Kamala Harris Changes the Race While Trump Tells on Himself

Welcome to our weekly analysis of the state of the 2020 campaign.

  • Joseph R. Biden Jr. has raised more than $50 million since he named Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate, a massive outpouring of donations that could help his campaign expand the electoral map and hinted at broad enthusiasm for the ticket.

  • A new poll from Marquette Law School finds the state of play in Wisconsin virtually unchanged since June. Biden leads Trump among registered voters 49 percent to 44 percent. In a Marquette poll in June, Biden lead Trump 50 to 44 percent in a state that the president narrowly carried in 2016.

  • The Biden campaign spent $14.6 million on television ads this week. The Trump campaign spent $7 million.

  • On Facebook, the Trump campaign spent $1.2 million, and the Biden campaign spent $6,500.

After a primary campaign that consumed all of 2019 and the first three months of 2020, followed by an extended vice-presidential search, the Democratic ticket was finally settled this week, in what was always widely considered to be a likely pairing: a Biden-Harris ticket.

But the history-making announcement of Senator Kamala Harris as Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s running mate still felt electrifying to Democrats, who donated $50 million to the Biden campaign in the two days after the pick (to put that in perspective, Mr. Biden raised just over $60 million in all of 2019).

The Trump administration tried to celebrate, too. “She was my number one draft pick,” Mr. Trump told reporters, even though campaign officials had said a week earlier that their preferred running mate for Mr. Biden was Susan E. Rice, the former national security adviser.

Vice President Mike Pence appeared on Fox News to tell the host Sean Hannity, “‘I like the matchup.” He added, “It’s on.”

He was right about the last part. With both tickets now settled, the final phase of the campaign season finally kicks into gear, with Democrats newly hopeful that an end to the Trump presidency is in sight, and Republicans now equipped with a full picture of the ticket they need to beat to stay in power.

The political whiplash after Ms. Harris’s selection was jolting. Progressives who had helped sink her presidential candidacy now sang her praises. Moderates who felt her campaign was uneven and without message are now calling her the future of the Democratic Party.

Even her fellow contenders for the running mate job, who had privately pushed for months that Ms. Harris was a poor match for Mr. Biden, immediately reversed course — saying she would not only make a loyal number two, but is well-positioned to make the job her own someday.

In part, this is a party eager to project unity in an effort to defeat Mr. Trump. Yet Democratic leaders also know what is clear to anyone who followed Ms. Harris’s presidential campaign: the role of vice president highlights many of her best qualities, and likely insulates her from the political dynamics that contributed to her dropping out of the presidential campaign. Consider some of the challenges she faced while campaigning for president and how the role of running mate is different.

  • She is freed from directing policy: A problem that haunted Ms. Harris’s campaign from the outset was an ability to dictate an overarching vision of America’s problems and potential solutions. There were times she rejected the language of systemic change, other times she embraced it, and the hodgepodge approach to politics and policy eventually hurt her on the trail. As vice president, that is not a burden she would face. She would be taking on the policy and vision of Mr. Biden. In many ways the role is similar to the prosecutorial ones she held throughout her career. She can also go on offense.

  • She can focus on attacking the president: This week, in her first appearances as Mr. Biden’s running mate, Ms. Harris did something she always succeeded at on the trail — going after Mr. Trump. In Iowa and South Carolina, she would call it “prosecuting the case” against the incumbent, a nod to her days in law enforcement. This skill, and her reputation for asking tough questions, gives Mr. Biden a go-to pinch-hitter for messages the campaign wants to get out but may be unsuited for the candidate.

  • Biden takes all the heat: In the end, the vice-presidential role is structured to have a high political ceiling but also little risk. The potential administration of Mr. Biden will be judged on his merits — however successful or not. If it goes well, Ms. Harris can follow a similar path as Mr. Biden. If it doesn’t, it was never her fault anyway.

Mr. Trump has never been accused of subtlety. Even in controversy, when it is politically unhelpful, or when some aides implore him not to, he has rarely couched his political intentions in mystery. This week was the latest example, when the president gave the most explicit read out of his election strategy — financially hamstring the United States Postal Service in order to discredit mail-in voting and scare white people about people of color moving to the suburbs. These are his words from two interviews this week:

  • Re: Investing in the Postal Service

    “They need that money in order to make the post office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots.”

    “If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money,” he said. “That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting. They just can’t have it.”

  • Re: An “invasion” of the suburbs if Joe Biden is elected

    “They’re going to destroy suburbia. And 30 percent of the people in suburbia are minorities. They say 35 percent, but I like to cut it lower.”

During the Democratic primary, Mr. Trump never knew quite what to do about Ms. Harris, in part because he didn’t need to (her campaign was over and done with before the primaries started in January).

The president commended the crowd size of her campaign kickoff rally. He talked about her “nasty wit,” a jab that was neither here nor there. It appeared that a woman of color presented a minefield for a president who was, at that point in the race, attempting to expand his coalition, particularly among Black voters and white suburban women.

Now, it’s a different story. Mr. Trump is running against a ticket that includes Ms. Harris, and he currently feels like he is losing.

In the hours after Ms. Harris’ selection, the president resuscitated the racist conspiracy theory of birtherism that has been part of his political brand since before he entered politics.

“I heard it today that she doesn’t meet the requirements,” Mr. Trump said of Ms. Harris, making a false assertion that Ms. Harris, born in California, was not eligible for the national office because her parents were immigrants. He also called her “angry” and “nasty.”

Were the attacks surprising? No. Was it shocking nonetheless to hear Mr. Trump give voice to a racist conspiracy theory from the White House? Yes.

  • For years, Mr. Trump perpetuated the lie that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

  • In 2016, he even attempted a version of the trope in an ugly primary fight against Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, questioning his citizenship and suggesting his Canadian roots could be a barrier to holding national office.

  • Some of Mr. Trump’s campaign advisers are insistent that they want to make a clear-cut policy case against the Biden-Harris ticket, branding them as far-left radicals. But they have always left the messaging of the campaign to Mr. Trump, who has regularly made racist appeals to his base when he feels like he is losing.