Debate: Tulsi Gabbard knocks Kamala Harris from her pedestal

If there was anything that made the sludge of lies, hypocrisies, and panders of the fourth Democratic debate worth watching, it was that one little moment when Rep. Tulsi Gabbard effectively slapped Sen. Kamala Harris upside the head over her checkered record as a prosecutor.  That was an ambush.  And Harris responded like a deer in the headlights.

Harris's abysmal record as someone who's refused to correct false testimony, thrown petty drug criminals in jail even as she laughed about her own pot use, and advocated for the death penalty is indeed a liability and something conservatives have been complaining about for years.  Now coming from Gabbard, it was, if anything, even more effective.  Here's some of the New York Times' transcript:

Gabbard: I want to bring the conversation back to the broken criminal justice system that is disproportionately, negatively impacting black and brown people all across this country today. Now, Senator Harris says she's proud of her record as a prosecutor and that she'll be a prosecutor president. But I'm deeply concerned about this record. There are too many examples to cite but she put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana.

She blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so. She kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the state of California, and she fought to keep a cash bail system in place that impacts poor people in the worst kind of way.

Jake Tapper (moderator): Thank you, Congresswoman. Senator Harris, your response?

Harris: As the elected attorney general of California, I did the work of significantly reforming the criminal justice system of a state of 40 million people, which became a national model for the work that needs to be done. And I am proud of that work. And I am proud of making a decision to not just give fancy speeches or be in a legislative body and give speeches on the floor but actually doing the work, of being in the position to use the power that I had to reform a system that is badly in need of reform. That is why we created initiatives that were about re-entering former offenders and getting them counseling. It's why, and because I know the criminal justice system is so broken, it is why I'm an advocate for what we need to do to not only decriminalize but legalize marijuana in the United States.

Tapper: Thank you, Senator. I want to bring Congresswoman Gabbard back in.

Gabbard: The bottom line is, when you were in a position to make a difference and an impact in these people's lives, you did not and worse yet in the case of those who are on death row, innocent people, you actually blocked evidence from being revealed that would have freed them until you were forced to do so. There's no excuse for that and the people who suffered under your reign as prosecutor — you owe them an apology.

As I watched the debate, and saw the CNN moderators carom through obscure and prominent candidates for commentary on race relations and criminal matters, it was a conversation that almost didn't happen.  CNN was protecting Harris by not calling out her name for the matter, which was discussion of criminal justice reform (Bill de Blasio with all his city's police and race relations problems wasn't so lucky).  But Harris interjected and created an opening for Gabbard, who was ready like a leopard set to pounce.

Most telling about the whole encounter was the body language.  Here are three photo montages of the two as Gabbard was making her ambush, from CNN:

Look at the body language.  Harris is looking down, narrowing her eyes, trying to scowl, trying to glare, but mostly looking defensive.  She was clearly on her back foot and unable to answer Gabbard's charges, not expecting them to come from a fellow Democrat.

Gabbard, by contrast, was confident, mellifluous, well practiced, and not speaking too fast.  Plus, she looked like a million bucks, while Harris looked kind of decrepit.

And from Gabbard's point of view, it was a home run, not just for the pleasure of cutting Harris down a notch, but because tonight was her do-or-die night, as Tiane Lowe's piece in the Washington Examiner noted, running as it did before the debate.  Had Harris read that, she might have been ready for it.  She wasn't.

Update: Here's something even worse: Harris's reaction to the matter, when asked by CNN in the after-debate, was pathetic.  As Chris Cillizza noted, she effectively told CNN that she was the most popular kid in school and Tulsi was the geek trying to knock her down a peg, so she didn't need to pay any attention to Tulsi because she was still the prom queen.  As Cillizza noted, that's not answering the question, that's a sign of a thin skin, and above all, it's "not a good look for any politician."

Perhaps this means the Harris bubble is over.  Her old boyfriend Willie Brown has already said he never really thought she had what it takes to be president, and this astonishing exchange shows it.  If Harris can't handle Gabbard, how is she going to handle President Trump?  She virtually crumpled in the face of Gabbard.

Count on some falling poll numbers to pay Harris a visit after this one.

Image credit: Photo montages by Monica Showalter from CNN YouTube screen shots.

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