Run, Tulsi, Run!

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U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Orlando Corpuz

The name of Tulsi Gabbard is gaining momentum in discussions everywhere. Specifically, the topic of a bid for President of the United States for her is a highly trending topic. She is a personality powerhouse and a figure within the Democratic Party that is on a skyrocketing trajectory of popularity. People seem to really love Tulsi, and a quick search for her name indicates a number of websites, Facebook pages, and petitions to get her to run for president in 2020.

Gabbard is an intriguing and highly charismatic person, and the push for a presidential run makes sense. I’m not a big supporter and will not gush about how great I think she is, but I do think she is a political reality in the landscape and certainly worthy of a lot of discussion. I believe she is a very likely front runner for the Democrats in 2020, and could very well have a shot to win the presidency.

But, before I get too carried away with assuming her frontrunner status, it’s important to point out a few of the things that might hold her back with the Democrats.

She isn’t their perfect candidate in terms of policy positions, and in terms of the Democrats’ understanding of where she sits on the left-right political spectrum most have in mind. Her thinking can be difficult to pin down, and her place on such a linear spectrum can be very confusing to people who see politics that way.

Gabbard holds a couple of ideas I find to be quintessential libertarian social positions.

She states that she is personally opposed to gay marriage but supports withdrawing the government from making such determinations. She personally opposes abortion, but doesn’t believe government should interfere with such personal choices. From the perspective of a majority of Democrats, these positions can be a challenge. Many in the LGTBQ community openly state that they don’t trust her because of what they view as ambiguity. Through the narrow lens of liberal vs. conservative, it’s hard to place these positions on that flat line. And vehement pro-choice people in the Democratic Party have the same sort of struggle, when most want a purist position.

While libertarians understand these positions well, based upon a two-dimensional, linear understanding of political positions, Garbbard a mystifying figure on social positions for the majority of Democrats.

Overall ability is not always a positive trait for a politician. Sometimes, it puts them in a better position because they haven’t rocked the boat, but it can also cause stock to wane. As policy positions that were once ambiguous get defined, if they don’t play well, it can really hurt a campaign. Gabbard isn’t easy to figure out that way. Even if you consider the two-dimensional political spectrum, it isn’t always easy to identify an overall political philosophy with her. That sort of ambiguity becomes impossible in a bid for president.

She is anti-war in the big picture, being very vocal in opposition to war in Syria, and opposing continued US military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. But, she also was openly opposed Obama in his deal with Iran, which was a very unfavorable position for Democrats to oppose their hero and idol on much of anything. And, while she opposes war in general, she calls herself hawkish, and strongly supports covert military action involving small forces in surgical attacks; something many Democrats see as distasteful operations with too many collateral casualties.

Gabbard is also a decidedly anti-establishment figure within the party. She withdrew from being a party leader in order to better support Bernie Sanders when all the other party leadership were plotting to override his bid for president in favor of Clinton. The open opposition she has had on occasion with Obama is a huge negative not only to the majority of Democrats but especially to party leadership. While being overall anti-establishment can be a positive for her among the common everyday Democrats, it can be a hindrance if party leadership does to her what they did to Sanders.

That being said, party leadership likely cannot afford to override majority support this time around. Not without risking a major schism in the party that could destroy cohesiveness and potentially turn some of the faithful away. Using superdelegates to lock out anti-establishment candidates will likely not stand in 2020, lest there be a mass exodus of people fed up with the status quo. In this sense, Gabbard’s position as the anti-establishment rockstar helps her tremendously when the entire country’s mood is anti-establishment. The frontrunners on both sides in this past season’s primaries were all anti-establishment, save for Hillary Clinton.

For many Democrats (and sometimes Republicans), certain states of gender, minority, and religious affiliations, can override policy positions in terms of importance and qualifying factors for support. For many Democrats, the fact that Talks Gabbard is a female, Samoan-American Hindu checks off three of the boxes that can be more important than where she stands on policy. Sometimes Democrats (especially those further to the left) can overlook a lot of policy positions in support of electing a minority figure. For them, electing the first whatever minority president with a Democrat label is at least just as important, if not more important, than electing someone who agrees with them politically.

Her large support of entitlement programs also overrides a lot of other policy positions for the majority of Democrats. For many in the party, support for things like universal healthcare and shoring up Medicare and Medicaid are more important than social or foreign policy. Entitlement programs are a very big deal in the party.

Lastly, there is always the sentiment among Democrats and Republicans alike that their candidates should always represent moderate positions to make them more palatable for centrists, assuming that support from their party members is automatic and that independent voters are the ones who elect presidents. Arguments for making a case for political policy give way to believed moderation in importance for both parties. While making a case for policy is actually what wins elections, there is a dogged belief that only moderates can win. Tulsi Gabbard meets with a perception that she is a political moderate, and therefore a very desirable candidate to many Democrats.

Overall, I think Gabbard is a very likely presidential candidate in 2020. Overall, current sentiment and political mood in the US strongly favors her.

It’s easy to be wrong in predicting political movements and candidacies, but the formula is there. While I personally hold her in higher regard than most other Democratic hopefuls, I still likely wouldn’t vote for her. However, I think a whole lot of people would. If she can offer enough free things and special advantages to enough groups of people, while having the right message defined, it’s very possible that Trump (or whatever Republican) could get a very strong challenge in 2020, and Tulsi Gabbard may very well be occupying the White House.

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