Democratic Party Rift: Sanders’ Supporters Do Not Like ‘Rising Star’ Harris

Sen. Kamala Harris / Getty Images
• August 3, 2017 1:16 pm


Progressive Democrats have not embraced rising star Sen. Kamala Harris (D, Calif.), highlighting a rift within the Democratic Party that evidently did not end with the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.

Speculation has recently surrounded Harris regarding a potential 2020 presidential run. Democratic donors are starting to coalesce around her as their preferred candidate, according to a report from Mic.

Certain groups that supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) for president against eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton are not jumping on board, however. Yashar Ali, a political commentator who worked for Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign, tweeted Wednesday that it was "astounding how quickly the Bernie Sanders crew has mobilized against Kamala Harris."

Harris' so-called "Bernieland" problem stems from alleged ties to Wall Street and insufficient commitment to populist economics, according to Mic.

Nomiki Konst, a Sanders supporter who serves on the Democratic National Committee's Unity Commission, told potential Harris supporters that they should "follow the money."

"The Democrats will not win until they address income inequality, no matter how they dress up their next candidate," Konst said. "If that candidate is in bed with Wall Street, you may as well lay a tombstone out for the Democratic Party now. Voters are smart; they can follow the money."

In a recent New York Times profile of Harris, RoseAnn DeMoro, a high profile Sanders supporter and executive director of National Nurses United, dismissed Harris' prospects as a progressive 2020 contender.

"She's one of the people the Democratic party is putting up," DeMoro told the Times. "In terms of where the progressives live, I don't think there's any ‘there' there."

Supporters of Harris argue that the criticism from the "Sanders crew" is misguided. Essence contributor Michael Arceneaux responded directly to DeMoro's criticism of Harris. 

"When it comes to where progressives live, uh, which ones are she referring to? The white ones?" Arceneaux wrote. "OK, but they don't make the party. See the results of the last primary."

Arceneaux was alluding to a long-standing critique that the progressive Sanders-wing has failed to gain support from minority voters.

Marcus Johnson, a black writer for HuffPost, reiterated this sentiment on Twitter. Johnson responded to a tweet from Mic that expressed Harris' problem with the "Bernie-wing" of the Democratic Party.

"She's a black woman and last year that demographic voted against Sanders at the highest rates. That ‘wing' has big props [with] black voters," Johnson wrote.

Former top Clinton adviser Peter Daou chimed in on Twitter Thursday, writing that those who attack Democrats like Harris and Sen. Cory Booker (D, N.J.) are "not progressive."

A few days prior, on July 31, Daou berated Sanders and his supporters on Twitter, calling Sanders' supporters "detrimental to the Democratic Party."

In response to Daou's tweetstorm, Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden expressed disbelief that Sanders' supporters "have it in" for Harris and Booker.

"So odd, no, that these folks have if in for Kamala Harris and Cory Booker," she wrote.

Sanders supporters have fought back, refuting accusations of sexism and racism. In a recent HuffPost opinion piece, Russ Belville argued that Sanders critics need to stop projecting blame for the Democratic Party losing to President Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

"It's almost reflexive now for some Hillary supporters to paint all Bernie's supporters as sexist and racist," Belville wrote. "The speed with which they will jump on any reason for Hillary's defeat except ‘she was a lousy candidate' is breathtaking."

Critics of Harris further argue that there are valid reasons to criticize the senator's record, according to Mic.

There are reasons for the suspicions about Harris's fealty to big financial interests. Despite opposing the nomination of treasury secretary and former Wall Street titan Steve Mnuchin, in a previous life as California attorney general, Harris was criticized for essentially letting Mnuchin's bank off the hook during the foreclosure crisis.

In 2013, prosecutors in her office drafted a memo that claimed they had "uncovered evidence suggestive of widespread misconduct" at Mnuchin's OneWest Bank. According to the Intercepts David Dayen, who first reported the memo, those prosecutors recommended Harris file a civil enforcement action against the bank. Instead, Harris did nothing. Later, it was revealed that Harris was the only 2016 Democratic senate candidate to receive a donation from Mnuchin.

Winnie Wong, co-founder of the group People for Bernie, which played a prominent role in the grassroots movement behind Sanders in 2016, said Harris is part of the "out-of-touch" Democratic Party, Mic reported.

"She is the preferred candidate of extremely wealthy and out-of-touch Democratic party donors," Wong said. "Her recent anointing is extremely telling. These donors will line her coffers ahead of 2020 and she will have the next two years to craft a message of broad appeal to a rapidly changing electorate."

Wong did indicate, however,that Harris has time to win over their side of the party in order to present a unified Democratic message in 2020.

"If she wants to advance her political career, she will have to come out authentically and honestly in support of universal health care, free college, a federal $15 hour minimum wage, criminal justice reform and the expansion of social security programs," Wong said. "Anything less than this means the party will continue to bleed voters."

Ali further noted that despite the in-fighting, not all Sanders supporters are irrationally mobilizing against Harris.

In response, Tanden, who was less surprised by the attacks on Harris, added that Sanders should do more to unify the party.