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Why would the most talked-about candidate at the Democratic Party debate be almost entirely invisible on Twitter and attacked on cable networks afterward? Perhaps because the establishment protects its own.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) was the most searched-for candidate in every single state after Wednesday night’s second Democratic debate, according to Google trends. Conservative news outlets Breitbart and the Drudge Report also declared her the victor, with 50 and 39 percent of the vote respectively.
However, you wouldn’t know that if you had been watching CNN or MSNBC. While Gabbard is a foreign-policy focused candidate who has repeatedly stated her opposition to “regime change wars” abroad and her appetite for criminal justice reform at home, MSNBC couldn’t move past a meeting Gabbard had with Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2017, in a bid to bring a resolution to the county’s long conflict.
Pressed to denounce Assad, Gabbard snapped. “You’re talking about a meeting that took place, what, three years ago?” she shot back. “And every time I come back here on MSNBC, you guys talk to me about these issues, it sounds like these are talking points that Kamala Harris and her campaign are feeding you because she’s refusing to address the questions that were posed to her…this is where the propaganda comes in.”
The attacks on Gabbard indeed followed her debate skirmish with Harris, a senator from California and another contender for the Democrats’ presidential nomination – but more on that in a moment.
CNN also used the Assad meeting as a club to bash Gabbard. On Wednesday night, Anderson Cooper pushed the congresswoman for two-and-a-half minutes to denounce Assad as a “murderer and a torturer.” The Washington Post got in on the act on Thursday, declaring in a headline that “Tulsi gabbard’s Syria record shows why she can’t be president.”
Gabbard seems to have attracted all this media flak only because she “destroyed” the establishment darling Harris during the second debate.
In under a minute, Gabbard shredded Harris to pieces for jailing more than 1,500 nonviolent marijuana offenders while admitting in a radio interview that she had smoked marijuana in college, and for the ‘tough-on-crime’ stances she took as California’s attorney general. “She blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row… she kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor… and she fought to keep the cash bail system in place,” Gabbard continued, leaving Harris wincing and hanging her head.
“When you were in a position to make a difference or an impact in people’s lives, you did not,” Gabbard pressed. “The people who suffered under your reign as prosecutor, you owe them an apology.”
Such an exchange is par for the course in political debates, where everything between embarrassing yearbook photos and the summary jailing of thousands of pot offenders is fair game. However, that’s an unforgivable sin when the target is Harris, who appears to be the media darling of the 2020 campaign as much as Hillary Clinton was in 2016.
Harris headed into Wednesday’s debate polling fourth, but from the moment her candidacy was announced in January, she was treated to favorable media coverage. The New York Times described her as having “history-making potential,” while the former California prosecutor was ranked six places above progressive icon Bernie Sanders in CNN’s opaque “power rankings.”
Harris herself seems to have bought into the hype, telling CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday that as “a top tier candidate,” she could only take Gabbard “and her opinion so seriously.”
Democratic royalty rallied around her too, with Clinton describing her as “one of my favorite Democrats,” and suggesting that criticism of Harris was both sexist and a betrayal of party values.
“If you don’t want to support Democrats,” she said, “then go somewhere else.”
Clinton, of all people, ought to know better. Having essentially taken over the DNC to beat the more popular candidate and take her party’s nomination in 2016, she rode the wave of near-universal positive media coverage, sure of her victory over Donald Trump – until she lost.