The Democratic primary was nice while it lasted. Bernie Sanders proved there is a cure for a broken heart: democratic socialism. Elizabeth Warren made Brandesian liberalism cool again. And Joe Biden finally got his groove back. But that’s all over.
Yes, a few debates — and all the primaries and caucuses — are still on the calendar. But these are mere formalities, elaborate rituals bending inexorably to a foregone conclusion. This is Tulsi Gabbard’s party now.
Over the weekend, the Hawaii congresswoman won the backing of the only Democratic voter who matters, Dennis John Kucinich, the most influential former mayor of Cleveland in the United States today.
“As a former Cleveland mayor and eight-term U.S. congressman, I remain concerned that our country is spending too much time looking for dragons to slay in other countries instead of taking care of things here at home,” Kucinich said in a video endorsement. “That’s why I’m supporting Tulsi Gabbard for the Democratic nomination for president. She has the courage and the intelligence to get our country back on track.”
In all seriousness, Kucinich is a largely admirable (if politically marginal) figure. The former Ohio congressman gave voice to the Democratic left in his 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns and through his crusade to impeach George W. Bush. But given how little success Kucinich had in winning votes for himself when he held federal office, it seems doubtful his endorsement can do much for Gabbard today.
Especially since the logic of Kucinich’s recommendation is dubious. It is true that Gabbard is more anti-interventionist than the average Democrat. But it’s not clear that she is more dovish than Sanders — who also happens to have more than 11 times Gabbard’s level of voter support and thus an actual chance of winning the Democratic nomination.
Sanders has voted against all of Trump’s proposed increases to the Pentagon budget. He opposed the war in Iraq and recently disavowed his vote for the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. He has pledged to finance new domestic programs with cuts to defense spending and routinely decries not merely America’s recent misadventures in the Middle East but also its history of backing regime-change operations against democratically elected governments in South America. Gabbard is a proponent of paring back defense spending and America’s footprint overseas. But she has also said, “When it comes to the war against terrorists, I’m a hawk” — and substantiated that claim by endorsing drone strikes against terror cells overseas and opposing the release of “Muslim terrorist leaders” from Guantánamo Bay in 2014. More remarkable, as Jacobin’s Branko Marcetic notes, Gabbard was a vocal critic of Barack Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran and undermined its congressional approval in various ways before finally getting behind the deal.
But that’s all kind of beside the point, which is that Tulsi Gabbard is never going to be the Democratic nominee. Endorsing a pro–War on Terror candidate who is polling at 1.7 percent will do nothing to bring U.S. policy into closer alignment with Kucinich’s putative ideals. Granted, for Kucinich, endorsing an antiwar candidate who is actually competitive probably wouldn’t have much impact either. But such an endorsement would at least make sense on its own terms.