A day after William Weld suspended his Republican presidential campaign with one delegate in the bag, Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard suspended her Democratic presidential campaign after winning two delegates. The good news for those who feared the iconoclastic Gabbard might go rogue and run an independent or minor-party candidacy in the fall is that she promptly endorsed Joe Biden, as NBC News reported:
“It’s clear that Democratic primary voters have chosen, Vice President Joe Biden, to be the person who will take on President Trump in the general election,” she said, adding that, “I’m confident that he will lead our country, guided by the spirit of aloha respect and compassion, and thus help heal the divisiveness that has been tearing our country apart.”
So Bernie Sanders, who is mulling his future path, is the last remaining candidate in the way of the Biden-Trump general-election contest to come. The fact that Gabbard, a 2016 Sanders supporter who has remained on good terms with the Vermont senator, is admitting the race is over might influence his course of action.
At 38, Gabbard is just nine months older than fellow presidential campaign prodigy Pete Buttigieg, and has had a meteoric rise and fall in national politics, as Zack Beauchamp reminds us:
When Gabbard was first elected to Congress in 2012 amid an ocean of positive press, the Iraq War veteran seemed like a sure thing for a 2020 presidential run. Nancy Pelosi called her an “emerging star”; MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow predicted she was “on the fast track to being very famous.”
During her first campaign, she managed to successfully apologize for a history of anti-LGBT and anti-abortion stances, situating herself as an economic progressive and a critic of the Bush-era wars in the Middle East. The latter was particularly important, as she grounded her antiwar arguments in her personal experience witnessing the cost of war. This immunized her from the “soft on terrorism” charges so many Democrats have been afraid to receive, making her a powerful critic of “nation building” and “wars of choice.”
Another famous biracial Hawaiian politician, President Barack Obama, endorsed her congressional run. After her victory, Gabbard was given one of five vice chair positions on the Democratic National Committee, a sign of the party’s faith in her. Another rising star, then-Newark Mayor Cory Booker, told Vogue in 2013 that “she’s one of the leading voices in the party now.”
She certainly is young enough to have the opportunity to regain her “rising star” reputation, but will have to overcome some self-inflicted wounds, including connections to Hindu nationalists in India, words and actions reflecting sympathy for Syrian mass murderer Bashar al-Assad, a noisy dispute with (and defamation lawsuit against) Hillary Clinton over the 2016 Democratic nominee’s insinuation that she was being used by Russia to damage her party, and a “present” vote in the House on Trump’s impeachment. Gabbard’s future is also clouded by her decision against running for reelection this year amid threats from Hawaii Democrats to take her down.
For the time being she will earn some gratitude in Democratic circles for folding her candidacy instead of persisting as a gadfly who sometimes echoed Republican talking points. And her action will add to the pressure on Sanders to make Biden’s victory official.