Republicans turn their attention to Harris as talks grow over replacing Biden on the Democratic ticket

NEW YORK (AP) — It’s been a Republican scare tactic for years.

A vote to re-elect President Joe Bidenas the GOP often claims, is in reality a vote for Vice President Kamala HarrisIt’s a line of attack that is sometimes tinged with racist and misogynistic undertones and often with macabre imagery.

But after Bidens poor performance during last week’s presidential debateWhat has led to Democratic calls to oust him, what was once dismissed as a far-right conspiracy — Harris replacing Biden — could now have a chance to become reality. And Republicans, including Donald Trumpstep up their attacks.

Trump and his allies have rolled out new lines of attack against Harris, insulting her abilities, portraying her as Biden’s chief accomplice and accusing her of being part of a cover-up surrounding his health. It’s an effort, campaign aides have stressed, that doesn’t reflect their concerns about a potential shake-up at the top of the ticket given Biden’s insistence that he’s not dropping out of the race.

But in an Independence Day post on his Truth Social site Thursday, Trump specifically named Harris, calling her his “potential new Democratic challenger” and giving her a new derisive nickname: “Laffin’ Kamala Harris.”

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“She did poorly in the Democratic nomination process, starting at number two and ending up defeated and out of the running before she even got to Iowa, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t a ‘very talented’ politician! Just ask her mentor, the great Willie Brown of San Francisco,” he wrote. ( Harris dated Brown in the mid-1990s.)

The post came after senior Trump campaign advisers Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles released a statement earlier this week giving her a different, but similar, nickname, calling her Biden’s “Cackling Copilot Kamala Harris.”

Trump also posted an expletive-filled video, first reported by the Daily Beast, in which he was captured on the golf course calling Biden an “old, broken-down pile of shit” and declaring that he had driven the president out of the race. (Trump has repeatedly said in interviews that he did not expect Biden to be ousted.)

“He’s out of the race,” Trump said. “And that means we have Kamala. I think she’s going to be better. She’s so bad. She’s so pathetic,” he said.

Allies have also joined the attacks, portraying Harris as the chief defender of Biden’s abilities and accusing her of lying to the American public.

Biden, the White House and his campaign insist he has no plans to drop out of the race. During an interview with ABC News that aired Friday night, he said only “the Lord Almighty” would remove him from the race.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre pushed back against the tone of the attacks on Harris, particularly Trump’s decision to rekindle a decades-old relationship and other sexist rhetoric.

“I find it disgusting, I find it disturbing,” Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday. “She should be respected in the role that she has as vice president. She should be respected, just like every other vice president before her who was in that room. It’s appalling that, and I’m going to be careful about this, a former president would say something like that about a current vice president. And we should call that out — it’s not okay.”

It remains unclear how Harris would fare against Trump, compared to Biden. Replacing a candidate this late in a presidential cycle — let alone an incumbent president who has already sailed through the Democratic Party primaries — would be unprecedented in modern history, and the mechanics are complicated And potentially messy.

Polls show Harris’s popularity is similar to that of Biden and Trump. An AP-NORC poll from June found that about 4 in 10 Americans have a positive opinion of her. But the share of those who have an unfavorable opinion is slightly lower than for Trump and Biden, and about 1 in 10 still has no opinion of her.

The debate was a critical moment in Joe Biden and Donald Trump’s presidential rematch to plead their case before a national television audience. But debate viewers seem to agree that Biden had a bad night.

  • Biden is challenging swearing to stand for re-election. The growing pressure from within his Democratic Party to withdraw continues after a disastrous debate performance raised questions about his readiness. “Nobody is pushing me out,” Biden says.
  • Kamala Harris holds out for Biden. During campaign events, she admits that Biden has not done a good job, but emphasizes the stakes of the election as she tries to mobilize concerned Democrats.
  • Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has kept a low profile. The strategy comes as Trump and his campaign enjoy a series of legal and politics victories on the way to the Republican National Convention.
  • Cold, over-preparation, feeling unwell and jet lag: Here are President Joe Biden’s statements evolving reasons for his terrible performance in last week’s presidential debate.

Harris, 59, would pose a striking generational contrast to Trump, who is 78 and also showing signs of aging. As the first woman, the first Black person and the first person of South Asian descent to become vice president, she would also chart a potentially barrier-breaking candidacy that could draw support from women, minorities and young people — groups Trump has worked with to make significant gains.

Harris is also the Biden administration’s leading voice on abortion rights, an issue that has dogged Democrats since the overturning of Roe v. Wade and could boost turnout again this fall.

Trump’s campaign, however, said it was confident in Trump’s chances regardless of his opponent and rejected the idea that Harris would pose a greater challenge to Trump, seeing her as a more polarizing figure than the president.

“President Trump will defeat every Democrat on November 5 because he has a proven track record and an agenda to make America great again,” LaCivita and Wiles said in their statement.

A campaign aide suggested the focus on Harris had more to do with the current media attention on the Democratic candidacy than any belief that she will ultimately replace Biden.

The party has ample opposition research on Harris thanks to her 2020 campaign and her years as vice president, but ultimately, Biden’s record is Harris’s record, they argue. If she were to replace Biden, Trump’s advisers wouldn’t be confronted with a radically different bent.

For example, Harris was appointed by Biden to lead the government’s response to the causes of the border crisistying her to one of his weakest issues. And if he withdraws, they argue, voters will struggle to trust the administration, Harris and the press for not exposing Biden’s weaknesses sooner.

“The economy is still the economy, the border is still the border, there are still global conflicts,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Danielle Alvarez said. “And changing the person at the top of the ticket doesn’t change that reality for American voters.”

___ Associated Press reporters Linley Sanders and Josh Boak contributed to this report from Washington.

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