Let’s make it clear right off the bat that Tulsi Gabbard will not be the Democratic nominee in 2020. The party’s base is so consumed with hatred for the president that only one criterion matters: which candidate can cast embody the spirit of The Anti-Trump. Do you hate the Orange Menace for his divisiveness, his crudity, his total lack of chill? Then lose yourself in Obama nostalgia with Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke, and Joe Biden. Or are you looking for an all-out brawl, fascists v. reds, Spanish Civil War-style? Well, Elizabeth Warren is sharpening her tomahawk, and Bernie Sanders has his game face on.
Gabbard is not the antithesis of Trump, in either temperament nor ideology. Quite the opposite: more than any of her colleagues, she resembles Trump circa 2016. And that’s what makes her the perfect Democratic candidate – for 2024. Allow me to explain.
If the president wins another term in office (which he will), the Dems will have to stop devouring themselves with rage, Ugolino-like, and start thinking seriously about coalition-building. Under Hillary Clinton, they found themselves cast as the party of journalists, policy wonks, and hedge-fund managers. They traded in a huge chunk of their blue-collar votes to the GOP in exchange for Bill Kristol and Max Boot. Yet Trump has been slowly reneging on his signature campaign promises – the ones that pissed off ‘establishment’ Republicans but won over blue-collar Democrats and independents. Gabbard has the best chance at wooing those defectors back into the fold.
For instance, Gabbard is one of the best-known opponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Trump once denounced the TPP as threatening the ‘rape of our country’ but is now apparently reconsidering at the behest of his latest economic adviser Larry Kudlow. Clearly, even Trump isn’t immune to the charms of the GOP’s free-market establishment. If protectionists lose faith in the Republican Party, Gabbard’s track record as an economic nationalist makes her ideally suited to win them over to the Democrats.
Gabbard also grabbed headlines this week over her 2017 meeting with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. When MSNBC pressed her to denounce Assad on Wednesday, she refused. ‘Assad is not the enemy of the United States,’ Gabbard insisted, ‘because Syria does not pose a direct threat to the United States.’ That was the president’s line in 2016… before he repeatedly bombed Syrian military targets over unconfirmed reports that Assad ordered chemical weapons attacks on civilians, much to the chagrin of his most ardent supporters.
Trump loyalists were likewise appalled when he admitted he didn’t care whether Saudi Arabia butchered The Washington Post’s Jamal Khashoggi. The President said he was ‘not going to destroy the economy of our country’ by canceling an arms deal over one dead journalist, adding that the Saudis ‘have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran.’ That’s exactly the sort of neocon cravenness from which Trump vowed to deliver the Republican party. And Gabbard, channeling the old Trump’s refreshing candor, reminded the President that ‘being Saudi Arabia’s bitch is not “America First.”’
And the list goes on. Rather than dodging the draft and mocking POWs, she’s served in the Hawaii Army National Guard for over 15 years. She immediately rejected the support of David Duke (who may or may not have realized he was endorsing a brown-skinned Hindu), which Trump did not. And The Huffington Post called her border policy ‘anti-immigrant and anti-refugee,’ so it can’t be all that bad.
Most impressively, perhaps, she’s willing to defy the progressive ideologues that have hijacked the DNC and turned it into a vehicle for radical secularism. Democrats routinely question the fitness of devout Catholics – the folks who buoyed their electoral fortunes for the better part of a century – to hold public office. Gabbard won’t stand for it. ‘The party that worked so hard to convince people that Catholics and Knights of Columbus like Al Smith and John F. Kennedy could be both good Catholics and good public servants shows an alarming disregard of its own history in making such attacks today,’ she wrote in an op-ed for The Hill. ‘We must call this out for what it is – religious bigotry.’
The biggest obstacle standing between Gabbard and the Trumpists is abortion. Planned Parenthood gives her an A+ rating, which generally spells death for anyone looking to court blue-collar conservatives, most of whom are devout Christians. But voters aren’t as polarized on the abortion issue as our two major parties make it seem, and polls show that abortion is a relatively low-priority issue for most voters. Trump supporters may be willing to ignore her pro-choice record if she ticks all the other boxes – especially if the Republicans nominate a squishy centrist like John Kasich to run against her.
Gabbard’s clearest path to the White House begins with dropping out of the 2020 race so she can keep her powder dry for 2024. When Trump’s personality cult is all but defunct, she won’t have to alienate his supporters by denouncing him, and she won’t risk irking the Democratic base by failing to denounce him strongly enough. She’ll be able to court his blue-collar voters without being accused of collaborationism by progressives. ‘Shoe-in’ might be too strong a word, but then again…