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Why did Tulsi Gabbard just endorse Bernie Sanders?

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) announced that she is endorsing Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. (Video: Tulsi Gabbard/YouTube)

On Sunday, a rising-star Democratic congresswoman effectively defected from her party establishment to join the opposition.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) announced on NBC's "Meet the Press" that she's stepping down from her post as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, which requires her to be neutral in the primary, and is endorsing Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.).

It's a move that makes little sense on the surface — especially coming mere hours after Hillary Clinton's shellacking of Sanders in South Carolina's primary. But digging deeper into Gabbard's unconventional and sometimes combative approach to politics, her alliance with Sanders starts to add up. Like the man she's endorsing for president, Gabbard is a wildcard who is willing to put her future with the Democratic Party on the line to speak out against it.

Gabbard is probably well aware that her Sanders endorsement could harm her standing within the party's power structure. But from what we've seen from the two-term congresswoman, she probably doesn't care.

In October, Gabbard got into a nasty back and forth with DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) over the DNC's six primary debates. Gabbard thought the party should hold more; Wasserman Schultz suggested that Gabbard shouldn't go to that week's debate in Las Vegas. (Wasserman Schultz eventually agreed to include four more primary debates in the calendar.)

Before that, Gabbard earned appearances on Fox News and a glowing profile in the conservative National Review after very publicly blasting President Obama's failure to say "radical Islam" and suggesting that he's weak on Syria.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard: The Democrat that Republicans love and the DNC can't control

Despite her somewhat hawkish views on terrorism in the Middle East, Gabbard indicated Sunday that she's endorsing Sanders mainly because of his more cautious approach to military engagement abroad.

"As a veteran of two Middle East deployments, I know firsthand the cost of war,” Gabbard says in a video she cut for the Sanders campaign. “I know how important it is that our commander in chief has the sound judgment required … to know when to use America's military power and when not to use that power."

Democratic Party brass is probably somewhat relieved that Gabbard broke off their tumultuous relationship before it dragged either side down any further.

"Today, I accepted Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard's resignation as a Vice-Chair of the DNC," Wasserman Schultz said in a statement, adding she looks forward to working with Gabbard in the future to ensure Democrats win the White House. "The Democratic National Committee is grateful for her service."

Gabbard and Sanders probably won't stop raising havoc for the party, but at least Gabbard is no longer doing it from a leadership post within. And that's probably a good thing as far as both sides are concerned.