Jim Webb, who brought unmatched military experience to the Democratic presidential field, withdrew on Tuesday, having made barely a ripple in his party’s national-security debate.
“I am withdrawing from any consideration of being the Democratic Party’s nominee for the presidency,” Webb said in a midday press conference. For now at least, the former senator says he will press on as an independent, buoyed by what he hears from meetings with voters in the coming weeks.
“Before I say I want to [run as an independent], I want to see what voters have to say,” said Webb. “While I am not going away, I am thinking of all my options.”
When asked on Tuesday if he stills considers himself a Democrat, Webb hesitated. “We’ll think about that.”
Webb, 69, served as a senior defense official under Ronald Reagan, as a one-term senator from Virginia, and as a Marine Corps company commander. During the Vietnam War, he received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Navy Cross, and two Purple Hearts.
At the Democrats’ first presidential debate in early October, Webb did his best to contrast that military experience with his rivals’ lack of it.
“I’ve fought and bled for our country in Vietnam as a Marine,” said Webb. “I spent years as Assistant Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Navy—in the Reagan administration.” And as a senator, Webb helped pass a post-Sept. 11 GI Bill and is cited as influential in the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia.
But during the debate, which was his campaign’s largest audience and biggest stage, he struggled for camera time against the party’s leading two candidates, Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. “I’ve been trying to get into this conversation for about 10 minutes,” Webb said at one point early in the debate before diving into what he viewed as three strategic failings of U.S. national security policy today.
“The first was the invasion of Iraq, which destabilized ethnic elements in Iraq and empowered Iran,” said Webb, who has long been an opponent of the U.S. invasion in 2003. “The second was the Arab Spring, which created huge vacuums in Libya and in Syria that allowed terrorist movements to move in there. And the third was the recent deal allowing Iran to move forward.” All three put him at odds with Clinton since all three have the former secretary of state’s fingerprints, wrote Molly O’Toole.
But he ultimately failed to capture enough voter enthusiasm to carry on much more than a week as the campaigns of Clinton and Sanders raked in a strong share of the post-debate headlines and donor dollars.
“If you wanted an antidote to what I have called Chickenhawk Nation—a country always at war, most of whose citizens are untouched by war—you would find it in the Webb family,” wrote The Atlantic’s James Fallows, a longtime friend of Webb. “Many of its members have fought and thus are careful rather than cavalier about the causes for which they would send others to fight…Webb is a voice to be heard and a figure to be respected, even if the dynamics of the Democratic contest were not allowing him that role. An independent path may give him a chance to make his case in the way truest to him.”