Someday, when the shattered pieces can be reassembled, when the chaotic, absurd, and bittersweet history of Tulsi Gabbard’s presidential campaign is written, there will be several chapters set in the halcyon days and nights of the summer of 2019. That was the carefree beginning of the primary season, when every one of her supporters was still confident, when all of us had a reason to believe. Through a sustained focus on the glowing optimism of the campaign’s origins, the reader shall be suitably susceptible to the brutality of the second act, when the Democratic National Committee, the cancerous corporate media it feeds, and the masses of the herd who are sacrificed unto it pool their ugliness together and upend their bilious concoction unto Gabbard. Her supporters remember that cold shock of sludge, which hit them at the same time that summer turned to winter—there is no autumn in New Hampshire, nor on the campaign trail—and that promise, turned nostalgic, was buried under snow, that electrifying hope halted in frost.
Might we dispense with the romanticism? “Hope is a term invented by politicians to keep their disciples in line.” So observed Pier Paolo Pasolini in 1975, a few months before he was murdered, possibly on the orders of the Italian government. I’ve never forgotten his cold wisdom, even at the crest of my excitement for Gabbard, but it didn’t resonate during this primary season until, at last, it became undeniable—to me, if not to the candidate’s more sanguine supporters—that the DNC had finally vanquished her campaign. When was that, exactly? When was this pyrrhic victory, in which the Democrats congratulated themselves for sabotaging themselves, officially announced? It couldn’t have been on December the 8th, when Gabbard attended a holiday parade in Merrimack: I walked in that parade, and her supporters were still so happy, even though the temperatures sunk below thirty degrees.
We began at the strip mall, sandwiched between Bernie Sanders’s posse and Pete Buttigieg’s. “Be nice to the Pete people!” Tulsi advised as we slinked along the highway before turning toward the local elementary school and wrapping it up on Baboosic Lake Road. If this route sounds familiar, it’s because it is: the Gabbard campaign walked the same exact route in the Fourth of July parade. I walked in that parade, and met her on that day, a chaotic day characterized by massive crowds of people tripping over each other in the New England heat in a frenzied effort to meet the candidates. Kristen Gillibrand marched in New Hampshire on that day, and so did Amy Klobuchar, and even John Delaney. In the five months since, Gillibrand has withdrawn, Klobuchar has scowled her way to the finals, and Delaney has yet to accept the sobering reality of his own impotence. He’s still in the hopeful stage, still living in summer while the rest of us are in the thick of winter.
Sofia Zaldivar never made it to the end of the campaign trail.
How striking the change of a few months can be. In July, we marched swiftly, our bare arms and legs sweating in the estival sun; in December, we trudged, our knees rising slowly, as if our ankles were fettered by the cold. And how few of us there were, relative to our summertime pack: anyone can be persuaded to join ranks on a warm summer day, but a special strain of desperate dedication is required to come together when there is ice in the air. Sanders had a visibly smaller crowd, too, but Buttigieg had more paid admirers on this occasion than he had on Independence Day. Most of them scowled at us from just a few feet away, their silent contempt reminiscent of the cold hatred we received from Kamala Harris’s staff at the New Hampshire convention. However, not a single person marched for Harris in this December parade: by the time Gabbard arrived in her gloves and coat, the Harris campaign was as dead as the grass under the snow.
If Gabbard was the asteroid that annihilated Harris, then the next question was whether she could stay above water as 2019 turned to 2020. During the parade, I met with Sofia Zaldivar and asked if she expected Gabbard to qualify for the next televised debate. She was optimistic, more so than I was, although this was neither the time nor the place for cold, clinical analysis: we were dressed up as superheroes, symbols of insurmountable tenacity and strength. Most of them donned aquatic insignias in homage to the “Water Woman” meme that, as of this writing, has yet to take Twitter by storm, but I was trapped in the rubbery torment of a full-body gorilla costume. Gabbard cheered for me, grinning in enthusiastic disbelief, but the local media was wholly unintrigued.
The national media has been consistently unintrigued by Gabbard, as well. Like many a candidate before her, her criticisms of the military-industrial complex and the fictitious differences between Democrats and Republicans bar her from the intellectual vacuum of the corporate media. And yet, I believe her criticisms are muted, delivered with far less intensity than is needed at this hour. For the establishment to take such a hostile stance against her suggests a broader insecurity, a condition approaching paranoia. Hence why she could not be permitted to qualify for the December debate, much to Zaldivar’s disappointment, and to the disappointment of so many others.
Personally, I wasn’t disappointed so much as relieved. The DNC forced Gabbard to leap through so many frivolous hoops, and with the qualifications swinging upwards and sideways several times already, her fans had been kept in a state of incessant anxiety. Every day, they feared the avalanche would collapse upon them, and if it didn’t in December, then surely it would in the spring of 2020, when the institutional machinery would catch up with Gabbard and another candidate, a corporate loyalist, would emerge as the presumptive nominee. Better for the sadistic game of tease and denial to finish forthwith, and for the antidemocratic horror to be exposed, and remembered, for as long as possible.
If I am disappointed, then I am disappointed in Gabbard’s performance on the campaign trail after she was shut out of the debate. Failure to qualify for this event, the penultimate debate prior to the Iowa caucus, would be anathema to the remaining candidates. All of them understood this, hence the funereal tone to Cory Booker’s letter of protest when he didn’t make the cut. He still made the rounds for a few weeks more before he finally gave up the ghost, but he never exhibited any sense of urgency. Gabbard hasn’t, either, much to my frustration: she has read the same script at almost every one of her rallies for the last three months, telling the story of her mother baking toffee and stressing the need for interparty cooperation in Washington. With nothing at stake in her campaign for the presidential nod, why doesn’t she expose and excoriate the neoliberals who sank her ship, some of whom are still on that debate stage? Why doesn’t she go out with guns blazing? Why not set fire to the house of the DNC?
Such tactics, I am told, are not in the spirit of aloha. That may be true, but surely anger, even rage, is appropriate under certain circumstances? On October 23rd, WikiLeaks revealed that the OPCW (the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) had manufactured its evidence of the use of terroristic militarism by the Assad Administration. On November 30th, I broke this news to Gabbard, or so she claimed; I find it incredibly hard to believe that Gabbard, who has been labeled an “Assad apologist” for over a year, was not the first person to learn of this shocking story. In any case, she declined to comment on it until, five weeks after I told her about it, my associate, Christy Dopf, asked her the same question. Unfortunately, Gabbard was uncharacteristically vague in her prolix response, almost as if she were scared to address this topic. I’ve heard her speak evasively only twice before: when she was asked about Bill Clinton’s ties to Jeffrey Epstein; and when she was asked about Israel’s role in 9/11.
Every politician wears a collar, and every collar is hooked to a leash, which extends only for a few yards before it turns taut. Most of the politicians are too scared to pull their leashes, but Gabbard has taken her own to its limit—and yet, she still can’t speak forcefully about, she still can’t embrace the implications of, this monstrous revelation by WikiLeaks. It’s frustrating because we know that Gabbard is capable of so much more than she’s permitted, permitted by her being a politician. For months, we have heard her critics predict her future in news commentary, a change of career that I would gladly welcome, as it would, presumably, release her from her artificial restraints. At long last, she would have the power to speak frankly, directly, and comprehensively about scandals like this, and to explain what they mean for the authoritarians in Washington and in the Pentagon.
Until that time, we are forced to watch Gabbard sell herself short, to be so much less than she is in fact. The cruel humiliation of the spectacle has been too much for me to take, and I have tweeted about my own distaste, but probably not very accurately. Last week, I said that I was ready to stop wasting my time and energy on “a politician”, and a few days later, I admitted to having prostituted myself for her candidacy, by which I mean: I wrote undignified tributes to her, spilling glitter on her virtues while minimizing her unmistakable shortcomings.
Unfortunately, several of the people who follow my work have expressed their disgust with me, both privately and publicly, and while it is tempting, at times, to abandon this work and the social media ecosystem in which it must exist, I cannot give up, not when. we have yet to reach the proper ending. Zaldivar has already given up, retiring from Twitter and YouTube. She is sick of the ugliness, sick of the caustic rhetoric, sick of the intellectual dishonesty—and she has moved on, deleting her accounts and quitting the game. So fatigued was she with the grotesquerie of it all, she gave up with just a few weeks more to endure.
Then again, I have to ask myself how much longer I will be moving forward. How much time do I have left, exactly? The New Hampshire primary is only two weeks away, and in preparation for this climactic vote, Gabbard has abandoned Iowa completely: most of her staff has been relocated to the Granite State, where she is stumping almost every day. Accordingly, the caucus is irrelevant, and now, we just have to wait until . . . well, at the risk of arousing her supporters’ anger further, I will say we have to wait until the day we vote. Still, I wonder: what is the point of casting a ballot in a rigged contest? Where’s the percentage?
Perhaps that question is more literal than we think. Recently, I was offered the chance to become a delegate for Gabbard and to attend the Milwaukee convention in her defense. I declined for three reasons: first, one of her campaign employees, who will remain anonymous, was so disgusted by my tweeting, he spread the word that I did not deserve to be a delegate; second, the Democrats are keen on diversifying the delegates’ pool, and as a straight white male, I am undesired; and third, it is unbelievable that Gabbard will collect even one delegate in the New Hampshire primary. Why is that? Because each candidate will receive one delegate for every fifteen percentage points he or she receives when the polling stations close. Currently, Gabbard is polling between five and seven percent in the Granite State, with two weeks left to take a mighty swing.
Gravity will bring us to one place or another, but irrespective of the outcome, the new high for our candidate is to win, not the primary, but a single delegate. Perhaps the wintry disappointment has yet to descend, in which case we are still living in the contrast, the contrast between the insouciant optimism of the summer and the cold disappointment of February. Let’s enjoy the borderline while we still exist upon it.