When Tulsi Gabbard announced that she would seek the Democratic nomination in Hawaii’s 2nd district in 2011 she was quickly endorsed by a laundry list of liberal institutions including the Sierra Club and Emily’s List. She was asked to speak at the 2012 Democratic Convention and by 2015 she was Vice Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. National Democrats were eager to boost this rising star, but now that she is running for president they are just as eager to snuff her out.
So why are Democrats giving her the cold shoulder?
For starters, during the last election, Gabbard was not down with Team Clinton or the corruption that follows them. That won her some support among the party’s Bernie-loving netroots, but alienated the Clinton-Obama establishment that runs the party.
It came to a head in 2016 when she resigned as Vice Chairman of the Democratic National Committee over Debbie Wasserman-Schulz’s brazen and successful efforts to stack the deck in favor of Hillary Clinton and against Bernie Sanders in the primaries. But there’s more than that. Gabbard has long been an outspoken critic of the Bipartisan Fusion Party’s moral imperialism that currently has the United States waging eight undeclared wars. And questioning the war party is not permitted.
Worse though, is that Gabbard hasn’t signed on to the Democrats’ agenda of identity politics. Perhaps this is because of her own experience as a part-Samoan American Hindu, or perhaps it’s just a common sense understanding of the foundations of a free society. Either way, it has earned her the enmity of many in her party. What makes Gabbard complicated is that, despite some rhetorical reservations, she is still on board for the whole Democratic social justice policy agenda of score settling and division. This may be why the left-wing Jacobin magazine wrote that despite being ‘hailed as a progressive champion’…‘Tulsi Gabbard is not your friend.’
The conflict was on full display when she rebuked Senate Democrats for their thinly veiled attacks on Brian Buescher’s Catholicism. Buescher was a judicial candidate and both Gabbard’s fellow Hawaiian, Sen. Mazie Hirono, and fellow presidential candidate Kamala Harris took issue with his membership of the Catholic Knights of Columbus. Why? Because faithful Catholics are pro-life and, if the infanticide bills in New York and Virginia have taught us anything, faithful Democrats are not.
Gabbard wrote an op-ed for The Hill in which she said, ‘If Buescher is “unqualified” because of his Catholicism and affiliation with the Knights of Columbus, then President John F. Kennedy, and the “liberal lion of the Senate” Ted Kennedy would have been “unqualified” for the same reasons.’ She continued, ‘Whether we think of ourselves as Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Sikh, Buddhists, Jews, atheists, agnostics, or anything else, it is imperative that we stand united in our commitment to protect religious freedom and the right to worship or not worship, safely and without the fear of retribution.’ And for this she has been scorned by her party’s leadership, despite the fact the Gabbard herself is on the record opposing Buescher’s nomination and is virulently pro-abortion. But that’s not enough.
What is most striking about Tulsi Gabbard’s candidacy is that despite her quirky views, she immediately comes off as perhaps the most sober and politically mature of the rapidly expanding list of Democratic candidates. Elizabeth Warren, an intelligent, if foolish pol, hasn’t yet realized that her time to strut and fret on the stage has already passed, even as she descends into self-parody by posting videos of her and her husband awkwardly sharing a beer in the kitchen to prove that she’s a regular, blond-haired, blue-eyed, 1/1024th Cherokee. Or Amy Klobuchar, or Cory ‘Spartacus’ Booker, or Robert ‘Beto’ O’Rourke. Kamala Harris looks set to pick up where the Clintons and Obamas left off: self-referential sermonizing backed by rent-seeking crony capitalists, and marketed with neutered, poll-tested, uncharismatic soundbites. And then there’s the perpetually cranky socialist, Bernie Sanders, with his three homes and list of two million small donors.
Because she stakes out, at least rhetorically, a common sense position on religious liberty that is anathema to her party, is skeptical of undeclared wars, and has met with Trump, many conservatives want to see a liberal they can love, or at least respect. And in some important ways Gabbard represents a better version of the Democratic party than some of the high profile favorites running for president. But conservatives should go in with both eyes open. Gabbard is attractive because she appears to be an honest, non-interventionist liberal from the old school (think perhaps Richard Gepbhardt), who rejects at least the worst identity politics in favor of e pluribus unum – out of many, one. Of course, that’s also why she is shunned by the Democratic mainstream.
But remember that she’s outrageously wrong on almost every other major issue: gun rights, abortion, climate alarmism, government-run healthcare, you name it. She even offered tepid support for de facto party leader, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s half-baked Green New Deal. But upon closer examination, even where it seems more or less solid, her views are, shall we say, idiosyncratic, when examined closely. For example, she steadfastly refuses to recognize China as a threat to American peace and prosperity despite overwhelming evidence. And she said in Iowa recently, that the United States is at greater risk of nuclear war than ever before. One wonders if she is familiar with the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Historical illiteracy aside, she’s the sort of person who seems to think about the underlying issues and one could easily imagine her working on a bipartisan solution to issues like family formation and infrastructure. But she rubs party leaders so much the wrong way that she may never get the chance. And that’s a shame.
It’s noteworthy that she stands in such contrast to the other Democrats running for president. Conservatives should be careful in reading too much into some of Gabbard’s heterodoxy. What you get with her is not so much a political ally, as a reasonable, good faith opponent. And there’s something to be said for that. For their part, Democrats would do well, to learn from her because if her candidacy isn’t smothered by party leaders, it could offer an example of how to win voters with whom they have struggled. Fortunately for Republicans, chances of that are remote.