On Wednesday, the first Democratic debate featuring Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), former Rep. John Delaney (D-MD), Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, aired on NBC and MSNBC.
As the debate heated up, Google announced that one candidate was generating a stunning surge of interest. The search and data giant sent out a tweet during the Miami debate showing that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was the most searched candidate in 34 states. Prior to taking the stage, Gabbard held that title only in her home state of Hawaii.
In second place was Sen. Cory Booker, who was the most searched candidate in 15 states. Only in Oklahoma was Sen. Elizabeth Warren the most searched.
First, Gabbard spoke about a possible war with Iran:
GABBARD: Let's deal with the situation where we are, where this president and his chickenhawk cabinet have led us to the brink of war with Iran. I served in the war in Iraq at the height of the war in 2005, a war that took over 4,000 of my brothers and sisters in uniforms' lives. The American people need to understand that this war with Iran would be far more devastating, far more costly than anything that we ever saw in Iraq. It would take many more lives. It would exacerbate the refugee crisis. And it wouldn't be just contained within Iran. This would turn into a regional war. This is why it's so important that every one of us, every single American, stand up and say no war with Iran. We need to get back into the Iran nuclear agreement, and we need to negotiate how we can improve it. It was an imperfect deal. There are issues, like their missile development, that needs to be addressed. We can do both simultaneously to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and preventing us from going to war.
MODERATOR: Your time is up. And this is a very quick follow-up. But what would your red line be that would – for military action against Iran?
GABBARD: Look, obviously, if there was an attack against the American – our troops, then there would have to be a response. But my point is – and it's important for us to recognize this – is Donald Trump and his cabinet, Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, and others – are creating a situation that just a spark would light off a war with Iran, which is incredibly dangerous. That's why we need to de-escalate tensions. Trump needs to get back into the Iran nuclear deal and swallow his pride, put the American people first.
Gabbard’s second moment in the spotlight came during a contentious exchange with Rep. Tim Ryan (some crosstalk removed):
RYAN: ...But the reality of it is, if the United States isn't engaged, the Taliban will grow. And they will have bigger, bolder terrorist acts. We have got to have some presence there...
GABBARD: The Taliban was there long before we came in. They're going to be there long before we leave. ... We cannot keep U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan thinking that we're going to somehow squash this Taliban that's been there, that every other country that's tried has failed.
RYAN: I didn't say "squash them." I didn't say "squash them." When we weren't in there, they started flying planes into our buildings. So I'm just saying right now we have an obligation...
GABBARD: The Taliban didn't attack us on 9/11. Al Qaida did.
RYAN: Well, I understand...
GABBARD: Al Qaida attacked us on 9/11. That's why I and so many other people joined the military, to go after Al Qaida, not the Taliban.
RYAN: The Taliban was protecting those people who were plotting against us. All I'm saying is, if we want to go into elections, and we want to say that we've got to withdraw from the world, that's what President Trump is saying. We can't. I would love for us to.
GABBARD: You know who's protecting Al Qaida right now? It's Saudi Arabia.
According to Google’s real-time tracking of "search interest" over the course of the debate, Gabbard had the longest sustained moments at the top of the pile, rivaled only by Sens. Booker and Warren.
It’s unclear if Gabbard’s performance, or the alleged interest it provoked, will have any impact on her standing in the polls. RealClearPolitics has the representative sitting at a paltry 0.8%, tied for tenth place with Julián Castro.