#KHive: Kamala Harris memes abound after Joe Biden’s debate disaster

<span>Memes celebrate Kamala Harris’s verbal gymnastics.</span><span>Photograph: Rebecca Noble/Reuters</span>
Memes celebrate Kamala Harris’s verbal gymnastics.Photograph: Rebecca Noble/Reuters

In the aftermath of Joe Biden’s disastrous debate performance, left-leaning Americans can’t stop talking about the vice-president online. Memes about Kamala Harris are spreading with a speed and enthusiasm previously unseen on X and Instagram.

Supercuts of her set to RuPaul’s Call Me Mother. Threads of her “funniest Veep moments”. Collages of jokes about her over a green album cover a la Charli xcx’s Brat. Numerous riffs on a comment she made about a coconut tree. Previous progressive snark about Harris has cast her either as an incompetent sidekick a la HBO’s Veep or as an anti-progressive cop, a reference to her years as California’s top law enforcement official. But as rumors circle about discussions of Biden dropping out of the presidential race, social media commentary on the nation’s second-in-command has grown more positive – even if ironically so.

The Veep clips describing Harris now show Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) becoming president despite her years of ineptitude. The cop jokes come with side-by-sides of the vice-president and Donald Trump’s mugshot. Witness the rise of the “KHive”, a term coined by MSNBC’s Joy Reid for fans of the vice-president in the style of Beyonce’s Beyhive. And as the memes take a turn, so too have the polls. Recent numbers indicate Harris is having a “surprise resurgence”, polling more positively against Trump than Biden and all other rumored Democratic candidates, including Gavin Newsom and Pete Buttigieg.

The bleak wake of the debate is not the first time the vice-president has inspired jokes on social media, though it is the loudest. A video of Harris informing Joe Biden the two had won the 2020 election – most of all her “we did it, Joe” remark – has been a popular meme since the start of the administration.

Conservatives have also made jokes at the vice-president’s expense for years now. In a January 2022 interview about the administration’s Covid policies, she gave the tautological answer: “It’s time for us to do what we have been doing, and that time is every day.” Fox News said she had been “crushed for non-answer”. The Daily Wire said she “incoherently babbles”. Ben Shapiro said on TikTok: “Every day, there is a new all-time Kamala Harris clip.”

The recent meme cycle, whether joking or authentic, celebrates these kinds of verbal gymnastics, which are characteristic of Harris’s speeches – sometimes profound, sometimes nonsensical. Her most popular quip involves her mother and a coconut tree. In May 2023, she said, “My mother used to – she would give us a hard time sometimes, and she would say to us, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with you young people. You think you just fell out of a coconut tree?’ You exist in the context of all in which you live and what came before you.” The story was part of a speech on educational economic opportunity for Latino Americans; you can read the full transcript on the White House’s website.

A simple coconut emoji has become shorthand for the vice president. Mashups of her coconut tree anecdote have become punchlines in videos, images, and text on X (formerly Twitter), Instagram, and TikTok, racking up tens of thousands of likes and retweets. Several of her other trademark remarks have enjoyed a similar resurgence.

The Biden-Harris campaign seems to have taken notice and intends to ride the virtual wave of support, even if it did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The president and vice-president posted a job ad on 3 July in search of a social media strategist for Harris specifically. The aide will write posts for Harris every day in an effort to “expand the vice-president’s voice online”, per Politico.

The explosion of Harris content mirrors how Donald Trump’s speeches and tweets spread as memes. His bizarre, idiosyncratic way of talking and tweeting makes for funny reference points on both right and left, insertable into unrelated jokes for the pastiche effect of the best absurd online humor. Outlandish rhetoric that stands out for its flourishes – whether putatively weighty like Harris or unapologetically pugnacious like Trump – makes for good punchlines.

Another of Harris’ aphorisms appears with almost comic frequency and has made its way into the online frenzy over her: “What can be, unburdened by what has been.” A supercut of her making the remark in dozens of different public appearances, nearly four minutes of the same phrase repeated over and over again, has been retweeted nearly 9,000 times.

A video of her dancing alongside a drum line has also resurfaced, remixed to showcase her ascendancy as Biden’s star fades. As one tweet of the video reads: “Kamala seeing the CNN polls this morning.” Her distinctive laugh, which makes an appearance in the coconut tree tale before her demeanor and tone turn inexplicably somber, has long inspired posts remarking on her willingness to display emotion in public. Biden, by contrast, spoke in a feeble monotone during the debate. Against Trump’s gesticulation and rancor, Biden appeared gray and weak. Observers online wonder: could Kamala stand up to Trump, as she once did to Biden himself?

Related: Kamala Harris: insiders rally behind VP to replace Biden if he bows out

Why the enthusiasm for Harris now? Perhaps despair over the other two options. One tweet crystalizes the reason for the quick shift in the vibes online: “Who cares if she’s weird? At least she’s not a felon or 80.”

And is the turn to Harris genuine or just a nihilistic joke in the face of an uninspiring election? The same tweet winks with absurd maximalism of internet speech: “We need a Gemini Rising woman President from California who is on pills+wine, is campy, and didn’t get married until she was middle aged because she was too busy being a 365 party girlboss.”

Parts of the tweet are true – Harris’ ascendant astrological sign is indeed Gemini – but “365 party girlboss” is a reference to Charli xcx’s album Brat, another meme of the moment. There’s also no evidence she’s on pills.

With the Democratic machine in disarray as rumors of Biden’s resignation swirl, it’s not clear what comes next for the vice-president – or the US. As one tweet blending multiple Harris quips stated, in an attitude of throwing exasperated hands to the sky: “God grant me the serenity to be unburdened by what has been, the courage to see what can be, and the wisdom to live in the context.”