by Garrett Deasy
The most memorable moment of the second night of the CNN Democratic debate was unquestionably Tulsi Gabbard’s brutal takedown of Kamala Harris. In a debate principally characterized by sleep-inducing, passive-aggressive squabbling over the exact means and methods by which America ought to be destroyed, Gabbard’s precise, devastating attack on Harris’s record as attorney general was a breath of fresh Hawaiian air. The incisive, imagistic “she put over 1500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it” line may well have quashed any hope of Harris becoming president.
Predictably, the smears against Gabbard were hot and heavy and started almost immediately. Harris press secretary Ian Sams tweeted during the debate that the attack was a “lie offered up by an Assad apologist” and cited a debunked NBC article claiming that Gabbard’s campaign was being promoted by “The Russian propaganda machine.” After the debate, Harris referred to Gabbard as an “apologist” for Assad. In post-debate interviews, Gabbard was attacked by Anderson Cooper and Chris Cuomo for her position on Assad. On The View, Ana Navarro speculated that Gabbard might be a trojan horse candidate. On August 1, The Washington Post published an article entitled “Tulsi Gabbard’s Syria record shows why she can’t be president.” New York Times contributor Wajahat Ali implored Democrats to “Beware the Russian bots and their promotion of Tulsi Gabbard.” Of course, all this nonsense is incredible in the formal sense of the word, but that’s never stopped them before. The establishment left’s game plan for dealing with Gabbard is clear: relentlessly smear her as an Assad apologist/Russian agent and hope that it sticks.
Tulsi Gabbard will not be the Democratic nominee. However, as the ferocious attacks on Gabbard since the debate demonstrate, they are worried about her, and with good reason: there is a significant chance that Gabbard will run as a third-party candidate for President.
On July 23, Hill reporter Reid Wilson tweeted “Hot take/prediction: Tulsi Gabbard is going to endorse Trump in the end.” Former CIA agent John Sipher wrote “The Kremlin needs their new version of Jill Stein.” Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress, tweeted “My prediction: Tulsi runs as third party Green candidate to help Trump win. I will take bets on this.” In response, prominent political scientist and journalist David Rothkopf tweeted “Advice to the world: Don’t take Neera’s bet. She is 100% right on this.” Many have also drawn attention to the fact that Gabbard is one of three candidates who appeared in the CNN debates who have refused to pledge support to the eventual Democratic nominee.
These comments shouldn’t be dismissed as the paranoid ramblings of elitist neoliberals. Their fears are quite justified.
Gabbard’s signature issue is her opposition to US-led regime change wars. Given this, the idea that she would endorse the Democratic nominee is extremely dubious. Every credible candidate is an ardent defender of America’s role as policeman of the world, no matter how much they try to sugarcoat it in saccharine language about democracy and human rights. Even Bernie Sanders is significantly to her right on foreign policy. For Gabbard, endorsing the Democratic nominee would be riskier than not endorsing him/her; doing so would be seen as a betrayal by her supporters and would leave her politically homeless.
If Gabbard doesn’t endorse the Democratic nominee, she will have more or less three options: endorse a third-party candidate, endorse Trump, or set up a third-party run of her own. Barring a formidable, ideologically compatible third-party candidate entering the race, Gabbard endorsing a third-party presidential candidate is pretty unlikely; the Greens are too left-wing on social and economic issues and the Libertarians are too right-wing on economics. Barring a dramatic change in the foreign policy of the administration, Gabbard endorsing Trump is also very unlikely. The one option remaining for Gabbard would be to run for president herself.
An independent Gabbard presidential campaign would have the potential to draw in voters from all across the political spectrum. On the left, the Democratic Party is widely despised. About one third of Democratic voters support Sanders or Warren, two candidates who present themselves as being in opposition to the Democratic establishment. If Biden, Harris, or another establishment candidate won the nomination, Gabbard would be able to peel off a not insignificant number of these voters. According to a 2018 Rasmussen poll, 44% of Democrats agree that their party is “pickled in identity politics and victimology.” She could pick off many of these voters. Many who consider themselves to be on the left have already more or less abandoned the Democratic Party and are itching for a viable alternative. This faction, led by figures such as Jimmy Dore, Chris Hedges, Glenn Greenwald and Slavoj Žižek, would likely enthusiastically support Gabbard. Many IDW-tier liberals who detest the so-called “identity politics” of the Democrats but can’t stomach Trump would get behind Tulsi as well. The figurehead of this amorphous, anti-identity politics, vaguely anti-Trump liberal centrism, Joe Rogan, has already endorsed Gabbard, and that’s important whether it ought to be or not. Finally, Gabbard would draw significant support from the alt-right and the dissident right in general. Many in the alt-right are frustrated with Trump’s near-total acquiescence to Zionists on the foreign policy front and his administration’s lack of action on immigration, tech censorship and other issues. Richard Spencer, who has been actively opposing Trump for at least the past year, has expressed admiration for Gabbard. A simple CTRL-F search for “mommy” on 4chan reveals that she has a lot of supporters there. She’s a regular fixture on Tucker Carlson Tonight. Ann Coulter said that she’d consider voting for her. In short, she’s got all the right friends in all the right places.
If conducted competently, a third-party Gabbard presidential campaign would constitute a significant threat to Globohomo. Her campaign would draw support from the left, right and centre, splitting the coalition of the fringes and presenting a formidable challenge to The Orange Man. Her campaign would draw the support of RT, 4chan, Joe Rogan, innumerable left-leaning YouTube channels, much of the alt-right, and at least one Fox News show. At the very least, it would throw a major wrench in the media’s plan to make 2020 a contest between neoliberalism and neoconservatism. At most, she might win the thing. You never know.