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When will Tulsi Gabbard become a Republican?

Exploring the burning subtext of a Democratic presidential campaign

July 31, 2019

9:49 AM

31 July 2019

9:49 AM

Tulsi Gabbard, Democratic congresswoman of Hawaii and lefty presidential candidate, appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight on Monday.

‘Here’s the bottom line: it’s really about the unchecked power these big tech monopolies have over our public discourse,’ she said. ‘We’re talking about Google, Facebook, Twitter, these are big tech monopolies that have this unchecked power.’

With that, Gabbard, a pro-choice, slightly Hindu, fiercely anti-war Democrat earned yet more credibility among Fox News viewers. For the left and right, increasingly, Big Tech is the bête noir. 

Sneering centrists might put Gabbard’s appeal on the Right down to a very simple fact: she’s a looker. That’s not lost on anyone. ‘Big ratings,’ a former senior Trump administration official noted to me earlier this year, remarking on the fact that CNN devoted a whole Sunday show to a candidate outside the top tier in her party.

But the Gabbard phenomenon is more intriguing than mere aesthetics. Let’s rewind to the fall of 2016.

The shock election of Donald Trump resulted in a frantic scramble for senior staff. In the end, the New York mogul settled on a Latin American-style cabinet – oil executives and generals. Rex Tillerson and James Mattis were the winners.

But that almost wasn’t the story. The president-elect, urged on by his influential daughter, Ivanka Trump, wanted women – and women of color. Trump didn’t need much pushing: he’s a man who has long put women on the frontlines of the New York construction business before his peers.

The eventual beneficiary of this mixture of career habit and familial pressure would be Nikki Haley, who became ambassador to the UN. Sources have repeatedly told me that Haley was actually offered the job of secretary of state, but she thought the jump from South Carolina governor to America’s top diplomat was ridiculous. Rumors of her taking Tillerson’s job would dog both her and Rex’s early tenures.

If Haley has a proper opposite, it’s Gabbard: a Democrat, but one whose foreign policy is actually in tune with the base of President Donald J. Trump, not President George W. Bush. Indeed, Gabbard appeared more open to the president-elect’s advances than most Democrats in late 2016. Some Trump advisers wanted her in the cabinet, perhaps in the commanding heights.

‘Rep. Gabbard’s opposition to interventionist foreign policy strategies is grounded in the understanding that those strategies breed reckless destruction abroad and at home,’ wrote Maxwell Anderson in The Hill in 2016. Compare that to Haley, who was praised by eminent neocons such as Bill Kristol and senior congressional Democrats, and won her a seat afterwards on a board of a defense contractor.

Gabbard met Trump and his transition team. But her staff deny that she was ever offered a position by future President Trump. ‘Tulsi had no idea that she was being vetted for any post,’ says Cullen Tiernan, a Gabbard spox, told The Daily Beast last month.

Gabbard also made the tactical mistake of meeting Syria’s President Assad. Palling around with Assad and – worse – Trump is no way to win the Democratic nomination. Gabbard is just too unorthodox for her party’s contest: she’s barely registering in most polls. For someone trying to dispel all associations with the Right, appearing on the show of Trump’s consigliere, Tucker, would seem an odd choice. So, perhaps, would be pursuing the idée fixe of the modern Right –  the war on the doyens of Silicon Valley. Gabbard alleges discrimination by tech’s alpha male, Alphabet, the parent company of Google.

‘Google’s discriminatory actions against my campaign are reflective of how dangerous their complete dominance over internet search is, and how the increasing dominance of big tech companies over our public discourse threatens our core American values,’ says Gabbard.

The on dit is that Silicon Valley is desperate not to be associated with Russian interference in American elections. Gabbard’s accounts have been reportedly flagged for ‘unusual activity’ and ‘large spending changes’ – thus triggering automatic fraud prevention systems.

‘That’s completely false,’ Gabbard spox Cullen Tiernan told me. ‘In fact, we contacted our bank on the night that our ads account was suspended, and the bank confirmed no unusual activity.  The fact remains that for hours, Tulsi’s campaign advertising account remained offline…Google never explained, and still has not explained to us why Tulsi’s account was suspended.’

Team Gabbard will doubtless be displeased with the headline of this article, as their candidate pursues the nomination – for president of the United States – of the party opposite. But her row with Google is just the latest example of common interest with the Right.

Gabbard’s trip to Syria in 2017, under the protection of Assad’s security services, is something the congresswoman has never lived down. But if she won any defenders for the maneuver, it was on the anti-war right, more than the left. It also meant she became associated with the far right: the old racist David Duke, sensing an ally against Israel, endorsed her. ‘She’s also been slammed because Steve Bannon loves her,’ a source close to Gabbard’s campaign told me.

Will Gabbard eventually become a Republican? Should she fail to win the nomination, she will still be 39 in the new year. A military veteran, clearly ambitious and media savvy, where does she go? Her campaign is a mess. She’s been unable to retain a permanent campaign manager – careerist Democrats view the role as a poisoned chalice. She’s become a day-to-day player. This week, she hopes for a breakout moment at the Detroit debates, and to hustle on to Houston, the next round, in September.

So let’s invert the question: how does Gabbard not become a Republican? Should she seek a future in politics, she’s effectively locked out of the House Speaker’s race, scorned by her party’s leadership. Should she run for Hawaii governor and be exiled in Honolulu? What Democratic president would have her in their administration? She dissents on the need to pummel Russia.

For Gabbard, a right turn might be the only way forward.


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