Tulsi Gabbard
Credit: Jim Greenhill/Flickr

Tulsi Gabbard is not going to be the Democratic nominee for president in 2020. At this point, her polling average at Real Clear Politics is 1.4%. Nevertheless, conservative media celebrated the fact that Gabbard won the online poll sponsored by Drudge Report after the first round of debates. Similarly, Gabbard won polls from both Breitbart and Drudge after her performance in the second debate. Those results were not replicated by any reputable polling firm.

Not long after the first debate, we learned what had prompted Gabbard’s success in those online polls.

Users from pro-Trump communities on 4chan and Reddit implored fellow members to vote for lower-polling candidates in online polls, specifically Tulsi Gabbard and Bill de Blasio, in the hours after Wednesday’s Democratic debate — a sign that digital manipulation efforts related to U.S. politics and elections remain very much alive.

Users on 4chan’s anonymous far-right /pol/ message board repeatedly posted links to polls across the web, encouraging one another to “blow the polls out” for Gabbard, the congresswoman from Hawaii who has developed a substantial support base among many of its users…

“GIVE HER YOUR POWER,” read one 4chan post from 1 a.m. Thursday, pointing to a screenshot of the still-active Drudge poll showing Gabbard leading.

Charles Davis highlighted some other Gabbard supporters.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is set to have lunch with a prolific conspiracy theorist who argues the mass shooting in Las Vegas was an intelligence operation meant to distract from the Harvey Weinstein scandal — and who is also, by far, the most successful digital fundraiser for her campaign, according to a recent announcement from the Hawaii Democrat’s presidential campaign staff.

In seeking the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, Gabbard, while struggling to register in most polls, has attracted a good deal of support from the fringe of both the left and right, especially online. Even former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke tweeted his support. The congresswoman has repeatedly disavowed Duke’s endorsement. The campaign has, however, embraced some of its lesser-hinged fans.

As Davis suggests, Gabbard also garners support from so-called “progressives” on the left. In critiquing the slogan “Vote Blue No Matter Who,” Kathy Copeland Padden complained that, “the Democratic Party has no incentive to take the candidacy of Progressives like Sanders and Gabbard seriously, no matter how loud the people clamor for them.”

Another Sanders supporter, Michael Tracey, has become one of Gabbard’s strongest defenders. Tracey is one of those people who don’t fit nicely into a linear left-right political continuum. He has been associated with news organizations as diverse as The Young Turks and The Federalist. He garnered a lot of attention on Twitter when he made himself out to be the victim of this encounter with Representative Maxine Waters by claiming that it is “extremely suspect for a member of Congress to shove anybody.”

In other words, the label that might best fit Tracey is “shit-stirrer.” He not only denies Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, but once suggested that if Russia did interfere, the American public should be thankful.

These days, Tracey is stirring up some shit that is reminiscent of a myth that was promulgated by Sanders supporters during the 2016 presidential primary: that the Democratic National Committee is rigging the game against Gabbard. At this point, the congresswoman from Hawaii hasn’t qualified for the September debate, with the deadline for doing so coming up next week. Even though the DNC announced the criteria to qualify for this debate back in May, Tracey is suggesting that it was rigged to keep Gabbard out. That message is now being picked up by right wing outlets like American Thinker.

Back in January when Gabbard announced her candidacy, I questioned whether Democrats could trust her. That was primarily based on her support for leaders like Syria’s brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Of equal concern is the fact that she has never denounced the leader of the cult in which her family participated during her childhood. There is also the fact that, while she and her supporters tout her as a progressive Democrat, her record in Congress says otherwise.

While I am sure that there are voters out there who genuinely support Gabbard, it is clear that they make up no more than 1.4% of Democratic primary voters. It is the people who are using her candidacy—with or without her consent—to foment disruption and chaos in the process of selecting a nominee that is cause for concern.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.