Among the dozen Democrats who debated earlier this month in Ohio, one of the least known is Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. This piece is about a bizarre story that appeared in the news last week involving her, Hillary Clinton, the Russians, and a complete lack of judgment. If you missed it, you are forgiven. Our President and his team dominated the news with statements and actions that may very well signal the end of the Trump era. Tulsi Gabbard’s actions, by comparison, were nothing. It was just her blowing up her own credibility, conclusively ending a campaign for President that was going nowhere anyway.
At first, I thought it was amateurish fake news. The title was, “Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Has Harsh Words for Hillary Clinton: ‘You, the Queen of Warmongers, Embodiment of Corruption.” Strange. Then I noticed the story was in Newsweek. I soon realized dozens of other reputable publications were carrying the same story. Could it be that an exchange between Gabbard and Clinton so juvenile and nasty as to defy belief had occurred?
First, it’s worth noting that the language of Hillary was restrained in contrast with the all-out war of words launched by the Hawaiian Congresswoman. Hillary, in a podcast with David Plouffe, suggested Gabbard had backers in Moscow. While not mentioning Gabbard by name, she commented, “I’m not making any predictions, but I think they’ve got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate, . . . She’s the favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far.”
This wasn’t the first time Hillary Clinton accused Trump supporters, including the Russians, of backing a spoiler candidate. In 2016, she claimed that Moscow and others were supporting Green Party candidate Jill Stein. While this accusation is not proven, a Senate investigation and the Mueller report found that it held some credence. Russians, as part of their overall, well-documented efforts to elect Trump, sought to persuade African American voters that voting for Jill Stein was a good alternative to voting for Clinton. In so doing, they hoped to indirectly help Trump win. Interesting.
Clinton’s accusation, based on her 2016 comments and evidence indicating she may have been right, is not surprising. Gabbard’s response to it was. It was a melt-down. It was behavior that was unjustified under any circumstances. It was behavior establishing beyond a doubt that Gabbard does not have the temperament to be President.
Her complete explosion, documented for history in the form of three tweets, reads in whole as follows: “Great! Thank you @HillaryClinton. You, the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long, have finally come out from behind the curtain. From the day I announced my candidacy, there has been a concerted campaign to destroy my reputation. We wondered who was behind it and why.
Now we know — it was always you, through your proxies and powerful allies in the corporate media and war machine, afraid of the threat I pose. It’s now clear that this primary is between you and me. Don’t cowardly hide behind your proxies. Join the race directly.”
In fairness to Gabbard, please note that she indicates she will not run as a third-party candidate. Let’s hope this is true.
In hindsight, anyone who entertained Gabbard as the nominee, however briefly, should reexamine how they look at candidates. I am among those in this category. I saw an articulate, energetic veteran running for President. She contrasted well to entrants like Beto O’Rourke, Marianne Williamson, and even, Kirsten Gillibrand. It was not until I read about her bizarre support for al Assad in Syria that I took the trouble to learn more. Once I did, my antennas went up.
The more you examine her positions, especially those relating to foreign policy, the more curious she becomes. A prime example was her statement on Syria during the last debate. She offered, “Donald Trump has the blood of the Kurds on his hand, but so do many of the politicians in our country from both parties who have supported this ongoing regime change war in Syria that started in 2011.” She was corrected by Pete Buttigieg, who described her perspective as “dead wrong.” She has also harshly criticized President Obama when he was in office for not using the term “radical Islamist.”
It is not uncommon to witness candidates blowing themselves up in the course of the grueling two years of campaigning that proceeds getting elected as President, but it seems each instance offers a separate lesson. Whether it is Muskie crying publicly, Tom Eagleton’s mental health issues being disclosed, or Gary Hart getting exposed in a different way, Gabbard offers a clear lesson: If you want to be President, demonstrate Presidential poise and judgment on the campaign trail. This means reacting with restraint even if you believe you have been attacked unfairly.
I will leave it to others to determine whether Gabbard is a “favorite of the Russians.” If Putin is backing her, he made a bad choice. It’s also worth noting that some of Gabbard’s competitors have questioned the allegation she is working for the Russians, including Beto O’Rourke, Buttigieg, Williamson and Yang. But the issue is not whether Clinton’s claim is true, its how Gabbard responded to it.
The Republican party has its mad tweeter. The Democratic party doesn’t need one.
J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. He is a former counsel to the House Committee on Education and Labor. For more than 30 years, he advised clients on federal education and social service policy.