February 29, 2016
Before we get going here, a note on who Tulsi Gabbard is. She joins Raul Grijalva, Keith Ellison, and Peter Welch as House members who have endorsed Bernie Sanders. This makes her number four out of 188 House Democrats.
As you might have figured, Hillary Clinton has endorsements from the vast majority of the other 184. Grijalva and Ellison are to the far left of those 188. They felt the Bern well before he tied in Iowa and won New Hampshire. While beneficial surrogates, the absence of their support would mean more than having hit.
Welch is the one representative from Vermont. He endorsed recently, and is the only statewide officeholder to have picked Bernie over Hillary. Again, helpful, but mostly in ending his shutout at home.
Gabbard is a different story. Until Sunday morning, she was the Vice Chair of the DNC. An earlier row with Chairperson Debbie Wasserman-Schultz over the amount of debates indicated she was at least sympathetic to Bernie, but quitting your party position to endorse is a major commitment.
This isn’t a gadfly, it isn’t a has-been or never-was. In the past decade and a half, she’s served in the Hawaii House of Representatives and on the Honolulu City Council. She did two tours in the Middle East, one in Afghanistan, another training the Kuwaiti military.
Gabbard worked for Senator Daniel Akaka of Hawaii in his D.C. office, while graduating from Officer Candidate School. She’s currently a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard in addition to serving her second term in the U.S. House.
When she won her first election in Hawaii, Tulsi became the youngest female state legislator in American history. Part Samoan and a practicing Hindu, she checks a few demographic boxes too. This is a future star in the Democratic Party. Some would argue she already is.
Why Bernie, and why now?
As we know, Bernie does better with younger voters, and Gabbard is one of the youngest members of the House. She shares his environmental concerns and is also in favor of reinstituting the Glass-Steagall Act to keep regular banking and brokerage operations separate.
When interviewed on Meet the Press yesterday, she cited her support for Bernie’s positions on foreign policy and national defense. Though Gabbard served in Iraq, she opposed the war. In general, she believes Hillary is too interventionist.
Considering all of the above, she should support Sanders, but why take the step of giving up her post and sticking her neck out now? Before Nevada, he had a path to the nomination, now he’s less than 48 hours from a virtual mathematical impossibility.
Of course, even if he loses everywhere outside of Vermont, Sanders isn’t likely to drop out soon. This would mean Gabbard is acting as a surrogate for the candidate who wouldn’t go away. Probably not the best way to get on Hillary Clinton’s good side. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi might not appreciate it either.
While this was brave, it was also brilliant. There’s no way this turns out anything other than great for her. Consider the following:
Gabbard does agree more with Sanders than Clinton. She isn’t compromising her values or anything. There’s a reason she was already a hero among many Berners. No selling out, no hypocrisy.
If Bernie has a decent Tuesday, winning a few states and going on to remain relevant, even if he falls well short, she’s a hero. In a sea of progressives, she was one of the very few to support the person she agrees with.
Doing this after his South Carolina wipeout is a Profile in Courage, and will be treated as such by the Berners, regardless of how this turns out. Should Sanders pull off a miracle, she’s on the short list to run with him, turning 35 just in time to qualify.
More likely, she’s his eventual successor. This is Bernie’s last primary season. He’s 78 next time we go through this exercise. Grijalva and Ellison are not national candidates, now, or in the future. Neither have a particularly open path in their own states.
Bernie has three main weaknesses in his matchup with Hillary. She’s perceived as much stronger on defense/foreign policy. She’s perceived as more able to get things done. He’s struggling with non-white voters. Even Bernie’s relative success with Latinos is based mostly on age.
If you could find someone for 2020 or 2024 who was young enough to appeal to Millennials, who actually is one, depending on where you draw the line for the start of the generation. If they were strongly non-interventionist, but had a military background to reinforce it.
If they were liberal/progressive on economic and social issues, with a long record of winning elections without being a traditional politician, you might have something. If that person pushed back against the establishment by resigning their DNC position, all the better.
Elizabeth Warren is not a Bernie successor. If she was interested in running for president, she would have at least made preparations this time. She’s about 70 next round, and has exhibited zero interest. Her negatives are higher than Bernie too. Think of her as the Democrats’ Ted Cruz.
All of the other younger and middle aged stars of the party are aligned with Clinton. The Democratic bench is thin anyway after heavy midterm losses in 2010 and 2014. Forty-one-year-old HUD Secretary, former San Antonio Mayor, and betting market VP favorite Julian Castro is firmly with Hillary.
He and his congressman brother are a couple of the few rivals Gabbard has among her generation. Despite the preferences of younger voters, she’s the only one with Bernie.
Rand Paul was viewed as a credible nomination contender 12 to 24 months ago. Many believed he could take his father’s movement into the mainstream. However things turn out, Bernie will have accomplished more in 2016 than Ron Paul did in 2008 or 2012.
As excited as many were about Rand, he lacked political experience, having only run for office once. Creating his own separate identity without selling out was tricky too. The combination doomed him.
Gabbard is more experienced and is already creating a distinct brand. She would bring Rand’s benefits without his drawbacks. Her military duty and youth make it hard to slap the career politician tag on her.
At a time when the GOP seems to have the market cornered on young to somewhat young politicians with diversity, the establishment can’t afford to throw her away if/when Hillary wins. Reprisals are unlikely. Clinton and friends are going to have a tough enough time unifying the party for November as it is.
Gabbard holds the cards, not the establishment. Bernie has built a movement, one with well over a million individual donors. It might not be enough to get him nominated or elected, but rest assured, that data isn’t going anywhere.
Expect to hear a lot from Tulsi Gabbard over the next few years. You’ll see her giving an acceptance speech at a Democratic convention sooner than later.