“It’s going to be President Trump and Vice President Pence on the ballot against two of our Nation’s most RADICAL Democrats: Sleepy Joe Biden and Phony Kamala Harris. Both of them are corrupt career politicians who LOVE anarchy and HATE America. ... It’s REAL Americans vs. SOCIALISTS,” said a fundraising email from the Trump campaign.
The characterization of Biden and Harris as socialists stretches the boundaries of believability. Biden, the former vice president, was considered one of the most moderate candidates in the Democratic presidential primary. He opposes “Medicare for All,” a Green New Deal and full college debt forgiveness. He frequently had to defend his more conservative positions and the deals he cut with Republicans.
While to the left of Biden, Harris often frustrated progressives for her record on criminal justice as California attorney general and her unwillingness to embrace ideas like Medicare for All.
There was a democratic socialist in the race, but he lost. And he was far more progressive than both Biden and Harris, currently a senator from California. But in Donald Trump’s world, they’re basically the same as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
In a Trump campaign call with reporters, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said the Harris announcement “completed the leftist takeover of the party.” Trump campaign senior adviser Katrina Pierson said Biden “is an empty shell being filled with the extreme agenda of the radicals on the left.”
Actual democratic socialists and progressives found these claims absurd.
“If Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are secret socialists, why are actual socialists like me constantly talking about how awful their records are?” said Micah Uetricht, deputy editor of Jacobin.
“For me, socialism means Medicare for All and free public college. It means canceling rent in the pandemic and universal basic income,“ said Sumathy Kumar, co-chair of the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, naming policies that Biden and Harris do not fully support. “That’s what socialism is to me.”
“Radical” was just one of many of the characterizations the Trump world tried out on the Biden-Harris ticket on Tuesday. The Biden campaign counted at least 20 lines of attack the Trump campaign used against Harris. Some of them were contradictory ― she was both too soft on crime but also had an unacceptably tough record as a prosecutor.
Jenna Ellis, a senior legal adviser to the Trump campaign, simply tweeted out a poll asking people how they should go after Harris.
“They have had all of this time to think and prepare and they still don’t actually don’t know what to do about Kamala. Historic pick. Smart pick. Exciting. This is good,” tweeted Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), referring to the fact that Harris was long discussed as one of the top prospects to be Biden’s running mate.
Of course, just because the Trump team hasn’t settled on a single moniker or line of attack yet doesn’t mean that it won’t. Something could eventually stick.
But it’s clear that the Trump campaign was going to use similar criticisms no matter whom Biden chose.
“It doesn’t really matter who Biden picks as his VP ― the radical left will be in control either way,” the campaign tweeted last week.
“The Trump campaign has already discredited their attacks before we’re even out of the gate by announcing that regardless of who Joe Biden nominates, they’ll strain to depict the VP candidate as ‘radical’ ― just like they’ve tried and failed to do with Biden himself for months. In other words, they’ve flat-out admitted they will lie,” responded Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates on Tuesday.
Uetricht wasn’t surprised about what the Trump campaign is doing ― and, he said, he wasn’t really worried.
“The right will always call anyone to the left of Richard Nixon ‘socialists.’ It’s kind of nice — they’ve worn out the term so badly that Americans aren’t afraid of it anymore. Especially after we just saw what an actual socialist politician looks like in Bernie Sanders,” he said. “The right is going to keep redbaiting into eternity, with diminishing returns; meanwhile, those of us who really are socialists will keep building the socialist movement.”
S.V. Dáte and Alanna Vagianos contributed reporting.