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RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.: Better late than never, Harris struggles to reach out to Latinos

Kamala Harris was supposed to have a lock on the Latino vote. Instead, she is fumbling with the keys.

In her latest fumble, the vice president named Jamal Simmons as her communications director. The Democratic political analyst likes to take to Twitter to discuss immigration — and other stuff he knows nothing about. In the process, he sounds like what former Wyoming Sen. Al Simpson used to call the “south end of a horse headed north.”

In 2010, Simmons put out tweets advocating that the United States “harden” the U.S.-Mexico border and expressing shock that undocumented youth who were protesting U.S. immigration policy weren’t picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and deported.

Quite the progressive. Clearly, this guy is a restrictionist Democrat akin to former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Instead of addressing the controversy publicly, Simmons tried to smooth it out in private phone calls with prominent immigrants.

Even so, according to accounts of those calls posted on Twitter, Simmons is not good at communicating. Rather than clear the fog, he creates more. He claims his words were poorly chosen, which is just the skill set one wants in a director of communications.

The timing of L’Affaire Simmons is dreadful. The only reason that Harris is thinking beyond black and white is because — as is known in every corner of Washington — she is ready to run for president in 2024 if the current officeholder is unwilling or unable to do so.

Yet, America doesn’t seem ready for Harris to be president. Her approval rating is underwater at 32 percent, according to a recent USA Today/Suffolk University poll.

Meanwhile, the rapport between Harris and Latinos — who could represent as many as 1 in 8 eligible voters in 2024 — should have been smoother. Harris is nonwhite, the daughter of immigrants, and hails from California — where nearly 40 percent of the population has a Spanish surname. If anyone should be “fluent” in attracting Latino support, it was thought to be Harris.

In August 2020, some Democrats believed that Harris would help Joe Biden win over Latino voters.

Take Raul Reyes, a left-leaning Ivy League lawyer who aspires to write opinion columns but often misses the mark because his vision is obscured by the pompoms he waves for Democrats.

“Harris cares about the Latino community and will help mobilize Latino voters. In choosing her for his running mate, Biden made the right choice for Latinos — and for America’s future,” Reyes wrote in The Hill just days after Biden put Harris on the ticket.

Awkward. Now, Harris is the one who needs help with Latinos.

What went wrong? First, the fact that Harris is Black doesn’t mean she cares about Latinos. Next, being the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India who met while pursuing doctorate degrees doesn’t mean she can relate to disadvantaged immigrants from Mexico or desperate refugees from Central America. And finally, those of us in California — who had a front row seat to Harris’ tenure as state attorney general (2011-2017) and U.S. senator (2017-2021) — know that her record of advocacy on behalf of Latinos could fit on a postcard from Disneyland.

After one year as vice president, Harris’s relationship with Latinos is such a disaster that it ought to have little orange cones all over it.

She approaches the community with ignorance and arrogance. She doesn’t know the first thing about us, but she won’t take a second to learn what she doesn’t know.

When Biden stuck her with fixing the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border — where authorities reported more than 1.8 million contacts with migrants and refugees in 2021 — Harris spent months avoiding the subject. Finally, in June 2021, she flew to Mexico and Guatemala to confront the “root causes” of the problem. For our neighbors, her visit was as pleasant as a root canal.

“I want to be clear to folks in the region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border,” she said in Guatemala City. “Do not come. Do not come.”

That was the heartless message from this daughter of immigrants to desperate people who have run out of options.

It’s no wonder that some Latinos have tagged Harris with the unflattering nickname “que mala” (how wicked).

There is no use denying it. Harris knows she’s got a problema with Latinos. According to the news site Axios, she is looking for a Democratic operative to fill a new Hispanic outreach role.

Wow. A year into the job, and the Hispanic outreach position on Harris’ staff has only now been created.

Que mala.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is crimscribe@icloud.com. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.

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