Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) on Wednesday night voted “present” on the two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump in front of the full House of Representatives.
The House passed both articles.
She was the only member of the House on either side not to vote for or against the partisan-driven measures.
It was a smart and calculated move made — possibly out of principle — but also out of a logical political calculation.
She won her district in 2018 by a massive 77 percent. So even if she loses 20 percent of leftist Democrats’ support, she still has a solid win. That is her “insurance” — because she will lose some Dems over this vote but also likely pick up some Republicans.
Yet the actual gamble is in her race for the White House, in this analyst’s view.
The telegenic combat veteran already had set herself apart as a general supporter of Trump foreign policy and as a lighting rod for other Dem candidates. Her recent clashes with former candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) are thought by many to have hastened Harris’ withdrawal from the race.
Harris was falling in the polls anyway, and in another calculated move, Gabbard just picked off the straggler.
However, this “present” vote will become a litmus test for Democrats that Gabbard will be seen by many of them to have failed.
She may have failed a test for ideological purity — but her political instincts again are right on point.
Gabbard knows this will make her a bigger target for fellow Dems. That’s one of the reasons she decided recently to skip the next debate scheduled for tonight — Thursday, December 19. In a sharp scheduling move, she knows that as a no-show, she’ll be used by the assembled Dems as a victim — someone to pick on and who is not there to defend herself.
This will endear Gabbard to moderate Dems, as did her impeachment vote. The victim label is always popular with Dems.
But more than that, it makes her a topic of conversation, and with that, it generates a lot of free press for her that she won’t have to pay for out of campaign funds.
And there’s the calculation in the “present” gamble. Actually, it’s a page out of the Trump campaign playbook.
If the other Dems go for her bait, she will have set up the image of a brave moderate underdog pilloried by those who don’t have the decency to do it in front of her.
Given the hard partisan enthusiasm for impeachment among the remaining Dems in the presidential primary race, such candidates as entrepreneur Tom Steyer — who has made his whole run for office about impeachment and thus will claim proprietary victory on Thursday — will likely not be able to overcome the temptation to fall into Gabbard’s trap.
This will be especially true if he’s led into it by a line or two from a top candidate such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) or Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
So whether by conviction or strategy (probably a lot of both), Gabbard has challenged her party and her fellow candidates as well — in fact, the whole Dem narrative on impeachment.
It looks like a smart move right now.
When President Trump eventually wins acquittal in Senate and that allows Gabbard to look wise and non-partisan on such a weighty issue, it may look even smarter.