If Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth eventually becomes Joe Biden’s vice presidential nominee, pundits and historians will look back to Independence Day weekend for the moment when her campaign jumped from insider gossip to mainstream appeal.
Duckworth has long been considered an outside contender for the vice presidency. Her resumé is a Democratic dream: a combat veteran of the Iraq War, Duckworth sacrificed her legs in service to her country. After entering the House of Representatives in 2006 — flipping a Republican district long held by the abhorrent Henry Hyde, no less — Duckworth established herself as a progressive legislator and an expert on military affairs. As a Senator, she enjoys a rare “Exceeds Expectations” rating from the Center for Effective Lawmaking.
There’s just one problem: before July, not that many people knew Tammy Duckworth existed. That changed on July 6, when Fox News host Tucker Carlson inexplicably launched into a tirade about her fitness for the vice presidency.
“You’re not supposed to criticize Tammy Duckworth in any way because she once served in the military,” Carlson, America’s top-rated cable pundit, told his viewers. He pushed forward, calling Duckworth an “unimpressive person” and openly questioning her patriotism.
“It’s a very strong charge and we try not to ever make it,” Carlson then said, before accusing Duckworth of hating America. What had Duckworth done to get Tucker so riled up? She suggested having a “national dialogue” about removing controversial statues from public spaces.
That’s it. Tammy Duckworth dared to suggest we talk to each other.
On the list of stupid things a media figure can say on live television, questioning the patriotism of the Iraq War’s first female double-amputee defies ranking. Carlson has never made a secret of the fact that he considers female legislators “silly” or “unserious.” His fixation on Nancy Pelosi and freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hardly allows him to go a day without bringing it up. But there was something noticeably different about the national response to Carlson’s snide smearing of an American patriot.
Duckworth hit back later that evening, tweeting: “Does Tucker Carlson want to walk a mile in my legs and then tell me whether or not I love America?”
I would forgive Duckworth for wanting to take a swing at Carlson, or at least lobbing a few four-letter words his way. But her response showcases the yawning maturity gap separating people like Duckworth from Carlson. That’s understandable: in November 2004, while Duckworth was undergoing emergency surgery to amputate her legs after a horrific rocket attack on her Black Hawk helicopter, Tucker was offering Americans advice on how to loop and tug the perfect bow tie.
Carlson’s reprehensible attacks on Duckworth mark a growing realization among Republicans that a Duckworth vice presidency would be devastating to the GOP. Revelations that President Donald Trump knew about a Russian plan to offer bounties for the murders of American soldiers abroad have shaken voters who long considered Republicans reliable protectors of American military exceptionalism.
Even a skilled president would struggle to explain why he did nothing to protect the lives of our soldiers. For a politician as ham-fisted as Trump, the only answer is to ignore the controversy and hope voters forget. That becomes impossible with Tammy Duckworth on the national stage, constantly reminding voters not only of Republicans’ foreign policy failings, but of the terrible human cost of thoughtless conflict. It is, as the TikTok generation says, a bad look for Trump.
The Tucker Carlson controversy is already making a difference in betting markets, where Duckworth has moved into a near-tie for second place behind frontrunner Senator Kamala Harris. The spat certainly caught Joe Biden’s eye: the presumptive nominee was quick to slam Fox News for delivering “hate speech masquerading as journalism.” On Tuesday, Duckworth joined Biden for a fundraising event.
Joe Biden enjoys the luxury of choosing his running mate from one of the most competitive, accomplished fields of vice presidential contenders in modern political history. In Duckworth, Biden also finds something unique: a legitimizing voice for Democrats among voters finally willing to reconsider the Republican Party’s monopoly on military and foreign policy issues.
The 2020 campaign cycle is unlike anything Americans have ever seen before. Voters across the country are searching for a candidate unafraid to lead with big, bold ideas that reshape the American political landscape. Vice President Tammy Duckworth would be a great start.
Max Burns is a veteran Democratic strategist and senior contributor at Millennial Politics. He regularly appears on NBC News Now, Fox News, and Bloomberg Radio. Follow him on Twitter @TheMaxBurns