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Why Are Democrats Denying a Voice to Their Strongest Candidate?

Paul Mulshine
Star Ledger

KEENE, N.H. – Don’t tell the Democrats, but they are ignoring their best candidate for president.

That candidate is Tulsi Gabbard. She is the congresswoman from Hawaii who would have the best chance of picking up the votes of independents and even some Republicans in November. But at the moment she is being ostracized by party leaders.

Well, it’s your loss.

And you will even lose the chance to try some macadamia toffee.

Gabbard’s people handed out samples of that rare treat made from a nut grown in her native Hawaii. The toffee accompanied a speech that began with her telling the tale of how she first made friends after getting elected to the house in 2012.

Gabbard described how she had her mother back in the islands prepare 435 packages of the toffee so she could give one to each member of the House of Representatives. Her goal was to make friends on the other side of the aisle and do something about “the hyper-partisanship that is tearing us apart.” It worked.

“I started to hear from senior ranking Republicans,” Gabbard said. “Powerful people, but also probably if I cold-called them they wouldn’t return my call.”

After getting the toffee, she said, “They called to thank me.”

Who wouldn’t? The stuff is addictive.

And Gabbard is not your average, boring congress member. She is an Iraq War vet who surfs and snowboards and has a charm about her that comes, I suspect, from having grown up on a small island packed with people. If you don’t get along with your neighbors in Hawaii, then you’ve got to cross a hundred miles or so of ocean to find some new ones.

 
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard speaks with New Hampshire voters ahead of the 2020 Democratic primary.

The contrast with the current president would work in her favor – even down to the music each plays at rallies.

Trump likes to play a lot of really loud Rolling Stones music at his rallies.

Meanwhile at this small rally in the Keene State College student center, Gabbard warmed the audience up with the music of Jack Johnson, a surfer from Oahu’s North Shore who plays some of the most melodious music out there.

Not only that, but Gabbard rejects a lot of the extremism that has flourished in the Democratic Party in the Trump era. In an answer to a question from the audience on the student debt issue, she dismissed the idea of canceling all that debt. Instead she wants to regulate the often loan-shark-level interest rates and end the current ban on declaring bankruptcy on student debt.

Her idea, an eminently sensible one, is that the banks will be a lot more cautious about lending out the money if they know the student in question won’t be able to pay it back.

On health care, she rejected Medicare-for-all in favor of a system that “guarantees quality health care for everyone while allowing you to have a private plan.” She also got in a shot at “the pay-to-play culture in Washington” in which Big Pharma and lobbyists rig the system to overcharge Americans.

That’s not far from Trump’s own rhetoric on prescription prices. As I noted in a recent column on his Wildwood rally, Trump pushed the importation of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada and blasted the “rich middlemen” who have opposed such reforms.

Gabbard also sounds a lot like Trump when it comes to ending what both have termed “regime-change wars.” That’s gotten her in trouble with her fellow Democrats, she told me when I spoke with her after the rally.

“Unfortunately, when it comes to war in Washington there is one party and it is the party of the warmongers who dishonor the service of my brothers and sisters in uniforms who pay the price,” said Gabbard, who worked with a medical unit in Iraq.

That’s not the kind of rhetoric that wins friends among Democrats. Hillary Clinton termed her a “Russian asset.” At one debate, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg accused Gabbard of being “like Donald Trump” in her antiwar rhetoric.

Guilty as charged. Trump has assailed “foolish wars” and also proclaimed that “great nations do not fight endless wars.”

If Buttigieg wants to argue the opposite this fall then I for one can’t wait to hear it.

And in another shot at the leaders of her own party, Gabbard voted “present” on the Trump impeachment, making her one of only three House Democrats who failed to vote in favor of it.

That impeachment effort succeeded only in energizing the Republican base. I suspect in the long term it will be seen as a debacle for the Democrats.

In short term, however, the Democratic base is being denied the chance to hear from Gabbard in the debates. Even though she’s been polling in the same range as rich-guy candidates Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang, they made the cut for the final New Hampshire debate Friday. But she didn’t.

It’s your loss, Democrats.

And you’ll lose out on the macadamia toffee as well.

BELOW -WATCH AT THE 2:54 MARK AS PETE BUTTIGIEG COMPARES TULSI GABBARD TO DONALD TRUMP FOR DESIRING PEACE TALKS:

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