Via Alexandra DeSanctis, who was the last Democratic candidate for president to support any restrictions on abortion?
I don’t mean this year, I mean any year.
Someone in the 2004 field, maybe? I have no memory of any Dem in recent history with a national future daring to challenge “kill ’em whenever” orthodoxy. Gabbard is breaking new ground, which is also old ground:
Gabbard told Rubin she views abortion in a “libertarian” way, saying she doesn’t think government should be dictating women’s choices. “I think that there should be some restrictions though,” she added. Rubin asked if she had a “cutoff point,” to which she replied: “I think the third trimester. Unless a woman’s life or severe health consequences is at risk, then there shouldn’t be an abortion in the third trimester.”
When Gabbard first became involved in politics in the Hawaii state legislature, she called herself pro-life, but later said having been deployed to Iraq changed her view of the issue. Since becoming a member of Congress, Gabbard has maintained a 100-percent rating from Planned Parenthood. She supports federal funding of abortion, but she did not co-sponsor a Democratic bill in the House that would repeal the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the direct use of taxpayer funds to cover abortion procedures. She also did not sponsor the Democratic “Women’s Health Protection Act,” a piece of federal legislation that would override state restrictions on abortion.
By no means is she pro-life, she’s just a bit — a meaningful bit — less pro-choice than everyone else. Which is something.
And so we turn again to one of the most confounding mysteries in politics this year: Why is Tulsi Gabbard running for president? What’s her political endgame in taking a position like this, which is welcome to people like me who won’t vote in a Democratic primary and not so welcome to people who will?
The Atlantic mulled Gabbard’s strategy a few days ago and had no more luck than anyone else did in figuring out what she’s up to.
Many high-level Democrats I spoke with for this story, who insisted on anonymity to share their true feelings about her, suspect that Gabbard is up to something other than actually trying to win the party’s nomination—even if they can’t quite identify what her goal is. These are people who have been wary since Gabbard became a Fox News favorite for criticizing Obama’s foreign policy. They believed that their distrust was vindicated when Steve Bannon brought her in for a meeting with then-president-elect Donald Trump just two weeks after the 2016 election, which was one of Trump’s first meetings with a Democrat. To this group, Gabbard looks like Jill Stein, who also talked about progressive politics and peace, but whose 2016 Green Party run was, to them, a self-centered campaign that blew a crucial hole in Hillary Clinton’s chances, eating up money and getting Russian support along the way…
Theories I’ve heard from top Democrats include that Gabbard is trying to get a TV show—“I already know which network: Fox,” one senior Democrat not affiliated with any campaign said, speaking anonymously to remain publicly neutral—and that she’s gearing up for a Trump-benefiting third-party run. “Green Party. Willing to take bets on this,” Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden tweeted last week after Gabbard appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show to trash the Democratic National Committee because she hadn’t qualified for the September debate. Gabbard later tweeted the clip with the banner “No transparency = no trust.” (Gabbard has said publicly, and confirmed to me, that she will run only as a Democrat, but when I repeated that to Tanden, she remained skeptical.)
Is that her game, winning over the hearts of Fox News fans with guest shots on Tucker, broadsides at Kamala Harris, and support for abortion regulations in the third trimester? I don’t know how well a “Tulsi!” show on Fox would fare if Trump ended up bombing Iran after all and the adamantly anti-war Gabbard had to face the Fox audience in “rally ’round the flag” mode. And if ingratiating herself to Fox viewers while damaging her chances at the Democratic nomination is her new aim, she’d have been better off renouncing support for abortion altogether. “I oppose it in the third trimester” is a nice start but still leaves Gabbard in the position of supporting the vast majority of abortions in the U.S.
As far as I’m aware, there’s no meaningful constituency for her position in a Democratic primary. Black Democrats are often called socially conservative by pundits, which may be true relative to the fringy weirdness of leftists on an array of “values” issues. But black Protestants support abortion in all or most cases to the tune of 64 percent, a higher percentage than white mainline Protestants. Overall, 82 percent of Democrats favor abortion rights in all or most instances. Gabbard’s in roughly the same position here as a Republican candidate who supports abortion rights in the first trimester: Most pro-lifers wouldn’t dare vote for that person even though his or her position on the issue is “moderate” since they wouldn’t be able to trust the candidate not to “evolve” further once in office. Likewise for pro-choice Dems who want a president who’ll show indomitable resolve in holding the line on abortion rights against Republicans, I assume. To those people, Gabbard’s a nonstarter.
Increasingly I think she’s just speaking her mind and letting the chips fall where they may, knowing that she has no chance at the nomination and believing/hoping that American politics will catch up with her in a few years. She’d be one of the more compelling politicians in the country if not for her Assad baggage. Maybe she’ll renounce that over the next few years, reposition herself as an unorthodox Democrat, and test her luck in 2024 with the benefit of higher name recognition and a national political scene that seems to be in constant flux. Gabbard’s just 38 years old. Going her own way on issues — within reason — and refusing to apologize for it might build her a base over time.
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