Kamala Harris needs a message

Michael Greiner
5 min readJun 29, 2019
By Office of the Attorney General of California — https://web.archive.org/web/20111212153543/http://oag.ca.gov/news/photo-gallery/more-100-arrests-ca-undercover-gang-operation, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65240470

She’s impressive, but nobody knows why she’s running

The big story to emerge from the Democratic debates last week was likely Kamala Harris. She far outshone candidates perceived to be much bigger stars than her, including Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. And her takedown of Biden was epic.

This should not be surprising. Her announcement led to a flurry of enthusiasm for her candidacy, enthusiasm that slowly but surely died down. We saw the same thing after she embarrassed Attorney General William Barr with her questioning, an exchange that led her colleague and competing Presidential candidate Cory Booker to grin despite himself.

Truly, in a debate setting, she is by far the most impressive Democratic candidate. So why is she not taking off the way Elizabeth Warren or Pete Buttitieg have been?

By The Circus on SHOWTIME — YouTube, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77040528

The difference is that they have a message. Elizabeth Warren is the candidate of substance, fighting for the little people against the entrenched corporate interests. Pete Buttitieg is fighting for the millennials whose future has been mortgaged by the baby boomers — what used to be called, appropriately, the “me” generation. These two candidates have a message. They stand for something. Just what does Kamala Harris stand for, though?

The most effective campaigns have always been the ones that had a strong message. Consider Ronald Reagan. In 1980, it was “are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Then in 1984, it was “morning in America.” With his spin doctor Michael Deaver and his background as an actor, this was a team that understood message.

In 1988, George H.W. Bush overcame a big deficit to Mike Dukakis by arguing that what people liked about Reagan, Bush was. But what people did not like about Reagan, Bush wasn’t. Remember “a kinder gentler America”? That’s what that was all…



Michael Greiner

Mike is an Assistant Professor of Management for Legal and Ethical Studies at Oakland U. Mike combines his scholarship with practical experience in politics.