll even stick with it. If her polling and focus groups tell her she needs to change her stance yet again, she'll do it. I'll leave you with this thorough take-down of her policy proposal that exists at this particular moment -- subject to drastic, sudden, politically-motivated changes, of course:
New post: "Kamala Harris's deeply unserious healthcare plan" https://t.co/UXHzxC0jDD— Philip Klein (@philipaklein) July 29, 2019
UPDATE - Harris has now sunk to just five percent in the new CNN poll, in which Joe Biden holds a double-digit lead (+14) over his closest competitor (Sanders, followed closely by Warren). I can't help but suspect Team Joe derives some satisfaction from both numbers. Also, it looks like Harris isn't the only 2020 Democrat slinking away from full-blown single-payer healthcare: