Any debate is supposed to be heated, but perhaps not to the point of sparring with your opponents over proving your merits. Least of all in a presidential primary — winning over your party won’t really work if you are referring to it as “not the party that is of, by, and for the people.” It’s a risky business, but it’s one that presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard decided to make her business. Gabbard, a congresswoman from Hawaii, brought some choice words to the most recent debate in Atlanta on November 20. She not only talked smack about the Democratic party, but dipped her toes into a back-and-forth with both Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg. And, as a result, Gabbard was among the most-discussed candidates of the night — perhaps not for the right reasons.
She wasn’t afraid to bring the heat, sure, but Gabbard made things personal when saying that Harris is swimming in “lies and smears and innuendo” and calling Buttigieg “naive.” While other candidates on stage mainly kept it about policy, Gabbard took more jabs. Taking a shot at Buttigieg saying he’s “willing to send our troops to Mexico to fight the cartels,” Buttigieg responded that her claim was “outlandish even by the standards of today’s politics.” After continuing to criticize the Democratic party, Harris brought up Gabbard’s willingness and enthusiasm to get close to former Trump strategist Steve Bannon. Harris came at Gabbard with receipts, alleging that she “spent four years full time on Fox News criticizing President Obama.” And this much is pretty true: Gabbard appeared on Fox News frequently as a sitting member of Congress, though not a pundit.
But why is everyone coming for Gabbard’s neck? And more importantly, why now? Part of what has made her a target for the Democratic Party is her snark and disregard for her constituents. The rest is in reference to the way her talking points often play a little too well with Republicans, which weakens the Democrats as a party and gives more power to the right.
Through and through, she’s proven to be a problem for Democrats. During the Obama administration, aside from her frequent visits on Fox News, she consistently criticized his foreign policy, the administration’s tactics of toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and ramped up the trash talk in 2015 going towards the elections, much to the Democratic party’s distress. And, to make matters worse, Gabbard’s voting history has often fallen more in line with Republicans rather than Democrats in key areas like immigration.
Through this election cycle, Gabbard’s been on the receiving end of a ton of criticism from other party leaders. But things really came to a head when Hillary Clinton aired some dirty laundry about the duo’s ongoing spat from 2016. After resigning from the DNC in 2016 to endorse Clinton’s rival Bernie Sanders, she put the entire party on blast for how they treated Sanders as a candidate. And, she found herself in the stickiest of situations: Former Clinton Foundation director Darnell Strom responded that he was “disappointed” in Gabbard’s eagerness to back the primary rival when she’d already gone to Clinton for support in the past, exacerbating the idea that she has little to no loyalty for her party.
Gabbard and Clinton are now in the middle of a pretty public feud.On a podcast episode of Campaign HQ in October of 2019, Clinton joked that Gabbard is “the favorite of the Russians.” Clinton said they “have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting [Gabbard] so far,” later clarifying she meant Republicans supporting Gabbard and not Russians.
Gabbard’s history with the Democratic party is fraught with instances where she chose to attack instead of support and embrace her position of leadership, so the taste of a brewing feud on stage at the most recent debate is just the latest backlash from Democrats — not the first. Perhaps it’s a sign that she still thinks trying to set herself apart from fellow candidates by smearing them is the way to go, but is it working?
According to recent analyses by FiveThirtyEight, it’s not the Democratic party that’s supporting Gabbard, and it isn’t people on the left. So who exactly are her supporters, and who believes in the messages she’s sending? The analyses indicates that Gabbard’s backers are mainly conservatives and men. While the Hawaii congresswoman may be sticking to her values, her overall disloyalty to her party and her eagerness to attack fellow candidates might mean her campaign can’t hold on for the long haul, as it’s currently unclear if there Democrats in the party who support her.