Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, whose unsuccessful but unstopping campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination seemed to have slipped the normal bounds of political narrative and public opinion, startled her supporters and whoever else was still watching on Thursday when she suspended her candidacy and endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden.
In a video statement, a beaming Gabbard said that, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, she had concluded that her duty was to serve in Congress and to await a possible call-up to active duty with her state’s National Guard.
The Democratic primary voters had chosen Biden, Gabbard said, and she had faith in his character. “I’m confident that he will lead the country guided by the spirit of aloha, respect, and compassion, and thus help heal the divisiveness that has been tearing our country apart,” she said.
Gabbard had consistently polled under 5 percent and had not appeared in a debate since November, as her campaign publicly feuded with the Democratic National Committee about its qualifying rules. On Super Tuesday, she won a pair of delegates in the American Samoa caucuses—she was born in American Samoa, and her father is of Samoan ancestry—and the party promptly announced that it was raising the threshold for debate eligibility so that not all candidates with delegates would make the cut. She has not increased her delegate count since then.
That acrimony, and Gabbard’s idiosyncratic positions, had led to speculation about a third-party spoiler candidacy. At various times, in various segments of the politics-consuming public, she was criticized or praised for being a committed anti-imperialist, or an apologist for the brutality of the Syrian regime, or a vector for Russian mischief, or a sympathizer with Indian Hindu fascism, or the most genuine leftist in the race, or a secret far-right theocrat.
Yet in the end, though her video included praise of Bernie Sanders and one more repetition of her standard denunciation of “regime-change wars,” Gabbard seized the banner of normalcy and party discipline before either Sanders or Elizabeth Warren did. It was the most surprising thing left for her to do.
For more of Slate’s politics coverage, listen to this week’s Political Gabfest.
Support Slate’s politics coverage
Slate is covering the stories that matter to you. Join Slate Plus to support our work. You’ll get unlimited articles and a suite of great benefits.