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Tulsi Gabbard has a future in politics — but not at the White House

Tulsi Gabbard has a future in politics — but not at the White House
© Greg Nash

At 38, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is one of the youngest of the Democratic presidential candidates. But she has done a lot in a short time. She has served in the Hawaii state legislature, done two military tours in the Middle East and is in her fourth term as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. She became the first Hindu elected to Congress in 2012.

Her family moved to Hawaii when she was two. She became and still is an avid surfer. Gabbard describes herself as “Aloha” candidate which to her means the candidate representing peace, love and diversity.

Military madness 

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Her military background and her membership on the House Armed Services, Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs Committee gives her a platform to address national security issues. The representative from Hawaii is one of the three Democratic presidential candidates along with Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegHigh-speed rail getting last minute push in Congress Buttigieg: Bipartisan deal on infrastructure 'strongly preferred' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden ends infrastructure talks with key Republican | Colonial Pipeline CEO grilled over ransomware attack | Texas gov signs bills to improve power grid after winter storm MORE of South Bend, Ind. and Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonOcasio-Cortez, Gillibrand and Moulton call for more high-speed rail funding in infrastructure package America must keep its promise to Afghan translators High-speed rail getting last minute push in Congress MORE (D-Mass.) who served in the military during the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq.

She and Moulton are the only Democratic presidential candidates who have focused their campaigns on national security policy. She served two tours in the Middle East in the 29th Brigade Combat Team and she remains a major in the Hawaii National Guard.

She is a critic of U.S. military intervention abroad and that has been a big part of her presidential campaign. At a time when the U.S. military is stretched so thinly abroad, there’s a need for a candidate like her who raises the issue of imperial overreach. She believes “regime change wars are bankrupting our country and our moral authority.”

She clearly is a Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Memo: The center strikes back Sanders against infrastructure deal with more gas taxes, electric vehicle fees Sunday shows - Voting rights, infrastructure in the spotlight MORE economic populist bur some of her positions on national security have alienated potential liberal supporters. She voted against a congressional resolution condemning Syrian strongman Bashar Assad for atrocities against opponents of his regime. She also supported the Russian bombing of anti-Assad rebels during the civil war there. She opposed allowing Syrian refuges refuge in Hawaii. Like President TrumpDonald TrumpMaria Bartiromo defends reporting: 'Keep trashing me, I'll keep telling the truth' The Memo: The center strikes back Republicans eye Nashville crack-up to gain House seat MORE, she criticized President Obama for refusing to use the term, “Islamic extremism.”

Presidential politics

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Gabbard was an ardent supporter of Sen. Sanders (I-Vt.)  during the 2016 Democratic primary. She first gained national exposure when she resigned her position as vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee to protest the committee’s treatment of Sanders. 

She is one of two strong 2016 Sanders supporters, along with Marianne WilliamsonMarianne WilliamsonSusan Sarandon and Marianne Williamson call for justice in Steven Donziger case Marianne Williamson: Refusal to hike minimum wage is part of 'rigged economy' Rush Limbaugh dead at 70 MORE, who now is running for the Democratic nomination against the Vermont senator. Their candidacies are an indication of the problems Sanders faces in his repeat bid for the White House. In the last presidential election, Sanders was the only progressive alternative to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Memo: The center strikes back Democratic clamor grows for select committee on Jan. 6 attack White House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine MORE. Now Gabbard, Williamson and especially Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThe Memo: The center strikes back Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Democrats have turned solidly against gas tax MORE (D-Mass.) illustrate the fragmentation of Sanders’s 2016 progressive coalition. 

Gabbard may not be a serious player in this race but at least two of the women running could be. Up to this point, Clinton has been only one woman who has been a major player in Democratic presidential politics. This time, Gabbard and five other women are running for the Democratic nomination.

Both frontrunners, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenExpanding child tax credit could lift 4 million children out of poverty: analysis Maria Bartiromo defends reporting: 'Keep trashing me, I'll keep telling the truth' The Memo: The center strikes back MORE and Sanders are men but there is good reason to believe that at least one of them will falter along the way. If one or both run into trouble, two women, Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBiden, Harris send well wishes for Father's Day The U.S. and Mexico must revamp institutions supporting their joint efforts Harris signals a potential breakthrough in US-Mexico cooperation MORE of California and Warren are well positioned to fill the vacuum. A CNN analysis of the 2016 exit polls indicates that 58 percent of the Democratic primary voters were women and that could even be higher in 2020. 

Obstacles 

First impressions count and her presidential campaign got off to a poor start. She had been a strong opponent of marriage equality early in her political career. She later reversed her position but failed to defuse attacks for her past position which created a controversy and clouded her announcement. There was a big gap between her expression of her intent to run and the official announcement of her candidacy. Soon after her announcement, her campaign manager and political consulting firm both left the campaign.

Then there’s the Garfield curse. James Garfield in 1881 was the last man to move directly from the House of Representatives to the White House. It’s easy to understand why it’s so difficult for House members to make the jump. Gabbard and her House colleagues in the presidential race — Reps. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanDemocratic clamor grows for select committee on Jan. 6 attack J.D. Vance emerges as wild card in Ohio GOP Senate primary 9 Senate seats most likely to flip in 2022 MORE of Ohio, Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellMo Brooks accuses Swalwell attorney who served papers on his wife of trespassing Senate on collision course over Trump DOJ subpoenas Democrats weigh next steps on Jan. 6 probe MORE of California — have very little national visibility. 

It’s just much easier to establish a national presence when you’re one of 100 members of the Senate than if you’re one of 435 House members. House members are specialists in one or two policy areas. Senators need to deal with a broad range of issues which is good preparation for the global responsibilities that a successful president must confront. 

Gabbard is young and she undoubtedly has a future in politics. But her immediate future is not likely to include residence in the White House. She could run for governor or senator someday. But if she fails in her presidential bid and runs for reelection, she already has a Democratic primary challenger. Her near future is uncertain but she is young and will have other opportunities to serve her country as she has had in the past.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Dateline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter @BradBannon.

This is the 18th piece in a series of profiles by Bannon on 2020 Democratic hopefuls. Read his analysis on Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio)Mayor Pete ButtigiegSen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourkeformer Govs. Jay Inslee and John Hickenlooper, former Vice President Joe BidenSen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), former HUD Secretary Julian CastroSen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)