Kamala Harris is a socialist.
Kamala Harris is a pawn of Wall Street.
Kamala Harris is weak on crime.
Kamala Harris was too aggressive as a prosecutor.
Kamala Harris’ ascent has the left in mutiny.
Kamala Harris is a puppet of the far left.
In the 24 hours since Harris was announced as presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s running mate, Republicans have launched a variety of contradictory attacks on the newly formed Biden-Harris ticket.
Pulling from a grab bag of dubious accusations, President Donald Trump’s campaign and other leading GOP officials and prominent conservatives on social media, like Donald Trump Jr., have pushed conflicting caricatures of Biden, Harris and the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, furthering the appearance that Republicans are still broadly unsure of what kind of messaging will stick with voters ahead of November’s general election.
The most consistent thread has been the most familiar one: that Biden, and now Harris, is a front for socialists and anarchistic radicals pulling the strings of the Democratic Party. It’s been a difficult sell so far, given Biden’s 40-year record of liberal-leaning centrism, but Trump has pushed it consistently over the past few months. In a fundraising email on Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence welcomed Harris to the race with a similar warning.
“From the very first day of this Administration, President Trump has set our Nation on a path to freedom and opportunity,” the email read. “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris would set America on the path of SOCIALISM and DECLINE.”
On Tuesday night, the Republican narratives clashed on the Twitter timelines of Trump aides and allies, like GOP rapid response director Steve Guest, who posted a link to a collection of grumblings from a faction of left-wing pundits and reporters who had been critical of Biden’s selection of Harris.
The headline: “Liberals revolt against Biden, Harris ticket.”
Harris is no darling of the Democratic left, but the suggestion that “liberals” were launching an insurrection against her selection was belied by broadly supportive statements – from Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, among others – about Biden’s pick.
Meanwhile, on another wavelength, Trump Jr. and others were nurturing another theory on the upshot of the Biden-Harris union: that leftist radicals had successfully completed their coup and taken control of the Democratic Party.
“The radical left has officially captured Joe Biden!” Trump Jr. tweeted, quoting a post by Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh, who had linked to a GovTrack analysis that ranked Harris, in his words, as “the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate in 2019,” ahead of Sanders.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel pushed a similar line, quoting from a Fox News opinion piece by David Bossie, Trump’s deputy campaign manager in 2016, accusing Biden and Harris of being beholden to “radical socialists and anarchists.”
“Make no mistake about it, if elected, this weak Democratic duo will aid and abet the radical socialists and anarchists at every turn,” Bossie wrote. “Americans must reject Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and their dangerous ideology.”
But the Trump campaign, again, was simultaneously promoting a different and opposite criticism of the Democratic candidates. This time it was deputy communications director Matt Wolking, who retweeted Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley’s post, linking to a CNBC report highlighting financial executives’ positive reaction to Biden’s pick.
“Of course Wall Street is delighted with Biden/Harris,” Hawley tweeted. “Right back to the #China appeasement, unfettered globalism, and ruinous trade policies that have transferred billions from working people to Wall Street. That’s the Biden agenda.”
The incongruous messaging also popped up during an awkward Trump campaign call with reporters on Tuesday night, which featured Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and senior campaign adviser Katrina Pierson.
Speaking first, Blackburn, in line with the campaign’s previous suggestions, called Harris the “most liberal, leftist nominee for vice president that our country has ever seen.” She went on to argue that “security moms” will look harshly on Harris’ support for the Black Lives Matter movement and judge her to be untrustworthy on “law and order” issues.
“And they will look at her record as a DA in San Francisco,” Blackburn continued, “and say, ‘You know what, security in our communities is important and I don’t want someone who says that they are not going to be tough on hardened criminals.’ “
But when Pierson began to make her case, she pushed in a different direction, suggesting that Harris had actually, during her time as a prosecutor, gone too far and been too draconian in her treatment of criminal suspects and convicts.
“Her record as California attorney general is also abysmal. She fought to keep inmates locked up in overcrowded prisons so they could be used for cheap labor, she championed laws that put parents in jail for truancy and prosecuted the mentally ill,” Pierson said. “So as an African American woman, we welcome Kamala Harris to the race.”
Pressed to make sense of the criticisms, Pierson insisted that she and Blackburn were on the same page, telling reporters that they were “conflating the issue.”
“She’s a phony,” Pierson said of Harris, reprising a line from earlier in the call. “She was going after the wrong people. When you’re not going after gang members, but you’re going after citizens, for example Black men and marijuana, something that she herself admitted to doing, it’s really a double standard she’s trying to keep and moving forward.”
The exchange underscored the tension between two tactics central to the Trump campaign’s efforts to drive down Biden’s support. The suggestion that Biden and Harris are tools of a socialist cabal is meant to win back moderate voters, who, according to most polling, are drifting toward the Democrats. But Trump and Republicans are also trying to erode support and enthusiasm for Biden and Harris among voters of color by pointing to their records on criminal justice issues.
Harris’ record on that count was litigated in great detail during the Democratic primary, when rival candidates and activists questioned her progressive credentials, accusing the former prosecutor of too readily embracing the “tough on crime” policies of the 1990s and early 2000s. The reality was complicated. Harris made headlines earlier in her career for not seeking the death penalty against a suspect accused of killing a police officer, but also, later on, appealing a federal court decision that called California’s implementation of capital punishment unconstitutional.
During the campaign, she released a criminal justice reform plan that would ban the death penalty, end the use of cash bail and, as part of a broader effort across party lines, seek to roll back a mass incarceration crisis that has some of its roots in Biden’s 1994 crime bill – legislation that enjoyed bipartisan support at the time but is now roundly criticized by Democrats and many Republicans as too punitive.
The conflicting lines of attack against Biden and Harris caught the eye of some Democrats, like Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, who suggested on Tuesday night that the dissonance was emblematic of a party and campaign at loose ends over how to address the Democratic ticket.
“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,” Schatz tweeted. “Historic pick. Smart pick. Exciting. This is good.”
CNN’s DJ Judd contributed to this story.