Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert spent much of last week at Texas’ border with Mexico, posting photos of migrants who arrived there, being interviewed by right-wing television outlets and recording a viral video. Her goal: to criticize a top Democrat in the White House.
No, not the president. The vice president.
“Now, Kamala, I want you to stand here and look at what you’ve done,” Boebert tells a cardboard cutout of the vice president, whose first name she mispronounces, in the video. As the congresswoman from Silt walks away, there’s a sound-effect explosion and a guitar riff.
Colorado Republicans in Congress are increasingly focusing their ire, especially on social media, at Vice President Kamala Harris rather than President Joe Biden. Experts say that’s unsurprising, considering Harris and Biden’s personas and politics.
“Vice President Harris is simply an easier target than President Biden,” said Seth Masket, a professor of political science at the University of Denver. “Biden is relatively popular and his approval ratings have remained fairly and consistently high despite a multiyear effort by conservatives to demonize him and attach his name to numerous scandals.
“Harris is somewhat less popular and thus easier to go after.”
Between June 1 and noon Wednesday, Boebert tweeted 70 times from her personal account, which is the biggest online bullhorn in Colorado politics. Eleven tweets were directly about Biden and 11 were about Harris. Rep. Ken Buck, a Windsor Republican, and Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican, have also tweeted as often about Harris as Biden this month.
Most of their criticisms involved immigration, as Biden has tasked Harris with solving logistical and humanitarian issues stemming from an influx of Central American migrants at the border. The vice president’s approach has been improving life in the so-called Northern Triangle — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — rather than visiting the U.S.-Mexico border.
It’s a difficult, politically fraught challenge for Harris, and her focus on Central America has been mocked by Republicans. (Meanwhile, her admonition Monday to migrant Guatemalans — “Do not come” — was panned by progressives.)
“Biden has designated her as the point person on two very controversial issues, one being immigration and the other being voting rights,” said Michael Cornfield, a professor of political science and expert on social media in politics at George Washington University. “So, he’s using her as a lightning rod, which is something that vice presidents are often called to do. He was.”
Research has shown that female politicians are more likely than male politicians to be sent critical messages on Twitter and women of color are singled out more than other groups. Harris is a woman of color, and last year, she was the top target in American politics for gender-focused criticisms and disinformation, according to a report from the Woodrow Wilson Center, a nonpartisan think tank.
“I think one reason we are seeing this is because of the difficulty of the tasks at hand that have been assigned to the VP — dealing with the crisis at the border, stepping up COVID vaccinations — but also because she is a woman,” Nina Jankowicz, an author of that report, said via email Wednesday.
“In our report, we found that 78% of the discourse against 13 politically active women in the two months leading up to the 2020 election was directed at then-Senator Harris,” Jankowicz added.
Colorado’s congressional Republicans have not exhibited sexism in their criticisms of Harris, and there’s no evidence they’re criticizing her because of her race. But, in general, research shows that criticisms of her are likely to spread farther online than criticisms of Biden.
Morgan Carroll, chair of the Colorado Democratic Party, claimed it’s “certainly no accident that” Colorado Republicans “are choosing to attack the first woman and first person of color to hold the office of the vice president.”
Whether criticizing Harris online helps Colorado Republicans in the 2022 midterm elections is an open question.
“Attacks get clicks and embeds but not necessarily campaign donations and votes,” Cornfield said. “So, I’m not sure whether there’s going to be any residual effect to any of this.”
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