Here Comes the ‘KHive’: Buzz for Kamala Harris Grows After Biden’s Debate Stumble

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Imagine a presidency that could be, unburdened by what has been.

That is the future being dreamed about by supporters of Vice President Kamala Harris, drawn from a meme referring to one of Ms. Harris’s favorite expressions: “what can be, unburdened by what has been.”

Ms. Harris has been criticized throughout her three-plus years in office, with articles examining her management of the border crisis and her struggle to define her tenure in the often-thankless role of vice president. She has proved unpopular enough among voters that she has often not been immediately thought of as President Biden’s obvious successor, with Democratic stalwarts often naming governors like Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Gavin Newsom of California as more appealing choices.

But now, with Mr. Biden besieged with questions about his age and mental acuity after his alarming debate performance against former President Donald J. Trump last week, Ms. Harris is seeing a surge of support. It is coming from prominent Democratic politicians signaling they are prepared to close ranks around her, and from a crowd of supporters on social media labeling themselves the “KHive,” as they share posts calling attention to her occasionally zany quotations and to videos of her dance moves.

“No Coconut Trees. Just Context. Kamala for President,” posted Ian Sandler-Brown, a 22-year-old Detroit resident who works on political campaigns, in a nod to a semi-viral line of Ms. Harris’s from last year.

(“I don’t know what’s wrong with you young people,” Ms. Harris had said at a White House event, quoting her mother. “‘You think you just fell out of a coconut tree? You exist in the context of all in which you live and what came before you.”)

Suddenly, coconut tree emojis on X have come to signal support, some of it tongue-in-cheek, for Ms. Harris’s succeeding Mr. Biden as the Democratic presidential nominee. If her jocularity — she has an outsize laugh and is known to do impressions — was once mocked, many Democrats now see that quality as a sign of vitality, in contrast to Mr. Biden’s often halting public performances.

“Ironic khive posting is unironically the most energized the twitter Dem electorate has been in about a year and I think there’s probably something optimistic in that,” Kelly Weill, an author and a journalist, wrote on X.

Some social media posts have drawn comparisons between Ms. Harris and “Veep,” the political satire show starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a fictional vice president who becomes president almost by accident.

“I think the explosion of memes right now is almost a pressure release from a left that has been not having a very good time online,” Ms. Weill, a 30-year-old New Yorker, added in an interview. “The fact that there is something to joke about, that there is something to rally around, feels like optimistic energy in a place where there really hadn’t been anything before.”

The social media users posting pro-Harris memes seem to be a diverse group, including progressives like Chi Ossé, the 26-year-old New York City councilman who was heavily involved in the Black Lives Matter movement. It is less clear who would constitute her base of support on the campaign trail.

In 2020, Ms. Harris struggled to define herself as she campaigned for president as a moderate while also courting progressives. More recently, she has made inroads among Black voters, with polls consistently showing that group giving her higher marks for job performance and in hypothetical matchups against Mr. Trump than white voters do. Some of her recent campaign events have been aimed at Black and Hispanic voters, including a handful of stops in Las Vegas this spring, where she spoke with local union members and held an event about abortion rights alongside several prominent Black women.

Amid all the jokes, Ms. Harris is receiving at least some establishment support. Julián Castro, a former Obama administration official and a 2020 presidential candidate, said on MSNBC on Tuesday that Mr. Biden should drop out of the race and allow Ms. Harris to run against Mr. Trump.

“We have a stable of folks that I think could do a better job, including Vice President Harris,” he said.

Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, a close and longtime Biden ally, also said on Tuesday, “I will support her if he were to step aside.”

At a White House press briefing on Wednesday, Karine Jean-Pierre, the press secretary, said that Mr. Biden picked Ms. Harris as his running mate because “she is, indeed, the future of the party.” In a CNN poll released on Tuesday, Ms. Harris ran two percentage points behind Mr. Trump in a hypothetical matchup, while Mr. Biden trailed the former president by six points.

Ms. Harris has remained loyal to the president. When asked about the prospect of leading the country on Tuesday, she told CBS News that she was “proud to be Joe Biden’s running mate.”

Dan Morain, a longtime California journalist who wrote a biography of Ms. Harris, said both the jokes surrounding the vice president, as well as the previous dismissals of her, belied her political acumen.

“It’s just a reality with Kamala Harris that she has been underestimated for her entire career,” Mr. Morain said. “Is she a lightweight? I don’t think you run three times in California statewide and win if you’ve got no political talent.”

In a pre-emptive bet that Ms. Harris might replace Mr. Biden at the top of the ticket, Republicans have ratcheted up their attacks on her, focusing primarily on her record on immigration.

MAGA Inc., a Trump-allied super PAC, openly flirted with the idea of Ms. Harris taking the reins. “Is Invasion Czar Kamala Harris the Best They Got?” read the headline of a news release on Wednesday.

The House Republicans’ campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee, released an ad on Wednesday saying that Ms. Harris was the “enabler in chief” of the Biden administration. “Vote Republican. Stop Kamala,” the ad concluded.

In a post on X, the committee wrote that its members “are sharpening our knives if extreme House Democrats dump Joe Biden.”

Though KHivers have found endearment in Ms. Harris’s “unburdened” phrase, an official account of Mr. Trump’s campaign, @TrumpWarRoom, posted a four-minute mash-up of her repeating the line, jabbing at her for being rehearsed.

Mr. Morain suggested that those attacks indicated that Ms. Harris could be a formidable opponent to Mr. Trump.

“She’s a talented politician. She’s not Bill Clinton. She’s not Barack Obama. But she’s a good politician, and so she gets attacked,” he said. “If you’re worried about Kamala Harris as your opponent, then this is the sort of thing you would do.”



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