Douglas MacKinnon: Could Tulsi Gabbard represent the biggest threat to Trump in 2020?

In 2015 and 2016, Donald J. Trump was either written off as a presidential candidate, or relegated to the lowest tier by most pundits and many in the media.

In 2019, Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii has been similarly written off or relegated to the lowest tier of presidential candidates.

Little surprise, then, that in an imprecise but telling snap-poll on the Drudge Report, she was declared the clear winner of the first Democratic debate by thousands who took time to vote. She also turned out to be the most-searched candidate from the debate on Google trends.


No one paid attention to Trump in the early stages back then and no one is (or was) paying attention to Gabbard now.

During that first debate, a lot of war-weary, disenfranchised voters saw and heard someone who was speaking to their fears as well as their hopes.

Except maybe the voters.

In 2016, I sent an email to several members of the media a few weeks prior to the election predicting that Trump would get 306 electoral votes, including Pennsylvania's.

It was not that I had any special insight. I simply tried to set aside all bias and factor in what I was hearing from actual voters from both ends of the political spectrum. As an example, one year before the election, I heard a very liberal friend in Massachusetts say, "This Trump guy is starting to make sense to me." That same week, I heard the same sentiment from a very conservative friend in Florida.

They were canaries in the coal mine who no one wanted to hear from because of preconceived notions, partisanship, or outright hate. Those canaries are singing again.

Early on, many of these same political and media "experts" decided that Gabbard was an asterisk to be ignored.

The people may feel differently.

For sure, Gabbard — who holds hybrid positions that appeal to both Democrats and Republicans — feels differently, and she is not shy about calling out those who either doubt her or who she feels have treated her and her campaign unfairly.

Partly in response to the disrespect aimed in her direction, Gabbard said, "I think the media has such an incredible responsibility to report news and the truth and that’s just not what we see anymore … me and my campaign have been on the receiving end of very intentional smear efforts trying to undermine our campaign coming through, you know, NBC News quoting articles that are completely baseless. I did an interview with George Stephanopoulos and he says, ‘Well, you know this article in the Daily Beast says Putin supports your campaign.’ Based on what? Nothing. Really nothing."

Voters have made it clear that experience and real genuineness are at the top of their list when looking for qualifications in a candidate.

In Gabbard, they have a woman who has made real history and has broken glass ceilings by being the very first Samoan-American and first Hindu member of the United States Congress. She's a candidate who served her country as an officer in the United States Army while deployed in a combat zone in Iraq, and then another tour in Kuwait.

She also wielded her military experience against Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan in the first debate when he suggested the United States must "stay engaged" in Afghanistan.

"Is that what you tell the parents of those two soldiers who were just killed in Afghanistan?" Gabbard said. "As a soldier, I will tell you that answer is unacceptable ... we are no better off in Afghanistan than we were when this war began."

In Gabbard, voters have one of the few acknowledged foreign policy experts in Congress. One who is correctly calling out the "neocon war hawks" continually supporting increased U.S. military intervention abroad, while also stressing that it makes no sense not to talk to the leaders of Russia and Syria if we are serious about defeating "the shared threat like al Qaeda and ISIS."

More than that, she has also rightfully slapped the ever-increasing threat of nuclear war right back on the policy-discussion table where it belongs.


During that first debate, a lot of war-weary, disenfranchised voters saw and heard someone who was speaking to their fears as well as their hopes.

If I were someone in the Trump campaign, Tulsi Gabbard would be the last Democratic candidate I would want to see on the final debate stage.