Pushing back against Clinton comments, Gabbard takes on ‘corrupt elite’ Dems
By Stephen Loiaconi
Monday, October 21 2019
WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) — Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, touted former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s recent criticism of her Monday as she fights to keep her bid for the party’s 2020 nomination alive and qualify for the next primary debate.
“If you’re sick of the new McCarthyism and warmongering by Hillary and her cohorts, then join our campaign. We need your support. Democrat, Republican, Independent — it doesn’t matter. We need to unite to usher in a govt which is of, by, and for the people!” Gabbard tweeted Monday, along with a clip from an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show and a link to donate to her campaign.
Gabbard made several similar appeals over the weekend, including a two-minute video in which she claimed she is under attack by Clinton and “her rich and powerful friends” because she endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders over the former secretary of state in the 2016 primaries.
“They will not intimidate us. They will not silence us. We are not here just to protest their corruption. I am running for president to take the Democratic Party and our country back from the corrupt elite,” Gabbard said in the video.
The congresswoman, a veteran of the Iraq War who quit her position as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee to back Sanders in 2016, has aggressively pushed back against comments Clinton made in a podcast interview released Thursday. Speaking to David Plouffe, who was former President Barack Obama’s campaign manager, Clinton suggested Republicans defeated her by taking advantage of a third-party campaign by Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein and warned they may do so again.
“They’re also going to do third party again, and 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,” Clinton said.
Clinton did not name names, but her comments have been widely understood as a reference to Gabbard, and a Clinton spokesman has confirmed that is who she was talking about. Spokesman Nick Merrill has also stressed that the “grooming” remark was an allegation against Republicans–not Russia, as some have reported–but Clinton did suggest Gabbard is a Kremlin asset.
“She’s the favorite of the Russians,” she told Plouffe of the potential third-party challenger. “They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far. That’s assuming Jill Stein will give it up, which she might not because she’s also a Russian asset. Yeah, she’s a Russian asset, totally.”
Gabbard initially fired back on Twitter Friday, calling Clinton “the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long.” She also claimed the 2020 Democratic primary is now “between you and me” and dared Clinton to enter the race.
The congresswoman got some unsolicited support from President Donald Trump, who tweeted Saturday night, “Hillary’s gone Crazy!”
“She’s accusing everyone of being a Russian agent. These people are sick. There’s something wrong with them,” Trump told reporters during a Cabinet meeting Monday.
Several of Gabbard’s fellow 2020 candidates have also come to her defense, chiding Clinton for floating an explosive allegation without evidence.
“I don’t know what the basis is for that. I consider her a competitor. I respect her service… I would prefer we had arguments in terms of policy,” said South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“The Democratic establishment has got to stop smearing women it finds inconvenient! The character assassination of women who don’t toe the party line will backfire,” said Marianne Williamson.
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke rejected the suggestion that Gabbard is being “groomed” by anyone.
“She’s her own person, obviously has served this country and continues to serve this country in uniform, in Congress, as a candidate for the presidency,” he told reporters. “And so, I think those facts speak for themselves.”
That said, Clinton is far from the first person to lodge such allegations against Gabbard. The congresswoman complained at last week’s primary debate about “completely despicable” media reports depicting her as a Russian asset, and some experts see valid reasons to believe she is Moscow’s favored candidate, whether she knows it or not.
Since Gabbard announced her campaign, she has been hounded by reports of Russian bots and trolls promoting her candidacy online. An NBC News analysis in February found she was receiving far more coverage than better-known candidates on Russia-based news outlets RT and Sputnik News.
That disproportionate Russian media coverage has continued, as have other indications the forces that attempted to influence the 2016 election on behalf of the Kremlin are now backing Gabbard. According to The Wall Street Journal, a clip of Gabbard confronting Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., during the second primary debate in July was boosted using the hashtag #KamalaHarrisDestroyed by hundreds of Twitter accounts with “questionable characteristics.”
However, despite suspicions from the media and the Harris campaign, Twitter said it found no evidence of “bot activity” amplifying the hashtag. In an interview with Rolling Stone in August, Gabbard rejected accusations of Russian support as a “pathetic” and “ridiculous” smear campaign.
The Russian embassy’s Twitter account defending Gabbard against criticism for her controversial views on Syria likely did not help dispel those concerns. She has repeatedly denounced the “regime change war” against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, has expressed skepticism about accusations that he used chemical weapons, and has refused to apologize for meeting with Assad in 2017.
“I will never apologize for doing all that I can to prevent more of my brothers and sisters from being sent into harm’s way, to fight counter-productive regime-change wars that make our country less safe, that take more lives, and that cost taxpayers trillions more dollars,” Gabbard said in an interview with CNN after Sen. Harris called her an “apologist” for Assad during the July debate. “So, if that means meeting with a dictator, or meeting with an adversary, absolutely. I would do it.”
That does not make her a Russian asset, but it does put her at odds with the broad consensus in Washington that Assad is a war criminal who cannot be trusted.
“The most significant suspicion would be on her openness to working with Assad, and that essentially is a bipartisan concern,” said Michael Cohen, chief strategy officer for Republican polling and data firm WPA Intelligence.
Gabbard, who is still a major in the Army National Guard, has often cited her military experience in explaining her desire to get the U.S. out of conflicts in the Middle East, but critics say her positions align with Russian and Syrian talking points. In some cases, they are also not significantly different from Trump’s foreign policy views, which does not sit well with some Democrats.
“There are Democrats who, like her, take a non-interventionist approach to foreign policy,” said Bob Mann, a former Senate press secretary and author of “Becoming Ronald Reagan: The Rise of a Conservative Icon.” “But Gabbard’s approach is one that’s more strictly isolationist, with a touch of dictator-coddling thrown in. That’s too much like Trump for many Democrats.”
Trump invited Gabbard to meet at Trump Tower during his transition in 2016 for what she described as a “frank and positive” conversation about Syria, ISIS, and other foreign policy matters. At the time, she said she took the meeting in hopes of convincing the president-elect not to listen to “the drumbeats of war that neocons have been beating” to overthrow the Syrian government.
“From her warm embrace of Russian ally Bashar Assad to her proudly touting her meeting with Donald Trump immediately after the 2016 election, Tulsi has earned a reputation of being less-than-trustworthy among most Democrats,” said Hamza Khan, a Democratic strategist and founder of the Pluralism Project.
Gabbard’s isolationist stance has won her support from some surprising places, including the alt-right. She has at times received praise from former Trump strategist Stephen Bannon, white nationalist Richard Spencer, and evangelist Franklin Graham. According to The New York Times, she has also become a favorite of right-wing trolls and anti-Semites on 4chan and the Daily Stormer.
She has sought to distance herself from the far-right extremists who have gravitated toward her, denouncing former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke when he seemingly endorsed her earlier this year.
“I have strongly denounced David Duke’s hateful views and his so-called ‘support’ multiple times in the past, and reject his support,” Gabbard said in February, accusing those talking about the subject of trying to distract from her anti-interventionist message.
President Trump suggested Monday the Clinton controversy has benefited Gabbard’s campaign, and there is evidence it has. Gabbard has picked up nearly 100,000 new Twitter followers since Friday, and her scathing response to Clinton has earned her extensive free media coverage.
“She’s not having much impact on the race,” Mann said. “Her poll numbers are quite low, and most people don’t know who she is. After Clinton attacked her, more people will know her. She’s probably not too disappointed with all this attention.”
The burst of national media interest comes at a critical moment in the Democratic primary race. Gabbard has qualified for three of the four debates so far, but she needs to clear the threshold set by the DNC in three more polls to make it into the next one in November.
“While Tulsi Gabbard will likely see a small bump in support from fervent anti-Clintonistas within the Democratic Party, it is doubtful that this will evolve into a strong enough base for her to qualify for the next debate,” Khan said. “Her campaign has been plagued with problems from the very start.”
Cohen expects any gain Gabbard sees from the dustup to be short-lived, and he doubts this gets her any closer to winning in Iowa or New Hampshire.
“She’ll probably be a story for about a week before we move on to something else… Like any campaign, you take the gifts when they come to you,” he said.
Even if Clinton’s “Russian asset” remarks overstepped the facts, the underlying concern about a third party spoiler candidacy by Gabbard, Stein, or someone else is not entirely unfounded. Stein and Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson drew enough votes in key states in 2016 to potentially have made a difference. However, polls suggest their voters would have been split between Clinton, Trump, and just staying home if they were not in the race.
“That’s surely the main reason for Clinton’s attacks on her,” Mann said. “She’s not a real contender for the nomination, so Clinton must be worried that she might be the Jill Stein of the 2020 election.”
Shining a spotlight on Gabbard as she flounders in the Democratic race may not be the best way to avert that. Also, questioning the loyalty of a sitting member of Congress and military veteran based on nebulous evidence has generated some blowback against Clinton from the right and the left.
“This is Hillary Clinton punching down and thinking she can get away with it, and in this case she just didn’t,” Cohen said.
Khan was less troubled by the blunt accusation, and despite Gabbard’s assurance that she does not intend to run as a third-party candidate, he cautioned Democrats against underestimating her.
“Rather than the smoke and mirrors that dominated the 1990s, politicians are now free to speak with transparency about the issues and their disposition to one another,” he said. “The question really is: how fragile are the egos in play? In the case of Tulsi Gabbard, very—and that is dangerous.”
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