Tulsi Gabbard, encouraged by Trump, may seek spoiler role

It is not exactly breaking news that Tulsi Gabbard will not win the Democratic presidential nomination. Since announcing her candidacy in January, the U.S. House member from Hawaii has never polled higher than 2 percent in the RealClearPolitics polling average.

That may not stop Gabbard from mounting a third-party White House bid and having a major impact on the 2020 election, and one person who is welcoming that prospect is President Trump.

“I give her respect,” Trump said of Gabbard during a Florida speech over the weekend at the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit. “She didn’t vote the other day. I give her a lot of respect because she knew it was wrong. She took a pass.”

Gabbard explained that her vote of “present” on the two articles of impeachment against Trump was meant to break the “zero-sum game” of political gridlock in Washington.

Democratic presidential contender Tulsi Gabbard speaks to Democrats on Dec. 14. (Photo: Meg Kinnard/AP)

In a statement, Gabbard further explained why she didn’t vote “no” on the articles.

“I could not in good conscience vote against impeachment because I believe President Trump is guilty of wrongdoing,” Gabbard, who favored a congressional censure of Trump, said.

All but three House Democrats — Gabbard and two others, one of whom, Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, has said he is leaving the party to become a Republican — voted for the first article of impeachment. Her position drew criticism from others in the party.

“I think that when you’re a leader you have to take a position, and I just disagree with her vote,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said.

The impeachment vote is just the latest friction between Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran, and the national Democratic Party. Less than two weeks before she failed to qualify for the Dec. 19 Democratic debate, she distanced herself from the event.

In the debates she did attend, Gabbard spent a good amount of her speaking time attacking her rivals on the stage, especially Sen. Kamala Harris, the former California attorney general.

“She kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the state of California,” Gabbard said of Harris during a July debate.

In November, just weeks before she dropped out of the race, Harris took aim at Gabbard.

“I think that it’s unfortunate that we have someone on this stage that is attempting to be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States who during the Obama administration spent four years full-time on Fox News criticizing President Obama,” Harris said.

Gabbard, who has announced that she won’t seek reelection to the House in 2020, has been a regular in conservative media, often appearing on Fox News with a message tailored to conservative Democrats, isolationist Republicans and the radically antiwar left. Over the weekend she was endorsed by retired Ohio congressman and former Cleveland Mayor Dennis Kucinich. That demographic, while unlikely to give her enough votes to claim victory in 2020, could be lured by her candidacy from supporting the eventual Democratic nominee. As happened in the 2016 election, when Green Party candidate Jill Stein peeled away crucial support from Hillary Clinton, those votes could very well tip the election in Trump’s favor.

Trump defeated Clinton by just 10,704 votes in Michigan, for example, a state where Stein received 51,463 votes. In Wisconsin, Trump won by 22,177 votes, while Stein received 31,006.

While Gabbard hasn’t been campaigning in either Michigan or Wisconsin this year, she has focused her efforts in another potential swing state in 2020: New Hampshire. She has moved there to campaign ahead of the Feb. 11 primary, and a November Quinnipiac poll shows that while she is receiving 6 percent support from likely Democratic voters, she is the first choice among voters who self-identify as independents (10 percent).

Given the bad blood between Gabbard and the Democratic Party, it’s easy to imagine her pursuing a third-party run.

In an explosive October interview, Clinton called Stein a “Russian asset,” and added that President Vladimir Putin’s government was “grooming” Gabbard for 2020.

“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. She’s the favorite of the Russians,” Clinton said.

Numerous Democrats have noted that Gabbard’s criticism of Russia has been decidedly muted, especially in the wake of her “fact-finding mission” to Syria in 2017.

Editor’s note: Gabbard told Yahoo News Wednesday that she is not planning to run as a third-party candidate.

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