Was Tulsi Gabbard’s attack on Kamala Harris the beginning of the end

From left, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.); Andrew Yang; Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii); New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio; and Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington take the stage before the start of the second night of Democratic presidential debates, hosted by CNN at the Fox Theater in Detroit, Mich., July 31. (The New York Times)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Reaction among Kamala Devi Harris’s most ardent Indian American supporters was mixed as to the prognosis in some quarters that the veritable “body blow” against her that Tulsi Gabbard delivered at the July debate was the beginning of the end and what ultimately led to Harris deciding to quit her presidential quest.

After Harris had surged in the polls after the first debate when she clobbered the front-runner, former Vice President Joe Biden, for his opposition to forced school busing, in the debate that followed, Gabbard went after Harris for her prosecutorial record when she was attorney general of California, and in the absence of an aggressive comeback by Harris, in the weeks that followed, her standing as a top-tier candidate and one of the leaders of the pack, began to plummet and consequently her fund-raising took a strong hit and this double-whammy led her to call it a day.

Recalling Gabbard’s stinging critique, which had Harris on the defensive, the conservative Washington Examiner said, “That confrontation was decisive — Harris collapsed in the polls and lost her status as one of the leaders of the pack.”

And, on Dec. 3, when Harris announced that she was withdrawing from the race, an account managed by Trump’s campaign tweeted, “Breaking News: Kamala Harris has ended her campaign for president. Congratulations Tulsi!”

Some of Harris’s supporters like Subodh Chandra dismissed the contention that Gabbard allegations of her draconian record as a prosecutor had an impact, saying, “Tulsi merits no mention. She’s irrelevant.”

But Dr. Rachakonda D. Prabhu, of Las Vegas, Nevada — one of the most influential Indian Americans in the state, who on June 14 hosted a major fund-raiser for Harris at the Queensridge Towers in Las Vegas that was attended by the who’s who of the state, besides scores of Indian American physicians and entrepreneurs, argued that Gabbard-Harris encounter had a deleterious effect.

Prabhu said, “I believe the encounter with Tulsi Gabbard was a game-changer — Tulsi really brought her down with her attack on Kamala at that debate and it was irreparable because Kamala’s answer was very weak. She seemed to have no answer besides what seemed to be her prepared comments.

“She should have defended herself very aggressively, but she did not. So, that was the turning point,” he said.

Ramesh Kapur, who hosted another major fundraiser for Harris in New York on Nov. 7, also believed that Gabbard’s invective against Harris at that debate had an adverse impact. “Of course, she gave Kamala what is called a ‘sucker-punch’ and Kamala didn’t have the answers.

“Tulsi went after Kamala, hitting her under the belt for no reason saying that Kamala was putting people in jail because she wanted cheap labor. I mean give me a break,” he said. “So, that was a cheap shot.”

Kapur said in the first debate, when Harris went after Biden, unlike what Gabbard did to her, “it as for legitimate reasons, because he (Biden) put his foot in the mouth giving credibility for (racist) Southerners,” who had opposed school busing and anti-segregationist actions by the government. “So, she was raising valid points and that had to be addressed.

“What Kamala was addressing (with Biden) was some of the civil rights and legitimate issues and what would help him (Biden) to be a better candidate and help him in his nomination. So, she did him a favor.”

Kapur, who is convinced that Harris would make the perfect vice-presidential candidate now, argued, “That’s what you want in a running mate. Someone, who can be candid with the nominee as opposed to being a lapdog like Mike Pence to Trump — he’s worse than a lapdog. He is a begging lapdog.”

But, he reiterated, Gabbard’s attack on Harris was totally unwarranted, but acknowledged that Harris should have anticipated such attacks “and that her prosecutorial stuff was always going to be a problem and would come up and when it did, she didn’t spend enough time addressing that and so, didn’t have a good answer.”

Kapur said, “That was a learning process for her —s he’s good on offense, but at that time, not on defense.”

Shekar Narasimhan, founder and co-chair of the Asian American Victory Fund, the first and only Asian American Super PAC, did not think that Gabbard’s attack against Harris was catalytic in derailing her campaign.

He said, “I don’t think so — it was all a collective thing. A lot of things had to happen, but I do think the one thing that happened that set this unraveling of her campaign in motion was the cacophony of noise that started to come out in the mass media, saying that this campaign is imploding.”

Consequently, Narasimhan said, “Because of this negative publicity, money starts to dry up, people get demoralized and the candidate herself starts to question whether, ‘Do I have a winning strategy?

“So, it was a combination of all of that. It wasn’t a well-oiled, clear message of, ‘Do I have a path to victory, and do I know what I am going to do in my campaign?’”

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