Why the Right Supports Tulsi Gabbard

On Tuesday, the New York Times published an opinion piece titled, “Why Are Democrats Jilting G.O.P. Voters Who Want to Like Them?” When I saw the headline, I took a pass on reading it, assuming that it was merely another example of conservative concern-trolling about progressive Democrats. That is, indeed, how the article begins.

Under President Trump, a small slice of America’s electorate seeks a reason to call the Democratic Party home for the very first time. But without adequate hospitality to welcome them, they will disappear quickly.

With a few exceptions on particular policies, the Democratic presidential field neglects abundant pools of potential Democrat converts, leaving persuadable audiences — like independents and Trump-averse, anti-abortion Christians (some of whom are white evangelicals) — without options.

I was therefore a bit surprised when the piece turned into a argument in favor of the candidacy of Tulsi Gabbard, the same one who quit her position on the DNC executive committee in order to endorse Bernie Sanders in 2016. The author, Ericka Andersen, is identified simply as “a freelance writer in Indianapolis.” But Steve M. might have tracked down some further information about her. National Review lists an author with the same name who is also described as “the digital-marketing director at the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF).” Joan Walsh wrote about the group in an article titled, “Meet the ‘Feminists’ Doing the Koch Brothers’ Dirty Work.”

That adds some credence to a piece in the New York Times by Lisa Lerer titled “What, Exactly, Is Tulsi Gabbard Up To?” She laid out some of the same ties to far right groups that I pointed out a few weeks ago. While there is no direct evidence that Gabbard is courting those groups, it is important to note the question and examine why she is a favorite among them.

The central message of Gabbard’s campaign is that she stands against the foreign policy establishment as the anti-war candidate. But as Shikha Dalmia points out, that is deceptive.

Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran, has made opposition to war her signature issue…But that doesn’t make her a peacenik; it makes her an America-Firster, just like President Trump. Indeed, although she went out of her way to condemn Trump as a “warmonger,” there isn’t much daylight between her position and his — which is no doubt why the former White House aide Stephen Bannon, the notorious architect of Trump’s America First campaign, interviewed her for a position in the administration.

In describing herself, Gabbard says that “when it comes to the war against terrorists, I’m a hawk. When it comes to counterproductive wars of regime change, I’m a dove.” Evan Hill notes how far she’s willing to go on the former.

Gabbard is a staunch supporter of the United States’ counter-ISIS campaign, but her view of the fight goes much further. During a visit to India in 2014, she told an interviewer that the United States had failed in its “very clear” mission to defeat “Islamic extremism”—the fight she said led her to enlist after the September 11 attacks—and that we needed “to focus all of our efforts and energy” and “root out this evil wherever it is.” When pressed on whether torture could be part of those efforts, Gabbard didn’t reject it, saying some believed it worked. Invoking the fantastical scenario of a ticking nuclear time bomb, Gabbard said that if she were president, she “would do everything in my power to keep the American people safe.” If there was a gap between Gabbard’s philosophy and the forever war, it was hard to spot.

That provides some context for Gabbard’s criticism of the Obama administration for failing to use the term “radical Islam” to describe ISIS and her embrace of the right wing talking point that we would be unable to defeat the enemy unless we called them by the right name. Her statements echo a view that is often linked to Islamophobia.

During the Democratic debate on Tuesday night, we are likely to hear a lot about what is happening in Syria. Back in 2015, when Russia began its bombing campaign against the rebels in northwestern Syria, Gabbard was asked about it by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. Rather than condemn what others have called a war crime, she spouted the Putin-Assad talking point that the bombs were targeted against terrorists and condemned the Obama administration for seeking regime change in Syria, saying that it would lead to terrorists in control of Syria. We should note that at the time, Secretary of State John Kerry was in the process of launching peace talks, which he described by saying this.

“The truth is that nothing would do more to bolster the fight against the terrorists than a broadly supported diplomatic process that would begin to de-escalate the conflict, and that would give the Syrian people a real choice — not between Assad and Daesh — but between the status quo and something,” Kerry said, using another name for ISIS.

These are the kinds of positions Gabbard should be questioned about during the Democratic debate on Tuesday night. But I seriously doubt that will happen. The role she will play is more likely to be that of disrupter. That is precisely what Gabbard signaled when she put out this video last Thursday.

Just as she did in 2016, Gabbard says that the DNC and corporate media have “rigged” the election. She claimed to be seriously considering the idea of boycotting Tuesday night’s debate. It is hard to comprehend how anyone would have taken that announcement seriously. If she intended to boycott the debate, she would have simply announced that. Instead, she tweeted this four days later, with no further explanation.

Between her foreign policy views and the fact that she has embraced the roll of disrupter in the Democratic primary, right wingers have several reasons to support her candidacy.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.