On Monday, President-elect Donald Trump was scheduled to meet with former GOP House speaker Newt Gingrich, former Texas governor (and presidential primary rival) Rick Perry, former Republican senator Scott Brown — and one of the most liberal members of the Democratic caucus, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii).
At first glance, Trump's politics would appear to be irreconcilable with Gabbard's. During the presidential primary, she stepped down from her leadership post within the Democratic Party to endorse Bernie Sanders for president. Economic populism notwithstanding, Sanders was about as far away from Trump ideologically as one could get.
But this meeting isn't as weird as one might think. Gabbard is arguably one of the most likely Democrats to cross party lines to meet with Trump. She's a Democrat whom Republicans love to love, for a variety of reasons.
On foreign policy, Gabbard often sounds more like a hawkish Republican than a potential future Democratic leader. She has blasted President Obama for failing to talk about Islamic extremism and has criticized his approach to Syria:
Like Trump, Gabbard also has a non-interventionist streak: She opposes regime change and an escalation of U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war.
From a conservative viewpoint, it's also probably just plain fun to see a liberal Democrat (and rising star of her party) so publicly disagree with her party's leaders. Conservative-leaning publications have been happy to give her the limelight to do just that. As I wrote last October:
Her criticism of Obama's failure to cite “Islamic extremism” earned her appearances on Fox News, and in April 2015, National Review wrote a glowing profile about the “beautiful, tough young” Democrat “who's challenging Obama's foreign policy” (though the magazine's adjective-heavy headline didn't earn them any favors with feminists).
Gabbard, one of two female combat veterans to join Congress in 2013, also got national attention last fall for duking it out with Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.), then the Democratic National Committee chair, on Democrats' debate schedule, an implicit criticism that the party wasn't doing enough to help candidates not named Hillary Clinton compete. (It was a refrain Trump himself echoed in the final days of the primaries.)
In short, Gabbard is a wildcard who has given her party as many headaches in her short-ish time on the national stage as she has blessings. (Sound like a certain president-elect we know?) And Republicans love her for that.
None of this is enough to convince us Gabbard is a serious candidate for U.N. ambassador in a Trump administration. A number of people have been named for a number of Trump administration jobs, without any apparent reason other than to boost that person's reputation.
But the meeting with Trump doesn't have to result in a job to be politically fruitful for both.
By hosting a high-profile congressional Democrat, Trump can try to claim some much-needed bipartisan legitimacy. So far, the Sanders/Elizabeth Warren wing of the party has spent most of its time bashing the Trump administration taking shape.
And Gabbard could be using her star power in the Republican Party to open lines of communication with the next president of the United States in a way, for reasons described above, few other Democrats can.
There's currently a split in the Democratic Party about whether to work with Trump on legislation like infrastructure and paid family leave, or deny him any victories that would legitimize him as president.
Gabbard appears to be in the former camp. If the majority of Hill Democrats do decide to work with President Trump, she could become an increasingly important player in cutting deals.
So: Yes, this meeting between Trump and Gabbard is weird. But also, not weird at all. We doubt it will result in a Trump administration job for Gabbard — but it's easy to see why it might be happening in the first place.