Politico says Kamala Harris “truly is a good debater – fluent, well-prepared, emphatic.” CNN commentator and former Hillary aide Patti Solis Doyle calls her debate skills “naturally good.” And National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar says she’s “talented at delivering a well-prepared zinger.”
They’re all wrong.
Not that the California senator and presidential candidate isn’t aiming high. It’s clear she’s trying to evoke Martin Luther King, whose rhythmic cadences and seductive turns of phrase transfixed the nation. (RELATED: Kamala Harris Calls Herself A ‘Top-Tier Candidate’ During Swipe At Tulsi Gabbard)
But she doesn’t have the chops. Even her rehearsed lines showed a tin ear, and when improvising she’s completely tone deaf. Here are seven examples:
- What she said, during the second debate: “And I’ll tell you, I come from fighters. My parents met when they were active in the civil rights movement. My sister Maya and I joke we grew up surrounded by a bunch of adults who spent full time marching and shouting about this thing called justice.”
What’s wrong: When you say “joke” it has to be funny. Her line wasn’t funny, but it easily could have been.
What she could have said: “My sister Maya and I joke that we knew how to march before we knew how to walk” or “My sister Maya and I joke that ‘We Shall Overcome’ was our first lullaby.”
- What she said, in the first debate: “There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools. She was bused to school every day. That little girl was me.”
What’s wrong: That’s not how you do a “that little girl was me” structure. Even for this hackneyed oratorical device, it’s too abrupt and lacks a clear context why we should care.
What she could have said: “Let me tell you a story. There was a little black girl in California whose local public school was all-black, underfunded, and underperforming. Yet because of the bussing policy you opposed, she was among the first children to integrate her local schools. That educational opportunity launched her on a lifetime of leadership and public service. That little girl, Vice President Biden, was me.”
- What she said (second debate): “So I walked down the road, I climbed a ladder, and I looked over the fence. And I’m going to tell you what I saw. I saw children lined up single file based on gender being walked into barracks.”
What’s wrong: Every time you use a detail, listeners will focus on it and assume that it matters. Children line up single file all the time, including by gender.
What she could have said: “So I walked down the road, I climbed a ladder, and I looked over the fence. And I’m going to tell you what I saw. I saw children as young as four wearing striped uniforms shuffling into barracks while armed guards shouted at them to hurry” (or whatever she claims to have seen).
- What she said (second debate): “I took on successfully and I prosecuted the big banks when they preyed on homeowners. I prosecuted the pharmaceutical companies when they preyed on seniors. I have prosecuted transnational criminal organizations when they preyed on women and children. I know predators, and we have a predator living in the White House.”
What’s wrong: Close, but not close enough. Rhetoricians like King make every sentence exactly parallel so the listener can easily follow and get swept up as the speaker’s point starts to swell. Here, she adds unnecessary words that muddle what should be a compelling structure.
What she could have said: “I prosecuted the big banks when they preyed on homeowners. I prosecuted the pharmaceutical companies when they preyed on seniors. I prosecuted the transnational criminal organizations when they preyed on women and children. I know predators, and we have a predator living in the White House.”
- What she said (second debate): “…to successfully prosecute the case of four more years of Donald Trump, and against him.”
What’s wrong: Though she sometimes got this line right, it’s the central case she’s trying to make for her candidacy. She should never get her own slogan wrong. And she should remember that not every American will think “prosecutor” when they look at her.
What she could have said: “I was a prosecutor for 16 years. Trust me to prosecute the case against four more years of Donald Trump.”
- What she said (first debate): “I was part of the second class to integrate Berkeley, California public schools almost two decades after Brown v. Board of Education.”
What’s wrong: To mainstream America, only one city carries a greater stigma of extreme liberalism than San Francisco – and that’s Berkeley, California. She could have made the same point without using the B-word. (RELATED: Hot Mic Catches Joe Biden’s First Words To Kamala Harris)
What she could have said: “Growing up in California, I was part of the second class to integrate the East Bay public schools almost two decades after Brown v. Board of Education.”
- What she said (second debate): “Thank you for your time.”
What’s wrong: Your last words in a debate are a terrific opportunity to leave an impression voters will remember. That’s why for many years presidential candidates ended with “and God bless America.” Can you imagine Dr. King ending with “Thank you for your time”?
What she could have said: Anything else.