BY CLARENCE PAGE
Tribune Content Agency
Considering how U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has been polling 2% or below in the crowded Democratic presidential field, you might think she would appreciate the old show-business saying that any publicity is good publicity.
Yet, gratitude was not to be found in her response to Hillary Clinton’s strong hint, without mentioning her by name, that the congresswoman from Hawaii might be in some way (gasp!) compromised or controlled by the Kremlin.
“I’m not making any predictions,” Clinton said on former Barack Obama campaign manager David Plouffe’s podcast last week. “She’s a favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far. That’s assuming (2016 Green Party candidate) Jill Stein will give it up, which she might not because she is also a Russian asset.”
Stein responded in a condescending tweet, “It’s a shame HRC is peddling conspiracy theories to justify her failure instead of reflecting on the real reason Democrats lost in 2016.”
Indeed, in the two key states of Michigan and Wisconsin, President Donald Trump won by less than the total number of votes for Stein, according to Cook Political Report. But that’s all the more reason for Democrats like Clinton to remind their voters to get out and vote.
Gabbard, by comparison, an Iraq War veteran and major in the Hawaii Army National Guard, came back Friday with a volley of response tweets: “Great! Thank you, @HillaryClinton. You, the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long, have finally come out from behind the curtain.”
Alleging a “concerted campaign” has been trying to destroy her reputation since she announced her presidential run in January, Gabbard took the fight to the former secretary of state. “We wondered who was behind it and why. Now we know — it was always you, through your proxies and powerful allies in the corporate media and war machine, afraid of the threat I pose.”
“It’s now clear that this primary is between you and me,” she tweeted. “Don’t cowardly hide behind your proxies. Join the race directly.”
Ah, there’s a lot of bad blood dripping from those tweets. Clinton supporters still fume over their candidate’s loss in the key swing states of Michigan and Wisconsin. Her critics note that Stein sat at a table with Russian President Vladimir Putin and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who later became Trump’s national security adviser, at a 2015 dinner celebrating the 10th anniversary of RT, formerly Russia Today, which critics call Putin’s news network.
Gabbard also has been criticized for meeting with Syria’s butcher President Bashar al-Assad and defending him upon her return, saying, “Assad is not the enemy of the United States because Syria does a not pose a direct threat to the United States.” Confronted about this by panelist Meghan McCain on “The View,” she didn’t dispute Assad’s use of banned weapons except to point out that “other terrorist groups in Syria” have used such weapons, too. Which reminds me of Trump’s response when asked on Fox News in 2017 about Putin’s alleged links to the murders of journalists and dissidents in Russia: “You think our country is so innocent?”
Still, until there’s more concrete evidence that she’s Putin’s puppet or a naive pawn, Gabbard deserves the benefit of the doubt. She became known as a fiercely independent fighter and irritation to her party’s establishment since she served as a vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
I expect her middle-ground positions — opposing “regime-change wars,” downplaying other countries’ human-rights issues and winning fans among conservative activists and Russian news media — will keep her support in the low single digits of Democratic primary polls. But, as Clinton suggests, she could lay the groundwork for a third-party campaign and potential spoiler status that still haunts Jill Stein.
And let us not forget, it was the possibility that Gabbard is being groomed to disrupt the presidential race in Trump’s favor that drove Clinton to single her out in the first place. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, among other investigations, found that Russia did interfere in the 2016 election and is already at work to do again in 2020.
Clinton might sound paranoid, but as she — of all people — knows, the paranoid have enemies, too.