If America's Democrats could adopt a rule on how not to lose elections, it should be to impose a gag on Hillary Clinton. As it is, Clinton may already have tweaked the course of the 2020 presidential race. Last week she suggested that Tulsi Gabbard, a maverick lawmaker who is running below 2 per cent in the Democratic field, was a Russian asset whom Republicans were grooming to run as a third-party candidate. Clinton might have kept her suspicions to herself. Gabbard's fundraising, and profile, have both skyrocketed. Donald Trump is now paying Gabbard compliments.
Spoiler candidacies have played a starring role in recent White House races. Democrats have been worrying about the spectre of a centrist big name, such as former Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz, splitting the vote and returning Trump to the White House. History suggests they are looking in the wrong direction. Of the last three presidential elections that Democrats have lost, two have been because of spoilers from the left. In both cases, Democrats won the popular vote but lost the electoral college, which is Trump's likeliest path to re-election.
As the Green party candidate in 2000, Ralph Nader took more votes in Florida than the infamously contested gap between Al Gore and George W Bush. But for Nader, the Iraq war may never have happened. In 2016, the Green party's Jill Stein took more votes in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania than Clinton's margin of defeat. But for Stein, Trump might still be trying to make a comeback in reality TV. A Gabbard candidacy could accomplish the same for Trump next year. Little wonder that conservative influencers, such as Fox News' Tucker Carlson, have been welcoming the Hawaiian congresswoman on to their show.
Such scenarios are of little concern to America's far-left, which cheered Gabbard last week for dubbing Clinton the "queen warmonger". Though a far smaller strand of the electorate, America's hard left sees things in much the same way as Jeremy Corbyn, Britain's Labour leader. In capsule, they trace the world's biggest problems to American imperialism. Barack Obama is as big a culprit as George W Bush by that measure. The latter may have invaded Iraq. But the former, in Gabbard's view, attempted "regime change" in Bashar al-Assad's Syria, and overthrew Libya's Muammer Gaddafi.
Trump's presidency provides two guilty pleasures for America's far-left. First, his take on America's global role is remarkably similar. In spite of his Make America Great Again slogan, Trump is a foe of American exceptionalism — the idea that the US plays a providential role in world history. Trump is happiest when shocking the bourgeois with remarks about how the US has interfered in foreign elections and killed countless bystanders. The fact that some of his observations are true adds frisson. For an exceptionalist, American history is about defeating Nazism, communism and world poverty. For an anti-exceptionalist, such as Gabbard, US foreign policy is about exporting perpetual war to faraway places.
The second reason America's far-left prefer Trump is because he is hastening the revolution. Marxists used to call this "heightening the contradictions". The worse things are in America, the better the prospect of radical change. Susan Sarandon, the Hollywood actor, captured this in 2016 when she said she would prefer Trump to win than Clinton. In practice, the anti-exceptionalists have a lot in common with the exceptionalists; both think that America is behind everything. Nothing good or bad (depending on which you believe) takes place unless America is involved.
As a description of how the world works, both the exceptionalists and their doppelgängers increasingly miss the point. Each should live abroad for a few years to get a more realistic picture of what drives foreign behaviour. Contrary to Gabbard's assertion, Assad — not America — is responsible for most of the deaths in Syria's civil war. Contrary to what many of Washington's foreign policy analysts think, no single school of thought can capture the world's reality. It is too messy for that. Trump, of course, specialises in making everything messier. Gabbard offers just the kind of opportunity Trump likes to exploit.
Written by: Edward Luce
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