Democrat Tulsi Gabbard’s anti-war presidential campaign theme cheered in Malibu
MALIBU — The crowd came with Hawaiian shirts, flower leis and surfing jokes, and Tulsi Gabbard came looking to catch an elusive political wave.
Campaigning in Malibu on Sunday, the Hawaii congresswoman and presidential candidate drew applause from an audience of supporters and curious Democrats with a campaign message heavy on anti-war themes.
“Unfortunately you don’t hear many other candidates talking about this issue, but the fact of the matter is unless we work to end these wasteful regime-change wars, unless we work to end this new cold war with ever-increasing tensions between the United States and other nuclear-armed countries like Russia and China, unless we end this nuclear arms race that is costing us more money and making us less safe, we will not have the resources that we need to fix our crumbling infrastructure, to invest in protecting our environment, to invest in education, to invest in our future,” Gabbard said.
Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran, said her non-interventionist foreign policy is “why I’m running for president.”
Although she’s stuck in mid-pack in polling and fundraising among more than 20 Democratic hopefuls for 2020, Gabbard appears to have the ear of some anti-establishment Democratic voters, a faction well represented in her 150 listeners at the Malibu Public Library at an event sponsored by the Malibu and Pacific Palisades Democratic clubs.
One man, expressing frustration about Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ defeat in the 2016 Democratic primaries, asked Gabbard, “Are you going to stand up to the Democratic Party?”
Gabbard called on all Democratic candidates to tell the truth and said, “Have you seen me do that before?”, drawing shouts of approval.
In 2016, Gabbard clashed with Democratic leaders over her support for Sanders’ bid for the party’s nomination, which led her to quit as a Democratic National Committee vice chairwoman.
Some in the crowd said in interviews that’s when they became Gabbard supporters.
“She stands her ground and doesn’t do what the party wants,” said Craig Brill, a Los Angeles resident. “It says she’s got integrity, she’s not corrupted by the system.”
Gabbard was starting two days of campaigning in Southern California.
The avid surfer apparently would not have time to hit the Malibu beach.
“The next time she comes out here I’m taking her surfing,” Malibu Mayor Jefferson Wagner said to laughs and shouts of “yeah!” from the crowd, something never said about the other dozen or so Democratic candidates who’ve visited California in anticipation of the state’s March 3, 2020 primary.
Gabbard, 38, has been a unique figure since the start of her political career, when she became the youngest woman in a U.S. state legislature by being elected at age 21 to Hawaii’s equivalent of the state Assembly. Now in her fourth term representing one of Hawaii’s two U.S. House districts, she’s the only American Samoa-born and only Hindu member of Congress. She’s a rare Democratic presidential candidate with military chops, having served in Iraq and Kuwait with a Hawaii Army National Reserve field medical unit.
Gabbard drew controversy when she met with Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad during a 2017 trip to Syria and Lebanon, as well as with her past opposition to LGBT rights legislation, a position she has reversed.
“She visited Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and later said that he is not the enemy of the United States. For most Democrats who follow foreign policy, that alone is completely disqualifying,” said Jack Pitney, professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College.
But Gabbard’s obstacles are simpler than that, Pitney said, beginning with the fact that nobody has gone straight from the U.S. House to the White House since James Garfield in 1880.
Not even being a military veteran has helped Gabbard stand out so far, Pitney said.
“(Pete) Buttigieg is also a veteran and he does not have the same kind of issue baggage,” Pitney said, referring to the South Bend, Indiana mayor who has risen in the Democratic polls.
A Quinnipiac University poll of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters in California in early April found Gabbard with support from 1% of Democrats here, tied for 10th. (Former Vice President Joe Biden led with 26%, followed by Sanders at 18% and California Sen. Kamala Harris at 17%.) No national poll shows her with more than 2% support.
The better news: At this point, her polling and fundraising numbers would put her among the 20 Democrats who qualify for the first televised debates June 26-27 in Miami.
Gabbard said her strategy “is to get every single one of you to join our campaign, to ask every one of you to bring 10 people along with you.”
Although foreign policy occupied much of her nearly 50-minute talk and Q&A session, Gabbard also hit hard at populist economic themes, saying Americans are “dealing with a government that is of, by and for the rich and powerful.”
Later, Gabbard was to tour Malibu areas damaged by the 2018 fires. Her two days campaigning in Southern California include another public event Monday, May 13, at 6 p.m. at the Santa Monica Main Library.